Local legend says that Helene Wurlitzer and Mabel Dodge Luhan were not close. However, one can imagine that both women would be proud of how their individual legacies have come together for the …
Local legend says that Helene Wurlitzer and Mabel Dodge Luhan were not close. However, one can imagine that both women would be proud of how their individual legacies have come together for the making of an opera.
Nell Shaw Cohen, an alumna of Taos' Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, will be hosting a workshop performance of her opera, "Mabel's Call," at the University of New Mexico's Center for the Arts in Keller Hall in Albuquerque. It will be the first time the work-in-progress will be performed fully staged.
I first met Cohen in 2017 when I was interviewing her for a Tempo story on "Mabel's Call." At that time she was visiting Taos on a Wurlitzer artist residency, and preparing for a workshop performance of excerpts from the opera held at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos.
This time, Cohen and I spoke on the phone. She was in Santa Fe and about to begin working with students from the opera program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in preparation for their production of "Mabel's Call." The performance will be given Friday and Saturday (Nov. 2-3), 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday (Nov. 4) at 2 p.m. in Albuquerque.
Cohen told me that as background for "Mabel's Call," the students who will be performing it took a trip to Taos to visit the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, former home of Mabel and her husband, Tony Lujan. They also visited Taos Pueblo.
In addition, the students have been engaged in background reading. Multiple casts will be performing the different roles in the opera to give as many students as possible an opportunity to step into the production.
"Mabel's Call" follows the story of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a New York socialite who came to Taos in 1917 when she was 38 years old. She subsequently fell in love with Tony Lujan of Taos Pueblo and moved to Taos. Mabel used her influence to bring many artists to Taos, including photographer Ansel Adams, writer D.H. Lawrence and painter Georgia O'Keeffe.
Scored for six soloists, chorus (optional) and a seven-piece chamber ensemble, "Mabel's Call" is a one-act opera, 85 minutes in length.
Cohen finds the operatic form appealing. "One of the reasons I decided to pursue composition as my main life path was that it enables you to pull in from the world of ideas and to engage with really a limitless possibility of ideas and narratives and places and images," she said. "As a composer you can just dive deep into a subject matter and interpret it through your music. To me, opera is the ultimate form of that process because you're doing storytelling above all, and you're telling stories directly through music, so it's the ultimate example of using music as a form of communication.
"I also just love singers and singing and writing for voice and finding the melodic content of a phrase of text and feeling how that's going to land in the singer's voice and how the expressive potential of the text can be realized through song," Cohen added.
Cohen will begin work on a second evening-length chamber opera work this January when she returns to the Wurlitzer Foundation for another Taos artist residency. This opera, called "Turn and Burn," will focus on contemporary professional women barrel racers in the Houston rodeo and is commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera's community outreach program for its "Song of Houston" series of chamber operas. Cohen is working with her sister, playwright Megan Cohen, as the librettist for the opera.
Tickets for the UNM production of "Mabel's Call" are available at the door or at unmtickets.com. Prices range between $8-12. A free preconcert symposium moderated by Mabel Dodge Luhan biographer, Lois Rudnick, will take place Friday (Nov. 2 ) and Saturday (Nov. 3) at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday (Nov. 4) at 1 p.m. at UNM's Keller Hall. For more information, visit mabelscall.com.
Visit nellshawcohen.com for additional information on Cohen and her projects. These include LandscapeMusic.org, a national composers network and online publication for composers inspired by landscape, nature and place and "Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails," a nationwide concert series held in the fall 2018 to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of the National Trails System Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Tickets to the UNM concerts range from $8 to $12 and may be purchased through unmtickets.com.
In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.