Urban planning aficionados know that the industry can be a dramatic place, but not many could have predicted that a classic New York City battle would have a life on the opera stage.
“A Marvelous Order” is a new opera about city planner Robert Moses and journalist and activist Jane Jacobs. It recounts their infamous turf war in the 1960s.
Although Moses was responsible for many public projects that helped rebuild the nation’s economy after the Great Depression, he is infamous for bulldozing entire neighborhoods in the name of imminent domain. Some say his policies were racist.
Jacobs, on the other hand, was a journalist and advocate for historic New York and the everyday realities of its inhabitants.
Moses had a plan for the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which, would divide downtown Manhattan and tear through historic neighborhoods. He planned to bisect Washington Square Park and parts of Greenwich Village. Jacobs rallied and successfully fought the initiative.
The librettist of the opera is Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith and the score is by Judd Greenstein. The piece has direction and animation by Joshua Frankel and choreography by Will Rawls.
The authors say the main character of the opera is New York City itself. They say the city is “represented through a combination of the nameless people who make up the bulk of history, telling its truest stories.”
Their design incorporates “found and designed images, turned into animation and incorporated into a three-dimensional set” to help bring New York City to life.
A workshop production was staged in May 2015, with support and funding from Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Program, The Rockefeller Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. It was developed as part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space program.
“A Marvelous Order” will be staged next at the Center Series at the ’62 Center of Performing Arts at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with future productions to be announced.