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Hear 'Grant Wood Operas: Strokes of Genius' On IPR Classical

Taylor Fiser Photography
Jean Francois Charles, Robert Lindsey-Nassif, and Michael Ching

A picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre, it’s worth at least a thousand notes!

Just over ten years ago, CROT founder and artistic director, Daniel Kleinknecht had an “aha” moment.

“Tripp Evans’ book ‘Grant Wood: A Life’ was my initial introduction to Grant Wood the person, Grant Wood the artist, and to his works. His descriptions of Grant made a deep impression on me. There were several notions about this project that I liked. Creating an opera based on paintings has been something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I like reading biographies and to have the chance to create something somewhat biographical in opera appealed to me,” Kleinknecht says.

Almost a decade later, Kleinknecht’s epiphany morphed into a three-act opera. Each act is self-contained and composed by a trio of Iowa-based composers.

“The piece comes from one inspiration, Grant Wood, and this is the brilliant result, three distinct compositions – three different compositional styles,” Kleinknecht adds.

The composers were granted access to the bowels of the Cedar Rapids Art Museum’s “rich holdings in works by Wood” with CRMA executive director, Sean Ulmer as their guide.

“Afterward,” Ulmer said, “the Museum worked with the composers by providing them with images of the works they found most intriguing and the composers went off to create.”

Act 1

"Grant Wood Operas: Strokes of Genius” includes a triumvirate of one-act gems.

Robert Lindsey-Nassif’s opera “American Gothical” opens the trilogy with an amusing musical setting centering around Wood’s most intimate circle of family and friends, focusing on his well-known art coup, “American Gothic.”

Act 2

Jean François-Charles takes a less traditional angle, utilizing blended characters with unusual instrumentation and staging, focusing on Wood’s enigmatic stay in France called, “Grant Wood in Paris.”

Act 3

Michael Ching chronicles Wood’s life and struggles as a teacher, as an artist and as a man in his “Eight Woods and a Van.” Ching delves into Wood’s career, musically comparing his “American Gothic” with van Eyck’s 14th century “Arnolfini” portrait and probing into Wood’s ambiguous, personally-destructive and attention-grabbing “Sultry Night.”

Listen to the second half of the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre's world-premiere performance of "Grant Wood Operas: Strokes of Genius" from April 2019.

IPR Classical is presenting two broadcasts the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s 2019 world-premiere performance of “The Grant Wood Operas: Strokes of Genius" as part of our Arias in April series. You can hear the performance on your favorite IPR Classical station on Saturday evening May 2 at 8 p.m. and again Sunday night May 3 at 10 p.m. or online at iowapublicradio.org.

Jacqueline Halbloom is a Sr. Music Producer and Classical Music Host