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Frankenstein

(in progress)

music by Gregg Kallor / libretto adapted from Mary Shelley’s novel

Opera has always enraptured me, but it wasn’t until I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that I felt the strong impulse to write one.

Published 200 years ago, essentially inventing the science-fiction genre, the novel tells the heartbreaking story of a living, feeling creature, brought into the world only to be forsaken by its creator and left to fend for itself. Far from the grunting Hollywood brutishness of Boris Karloff, Frankenstein vividly conveys the agony of a being whose desire for emotional nourishment is repeatedly and violently rejected, and who is driven to respond in kind.

I have begun composing this opera because I believe that this story, in this time, told in this way, has the potential for us to connect - viscerally, emotionally - with the characters and with each other in an elemental and urgently needed way; to make us feel and make us listen to one another, especially in an era of intensifying xenophobia and virulent tribalism. I want to lift Shelley’s staggeringly beautiful work off the page with music that makes us feel for the monster, its creator, and every victim in this tragic story.

I chose to begin with three scenes because their deep humanity and fraught love are, for me, the heart and essence of Shelley’s work. These Frankenstein sketches are a work in progress; they are the seeds from which I hope the opera will grow into a fully staged and orchestrated production.


photos by Kevin Condon


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“Most compelling was the Frankenstein monster’s monologue about making his way through a hostile world not knowing what or who he was but with an intelligence that allowed him to pick up language and earmarks of civilization...

The observations in the words, and the depth of feeling in the music were extremely powerful.

...How the rest of the opera unfolds remains to be seen. But for the time being, the monster’s anguished monologue that encompasses so much of the story’s larger themes could easily be a ‘scena’ to perform in recitals – especially as sung by the plush voice of Joshua Jeremiah. Singers are augmenting their standard romantic-era Schubert/Schumann/Wolf repertoire in any number of ways, and the penetrating dramatic truths of Frankenstein might co-exist with 19th-century lieder more easily than one might think.

–David Patrick Stearns, Condemned To Music


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“Rising up from a groan of pain out of the cello, Kallor’s dynamically-charged score is intricate yet approachable with long, singable lines and plenty of moody atmosphere... What it does do extremely well is support the emotional journeys of its protagonists.

…As Frankenstein recounts his creation’s chilling promise that “I will be with you on your wedding night”, a hollow voice drifts in from an adjoining burial chamber to merge in haunting harmonies – a seriously chilling moment.

–Clive Paget, Limelight


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The score of these sketches was modern, edgy, well-matched to the subject matter, while not being chaotically 12-tone. The cello, played with a warm beauty by Joshua Roman, echoed the sung pleas of both the creature and the cornered Frankenstein. You can imagine what that wonderful instrument sounded like in the stone chambers.

And the composer played the piano part, his technique itself dazzling as he kept the propulsive, fierce music racing to match the emotional intensity of the dramatic scenes being played, both on the stage area, and even amidst the audience itself.

Quite something. The singers also reveled in the drama and the sheer sonority of the piece.

...It’s my guess that everyone in attendance came away from this night feeling that this had been an extraordinary experience.

–Matt Costello, Opera Wire


Check out photos from the production in The New York Times' "Frankenstein at 200" special feature!


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Kallor’s music is equally Straussian in scale and emotional impact.

–Rick Perdian, Seen and Heard International


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Kallor’s a musician of great atmospheric sensuality, who, on opening night, played piano with equally great sensitivity.

His sketches from Frankenstein, for instance, put a refreshing spin on Mary Shelley’s much-adapted novel about an 18th-century scientist and his automaton. While many previous retellings have milked the Romantic horror angle of the epistolary fable or simply reached for camp, Kallor focuses his account on the psychology of the beast, the loneliness experienced by a creation who yearns for (but can never quite realize) companionship.

...the portrait was complex, by turns frightening and sympathetic.

–Joel Rozen, Parterre Box


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Kallor’s sterling artistry and riveting sense of theater made this October journey to Hell and back an experience to savor.

Kallor’s music is many good things: intelligent; unapologetically theatrical; emotionally evocative; virtuosic yet sensitive in its texturing. It is tonally coherent without overt predictability, accessible without banality. Kallor consistently provides precisely calculated support to his vocal lines, while also giving them temporal and contrapuntal space in which to work their condign effects.

Spooky, meaty stuff.

–Charles Geyer, My Scena


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Audacity informed everything about this performance.

... These were sketches, of course, which the composer terms a work in progress, but I hope the final shape of the piece keeps the terrifying intimacy that we witnessed in Brooklyn.

... This is a composer I look forward to following.

–Byron Nilsson, Words and Music


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While the composer considers this a work in progress -- and sketches at that -- he certainly gets to the heart of things... In Kallor's own libretto, the humanity of the monster is clearly evident from the moment of his appearance, with the sometimes anxiety-ridden score (for piano and cello, here) adding to the anger and frustration of the deformed and crazed character.”

–Richard Sasanow, Broadway World


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“The greatest achievement of Kallor’s scores turned out to be the contrast between the stubborn unresolve of the music and the sheer anthemic catchiness of the vocal melodies.

–Alan Young, New York Music Daily