Douglas Geers selected a powerful theme for his first opera: 9/11. The 1990 graduate with a double major in music and English is now a University of Minnesota professor and specialist in electronic music. He’s composed and recorded numerous musical pieces, but delving into opera was a new challenge—especially when the topic is the terrorist attack on America.
Calling: An Opera of Forgiveness premieres in September at New York City’s acclaimed La MaMa E.T.C. The opera is based on Wickham Boyle’s book, A Mother’s Essays from Ground Zero, and reflects on how 9/11 affected her family. Boyle wrote the words for the opera and Geers wrote the music, combining traditional instruments and computer-generated electronic music.
Geers divides his time between Minneapolis and New York City and was in New York when the airliners smashed into the World Trade Center towers. “A former student of mine died in the tower,” says Geers. “The attack was very personal to me and a lot of other people, and it also touched people all over the world. But, as an artist, I had to take an event everyone thinks they already know and make them see it in a new way.”
The opera is not a documentary and doesn’t deal with global politics. It tells specific stories about specific people on and after 9/11. “This very intimate focus makes it universal,” says Geers. “That’s the power of art. What moves people is not some generic information about the abstract. This opera is about a mother and her husband and their children and about chaos and coping.”
Geers worked off and on for a year and a half writing the music for the 90-minute opera. “This first opera was not easy because you look back on all the masterpieces and that can be daunting,” he says. “Composing the pieces of music was like trying to build a house in the middle of the night. I can feel this is a door and this is a window, and the process of composing accelerates. But it was a long process and a lot of work. It was my primary compositional task over 18 months.”