Inspired by the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mabel's Call is an opera in one act (80 minutes) currently in development, scored for six soloists, chorus, and chamber ensemble.
In 1917, restless 38-year old Mabel abandons her life in New York City as a salon hostess and international icon of the avant-garde in order to reinvent herself in the remote village of Taos, New Mexico.
Mabel’s journey of self-discovery leads her to Tony Lujan: a Pueblo Indian who becomes her mentor and husband. With Tony, Mabel builds a bridge between cultures and summons the seekers of the world—artists, writers, reformers, composers, dance choreographers—who look to the West for a cultural rebirth built from the soil of indigenous America.
Mabel is fiercely unconventional, yet quintessentially American. A universal tale told on an intimate scale, Mabel's Call probes themes of identity, love, home, spirituality, and the search for a meaningful life, which will resonate with audiences everywhere.
Excerpts from evening-length workshop reading of excerpts from Mabel’s Call in piano reduction score. Performed by soprano Shelley Jackson, tenor Andre Garcia-Nuthmann, and baritone Carlos Archuleta, with music direction by pianist Kristin Ditlow. Presented in conjunction with national touring exhibit Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company: American Moderns and the West.
New York City-based composer, librettist, and multimedia artist Nell Shaw Cohen (b. 1988) evokes visual art, natural landscapes, and the lives of mavericks and artists in her lyrically expressive works ranging from orchestral tone poems to mobile apps. Cohen has been commissioned by Houston Grand Opera to write a chamber opera (premiere 2021) with librettist Megan Cohen for HGOco's Song of Houston initiative. Cohen is an alumna of the Composers & the Voice fellowship with American Opera Projects and the Composer-Librettist Studio at New Dramatists.
In 2014, her monodrama The Coming of Spring was given a workshop staging in NYC and she was Composer-in-Residence with the New York University Symphony. She has presented work at the Parrish Art Museum, Harwood Museum of Art, and Peabody Essex Museum, and received commissions from Montage Music Society, Boston GuitarFest, and WordSong. Cohen’s residencies have included Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and a Page 73 Yale Summer Residency with playwright Mashuq Mushtaq Deen.
As director of LandscapeMusic.org, a publication and composers network, Cohen advocates for music inspired by nature. Cohen (M.M. New York University, B.M. New England Conservatory) has studied with Herschel Garfein, Michael Gandolfi, Missy Mazzoli, and Julia Wolfe, et al.
Learn more at nellshawcohen.com
Mabel Dodge Luhan was a central and controversial figure in the artistic and intellectual avant-garde of early 20th century America. Mabel lived several lives: breaking away from her upbringing in a wealthy, conservative family in Buffalo, and her first marriage—through which she gained a son and lost a husband to a hunting accident—she traveled to Europe and hosted glamorous salons in Florence at a villa she owned with her second husband, Boston architect Edwin Dodge. There, she entertained friends such as as Gertrude and Leo Stein.
Mabel returned to the States and became a noted player in Greenwich Village’s burgeoning radical intellectual scene. She allied herself with John Reed, Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, Alfred Stieglitz, and the founders of the Provincetown Players, among others. She hosted popular “evenings” at her apartment and advocated for Modern art, women’s rights, and worker’s rights as an organizer, promoter, and newspaper columnist. With the onset of World War I, Mabel became disillusioned with urban living and the idealism of political movements. She followed her love of “Nature and Art,” moving to Croton-on-Hudson—and finally to New Mexico with her third husband, painter Maurice Sterne.
After meeting her fourth and final husband, Tony Lujan of Taos Pueblo, Mabel built an estate in Taos with extensive housing for guests. She helped to establish Northern New Mexico as a center for Modern art and drew international attention to indigenous Pueblo and Hispano arts and culture. She was responsible for bringing Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Martha Graham, and many others to the Southwest, which had an indelible impact on these artists. Mabel also published several books of memoirs and nonfiction, including Winter in Taos (1935) and Edge of Taos Desert (1937).
Learn more about Mabel on the website of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.
Fall 2018 • University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico
UNM Opera Theatre will present a full-length, semi-staged workshop production of Mabel’s Call, with stage direction by Leslie Umphrey and music direction by Kristin Ditlow. (Performance dates TBA.) Composer and librettist Nell Shaw Cohen will be UNM Opera Theatre Composer-in-Residence for Fall 2018.
Summer 2017 • The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico in Taos, New Mexico
Nell Shaw Cohen was Artist-in-Residence, continuing work on Mabel’s Call.
June 18, 2017 • The Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico
Conversation and opera video screening exploring Mabel’s Call with Nell Shaw Cohen, moderated by author Lois Rudnick, in celebration of Taos’s annual Mabel Dodge Luhan Day.
September 29 & October 2, 2016 • American Opera Projects in New York City
Workshop reading of scenes from Mabel’s Call in piano score. Performed by soprano Tookah Sapper, tenor Blake Friedman, and baritone Kyle Guglielmo, with music direction by pianist Mila Henry. Featured on Composers & the Voice: Six Scenes concert program.
August 12, 2016 • The Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico
Evening-length workshop reading of excerpts from Mabel’s Call in piano score. Performed by soprano Shelley Jackson, tenor Andre Garcia-Nuthmann, and baritone Carlos Archuleta, with music direction by pianist Kristin Ditlow. Presented in conjunction with national touring exhibit Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company: American Moderns and the West.
Summer 2016 • The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico in Taos, New Mexico
Nell Shaw Cohen was Artist-in-Residence, working on Mabel’s Call.
May 13 & 14, 2016 • American Opera Projects in New York City
Performance of aria “Tony Teaches Me” from Mabel’s Call in piano score. Performed by soprano Tookah Sapper with music direction by pianist Charity Wicks. Featured on Composers & the Voice: First Glimpse concert program.
The Taos News, "Mabel's life in song: New chamber opera explores the early Taos life of Mabel Dodge Luhan" on Mabel's Call presentation at the Harwood Music of Art. (6/15/17)
The Taos News, "Mabel Dodge Luhan, as operatic vision" on Mabel's Call workshop concert at the Harwood Music of Art. (8/11/16)
The Mabel Dodge Luhan House Blog, "Mabel Dodge Luhan Inspires Nell Shaw Cohen Opera" on Mabel's Call at the Harwood Music of Art. (8/10/16)
Visit nellshawcohen.com to learn more about the work of composer and librettist Nell Shaw Cohen.
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