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Robert Aldridge &
Herschel Garfein


"An important addition to
the American operatic canon."
— Opera News

"Magnificently sung and
acted… stirringly relevant
to modern conflicts."
— Urban Milwaukee
Naxos Original Cast Recording
now available on Naxos


Dreiser's Sister Carrie "came to housebound and airless America like a great free Western wind, and to our stuffy domesticity gave us the first fresh air since Mark Twain and Whitman".
Sinclair Lewis, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1930

The celebrated mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (The Adventures of Pinocchio, Doubt, The Manchurian Candidate) creates the role of Carrie, the young woman born into poverty who defies social and sexual norms to rise to stardom on the New York stage. The brilliant lyric baritone Keith Phares ("a strong contender for iconographic recognition" — Opera News) creates the role of Hurstwood, one of the great tragic characters of American literature: the established middle-class man who throws away his life in pursuit of Carrie. Theodore Dreiser, an ardent lifelong Socialist, presented a view of the gulf separating the Leisure Class from the Working Class that was originally condemned as 'sordid.' His bleak and uncompromising depiction is newly relevant, as America once again veers between extremes of politics and class identity.

Read the program notes   •   Read the press release

Adriana Zabala

Adriana Zabala as Carrie
Adriana Zabala is acclaimed for operatic, concert and recital performances throughout the U.S. and abroad. The New York Times has hailed her as “a vivid, fearless presence,” and the L.A. Times as “an extraordinary, vibrant mezzo-soprano.” In addition to traditional operatic roles such as Cherubino and Rosina, Ms. Zabala has a created chracters in distinctive new works such as Sister James in Cuomo and Shanley's Doubt, Rosie Cheney in Puts and Campbell's The Manchurian Candidate, and Erminella in Musto and Campbell's Volpone. Upcoming premieres include the title role in Aldridge and Garfein's new opera, Sister Carrie, with the Florentine Opera Company, Lucy in Bolcom's Dinner at Eight, and Amore in American premiere of L'Albore di Diana with Minnesota Opera. She recently joined Arizona Opera as Paula in Florencia en el Amazonas, sang Nicklausse in Les Contes D'Hoffmann with Madison Opera, and sang the role of Joanna in the revival of Carly Simon's Romulus Hunt with Nashville Opera. The mezzo also performed the title role in the U.S. premiere of Dove's The Adventures of Pinocchio with Minnesota Opera, and received international acclaim for her role in the U.S. premiere of Glass' Waiting for the Barbarians with Austin Lyric Opera. Ms. Zabala made her European operatic debut in Valencia, Spain under the baton of Maestro Lorin Maazel at the Opera Palau des Arts.

She has been a soloist with the New York Festival of Song, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the New Jersey Symphony, the Jerusalem Symphony, the Jacksonville Symphony, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Elijah with Bryn Terfel. Recent engagements include Mahler's Second Symphony with The Minnesota Orchestra and the Quad City Orchestra, The Mozart Requiem with both the Florida Bach Festival and the Jackonville Syphony, the world premiere of Jeffrey Van's Reaping the Whirlwind with the Susquehanna Valley Chorale, the title role in Annelies, an Anne Frank Oratorio, with both the Minnesota Oratorio Society and at Montclair State University, and Bach's St. Matthew Passion. In recital, Ms. Zabala has performed at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, the Barns at Wolf Trap, with the Source Song Festival, and on the Salzburg International Chamber Music Series, among many others. Her collaboration with composer and pianist Gregg Kallor is highly praised for their recording and performances of his compositions on the CD Exhilaration: Dickinson and Yeats Songs. Zabala and Kallor have performed this program in New York City, Minneapolis, and Salzburg, and on the Tuesday Musical of Akron guest artist series. Upcoming engagements also include recital appearances at National Sawdust in Brooklyn and St. Olaf College, Messiah with Charlotte Symphony, St. Matthew Passion with both the Quad City Symphony and Colorado Symphony, The role of Lelio in Viardot's Le Dernier Sorcier at the Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage, and revisiting the role of Paula in Florencia en el Amazonas with San Diego Opera.

