Nearly every composer worth his salt has dreamed at one time or another of having an opera premiered in Paris. This month William Call, of Afton, Wyo., gets his wish, only the Paris happens to be Paris, Idaho, and the premiere will take place not in an opera house but in a church.
The occasion is the centennial celebration of the Paris Tabernacle, 11 miles north of Bear Lake and central meeting place of the first stake to be organized by the Mormon pioneers outside of Utah.Built of red sandstone and native timber, the building was erected by volunteer labor at a cost of $50,000. Reportedly the floors were installed with square, handmade nails, and the original benches are still in use today.
"It's an acoustically superb building," says Call, who is underwriting the performance, "an ideal place for an opera premiere."
The opera, "El Curioso Impertinente" ("The Ill-Advised Curiosity"), is based on a tale from Cervantes' "Don Quixote." In three acts, it tells the story of two friends, one of whom employs the other to test his wife's faithfulness, with unexpectedly comic and tragic results.
Performances will be presented July 15 and 16 at 8 p.m., with seating limited by the tabernacle's 1,500-seat capacity. Participants include soprano Gay Gibbons, mezzo Mary Ann Dresher, tenor Alejandro Gomez and baritone Cliff Cole, as well as John Marlowe Nielsen's Pro Musica Chorus, all under the direction of Naomi and Lowell Farr of the University of Utah. Former Utah Symphony cellist Christian Tiemeyer, currently conductor of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra, will direct the orchestra.
Call admits he can afford the best. Despite degrees in music from Brigham Young University and the University of Illinois (there he earned his doctorate in composition in 1972), since 1983 he has been president of Maverik Country Stores Inc., with nearly 100 outlets in seven Western states.
Since Maverik is a direct offshoot of the Call Oil Co., founded by his father in the early 1930s, that makes him something of the Gordon Getty (composer son of the late oil tycoon J. Paul Getty) of western Wyoming. "Dad always said, `If we're gonna be mavericks, let's spell it wrong,' " Call says of the family business.
But he's been a maverick in other ways as well. With 35 compositions to his credit (including two symphonies, a pair of string quartets and collection of songs) he is one of that growing number of contemporary composers who have steered away from the modernism they were taught to emulate in school. Except in his case it has led him to an idiom remarkably akin to the mid-19th-century German romanticism of Mendelssohn and Schumann.
"I went through the composers' mill along with everyone else," the 49-year-old Call says of his days in school, "and especially then, in the late '50s and early '60s, dissonance and the 12-tone system were things they felt every student should be conversant with. As a result it took me a long time to find myself stylistically, and it wasn't until my late 30s that I decided that what I'd learned in school was not really where I was at."
Call admits that what he ended up with was a "very conservative style, but one that says what I was trying to say a lot more successfully." And, he says, that's pretty much the style of his opera.
Along the way he owns to having been influenced by Charles Ives - a maverick composer if there ever was one - who not only based much of his music on patriotic anthems and hymn tunes but also ran a successful insurance agency in order to compose the way he wanted to.
The finale of Call's Second Symphony, for example - premiered a few years ago on Temple Square by the Utah Virtuosi - is based on a choral setting of the LDS scripture, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy." Similarly his First Symphony also received one of its first performances in the Paris Tabernacle, by the Salt Lake Symphony under David Dalton.
Call says the opera was completed independently of the Paris celebration, but when he thought about the fact that the Montpelier Stake used to include Afton, not to mention his own ties with the building, he approached the centennial committee last summer. "I had approached Utah Opera with it, and they had expressed some interest," he says. "But I know from experience that if you want something performed, the best way is to do it yourself."
The July 15-16 performances will be in Spanish, with English surtitles. Tickets, at $10, will be available in limited quantities at the following Maverik stores: in Utah, Ninth East and 17th South in Salt Lake City; Five Points in Bountiful; Randolph; Providence; Richmond; Provo; in Idaho, Montpelier; Soda Springs; Rexberg; First and Woodruff in Idaho Falls; Poleline Road in Pocatello; in Wyoming, Afton; Thayne; Evanston; and Jackson.