Rose in Flames

An Opera in Two Acts


Utah Festival Opera presented a partially staged workshop of portions of this opera on July 28, 2015.

Duration: 120'


Librettists: Mark Medoff, with revisions by Randall Shinn

Orchestra: 2121 2210 1perc strings

Composer Notes: Mark Medoff and I hoped Rose in Flames would be a more concise and focused rewriting of our earlier opera, Sara McKinnon. Utah Festival Opera workshopped partially staged excerpts of Rose in Flames in 2015. This workshop allowed me to see the opera needed further revisions.

Below I've outlined a history of this opera, including my efforts to revise the libretto after Mark’s death. Those efforts eventually failed. Fundamental differences between my storytelling ideas and Mark’s libretto became irreconcilable.

Some History

Mark and I originally developed Sara McKinnon for a university/community production at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, where Mark was on the faculty. I took leave from my position at Arizona State University to compose the music. After the first production in Las Cruces, the University of Colorado in Boulder produced a slightly revised version. The reception for both productions was enthusiastic, leading to sold-out performances.

However, to me these productions revealed significant weaknesses. The story sprawled. The opera was too long, the plot too complex, and the cast unnecessarily large. Unfortunately, the subsequent Utah workshop revealed that our revision efforts had failed to address these issues adequately. The opera needed to be further condensed and better focused.

Mark Medoff passed away in 2019. A couple of years later, I considered further revising his libretto, and Medoff’s estate granted me permission to make significant changes. But I soon doubted I could create a “revision” to accommodate all the changes I had in mind.

My story ideas diverged irreconcilably from Medoff’s libretto. His storytelling, for example, contained traumatic backstories I wanted to eliminate.1 I also wanted to change or eliminate several characters. And I wanted to remove or change several scenes. If I eliminated all the elements of his storytelling that I wanted to delete or change, and then added original elements of my own—the result would be a new work.

Moving On

Eventually, I realized that to tell the story I wanted to tell, I had to write a new libretto. So, hiring dramaturge Kate Pitt to help, I placed the story in a different era, reimagined the characters, restructured the story, and wrote the text of a new libretto titled: A Stake in the Ground.2