Haunted, a dance opera for baritone, three dancers, string quartet and percussion, is the latest collaboration between California’s poet laureate Dana Gioia and Lehigh composer Paul Salerni.
Haunted is a 200-line poem that is a first-person tale of a young man who feels out of place in his wealthy lover’s family mansion one weekend. He sees the ghost of a beautiful woman who tells him, “You don’t belong here.” The poem is part of Gioia’s latest book, 99 Poems: New and Selected. Salerni, the NEH Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and professor of music, thought it would make an interesting opera.
“I got this idea about a year ago,” says Salerni. “Dana was at the West Chester poetry conference, which he founded, so I went down and spoke with him. We’ve worked together many times, and I’ve been trying to get him to write a libretto for a second opera. When I saw this poem, I said this could turn into something unique. Dana also saw the possibilities, suggesting that much of the story could be communicated through dance. So we decided on a mixture of opera, narration, slides and ballet. Dana likes to call it a ‘dance opera.’ And the theme is timely because the interest in ghosts is big these days.”
Written as a six-scene, one-act opera, Haunted is the second operatic venture between Gioia and Salerni. The pair created Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast, for which Gioia wrote the libretto and Salerni composed the music. The work won the National Opera Association award for best new chamber opera and was premiered in Los Angeles in 2008.