For its second and final Resident Artist production of the winter months, Pittsburgh Opera will present Douglas J. Cuomo’s Ashes & Snow, beginning Saturday evening, February 17, at the company’s headquarters in the Strip District. There is much about this work to arouse curiosity, as it is rather unique in a number of ways. It will be the first ever staging of the work – the company’s second world premiere in as many seasons – and is a “one man show,” requiring a sole singer as the unnamed “Protagonist.” Eric Ferring, the young tenor of the company, will take on the role of a man facing his demons in a second-rate motel, armed with a bottle. Cuomo uses as his inspiration Wilhelm Müller’s 24 poems which Franz Schubert set to music in his “Winterreise” (Winter Journey) song cycle. To quote from the company’s synopsis of the new composition: “Mr. Ferring will be accompanied by three on-stage musicians, led from the piano by Pittsburgh Opera Director of Musical Studies Mark Trawka. Also included is a trumpet, an electric guitar played by the composer himself, and electronic sound effects. The musical style is ‘21st century art-song,’ infused with acid jazz and punk energy, to create a very raw and emotional experience.”
When Mr. Ferring kindly took the time to share a few thoughts on Ashes & Snow earlier this week, he modestly attributed his assignment of the role to the fact that he is the only tenor in the Resident Artist Program, but local opera goers who have heard him in a number of productions over the last couple of years know enough of his singing and acting abilities to look forward to hearing him in such a pivotal role. A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Mr. Ferring earned his Master of Music in Opera Performance at The Boston Conservatory, and received his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Drake University. He has been a Young Artist at both the Seagle Music Colony and Cedar Rapids Opera, and has conducted a number of productions as well. He has won prizes at the Great Lakes Region of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the 2017 Gerda Lissner International Voice Competition, the 2014 Hal Leonard Vocal Competition: Art Song Division; was a two-time finalist for the International Crescendo Music Awards, and a winner at the 2013 Central Iowa Symphony and Fort Dodge Symphony Competitions. Yet this is but a partial list of his accomplishments to date.
“I will be honest and tell you that creating a new role this early on has definitely been a big challenge,” Mr. Ferring shared with us. “Of course, logistically, I am the lone tenor here in the Resident Artist Program, and have been or will be in every production this season. And, as with world premieres, we’ve had many musical and textual edits, and continue to have those conversations as we work through the production in staging rehearsals for the first time which are a blessing for continuity and expression, but hard for memorization purposes!
“It has been a truly remarkable experience to work with the composer daily and to bring this piece to life in a truly meaningful way for performers and audiences alike. Everyone has felt loss and pain in some way, and they’ve struggled through the heart’s journey to deny, accept, reminisce, belittle, and hopefully move forward from that loss. This piece is a universal story that everyone can and should connect with even if it’s difficult. I have found rehearsals the most enlivening but also the most draining part of the process. I definitely underestimated how tiring it would be to perform a one-man show and to interact with this material daily in such a vulnerable, intimate way, but by doing so, I think audiences will not be able to help but be moved by this work.”
In conclusion, Mr. Ferring offered – with a touch of humor – “It’s a must-see, and you’ve heard that from the entire cast.”
Seating is limited, so those interested in this new work are encouraged to get tickets as soon as possible. They may be purchased online by visiting Pittsburgh Opera, where much more information about the production is available as well.
David Bachman Photography