Adriana Zabala was raised in Miami, Caracas, and Houston, and is an alum of apprenctice programs at Tanglewood, Minnesota Opera, Seattle Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and Wolf Trap Opera. She is a graduate of Louisiana State Unversity and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and was a Fulbright Scholar at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. She is Chair of the Voice Division at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches applied voice, graduate vocal literature, and Vive les Arts!, a Global Seminar in Paris, France.

Keith Phares

Keith Phares as Hurstwood
Keith Phares is regarded as one of his generation's most versatile artists. His 2016-17 engagements include Hurstwood in the world premiere of Robert Aldridge's Sister Carrie with Florentine Opera, Escamillo in Carmen with Opera Santa Barbara, Elder Tull in the world premiere of Craig Bohmler's Riders of the Purple Sage with Arizona Opera, Charlie in Three Decembers with Hawaii Opera, Albert in Werther with Manitoba Opera and the American premiere of Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton's The Trial with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. His recent engagements include Zurga in Les pêcheurs des perles with Seattle Opera, Gaylord Ravenal in Showboat with Kentucky Opera, Charlie in Three Decembers with Florentine Opera, Carmina Burana with Madison Symphony and Fort Wayne Philharmonic, John Sorel in The Consul and Orin Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra with Florida Grand Opera, Marcello in La bohème with Seattle Opera and Manitoba Opera, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro with New Orleans Opera and Opera Saratoga, Paul's Case with UrbanArias and the PROTOTYPE festival, Dandini in La cenerentola and the title role in Elmer Gantry with Tulsa Opera and Maximilian and the Captain in Candide with São Paulo Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop.

For his debut with Florentine Opera, he portrayed the title role in Elmer Gantry (a role he created for its world premiere with Nashville Opera), prompting Opera News to write that “Keith Phares's scrupulously rendered Elmer Gantry appears a strong contender for iconographic recognition. Beautifully vocalized and bursting with charismatic smarm (think Burt Lancaster with buttery legato), Phares's achievement will prove a difficult act to follow.” He also created the role of Charlie in Jake Heggie's Three Decembers which he premiered at Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera, playing opposite Frederica von Stade. His performance was praised for his “rich, accurate voice; good looks; and fine acting ability to the part of Charlie, making his performance the highlight of the production.” (San Francisco Classical Voice).

Additional credits of note include his Metropolitan Opera debut in L'enfant et les sortilèges under the baton of James Levine, Ned Keene in Peter Grimes and Donald in Billy Budd at Washington National Opera, Dandini in La cenerentola with Glimmerglass Opera, Anthony in Sweeney Todd, Telemaco in Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, and Fritz (Pierrot) in Die tote Stadt all at New York City Opera, Valentin in Faust with Utah Opera, Claudio in Beatrice and B&eaigu;n&eaigu;dict at Santa Fe Opera and with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Colin Davis, Carmina Burana and Maximilian in Candide with the San Francisco Symphony and Deceit in Gerald Barry's The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

A graduate of the Juilliard Opera Center and the New England Conservatory, he was a national winner of the 1998 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and a finalist in the 1999 Eleanor McCollum Competition of the Houston Grand Opera. He has been recognized with a Richard Gaddes Grant from the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and a Richard F. Gold Career Grant from the Juilliard School of Music. He also is honored to have been affiliated for many seasons with the Marilyn Horne Foundation, under whose auspices he appeared in numerous recitals and master classes throughout the United States.

Adriana Zabala as Carrie & Keith Phares as Hurstwood

Photography: Stephanie Berger • Stylist: Rhonda Roper-Shear • Hair: The Bird House, Brooklyn • Location: Pete's Candy Store, Brooklyn

Highest resolution photographs for print media available on request.

For full audio selections, please click here.

Press Contact: Please download the press release.

Worlds away from the factory

listen Carrie Meeber, a young woman working in a shoe factory in Chicago in 1900, has become the mistress of a traveling salesman, Charlie Drouet. Learning that she is an aspiring actress, he gives her money and clothes, takes her away from the factory and sets her up in her own apartment. In her aria Everything Is Paid For, Carrie reflects on her new life — its luxuries and obligations.

Carrie improvises

listen One night, Drouet takes Carrie to one of Chicago's most fashionable restaurants, Fitzgerald & Moy, which is patronized by a theater crowd. There, she attracts the attention of the restaurant's dashing, extroverted manager, George Hurstwood. He greets a group of celebrated actors arriving at the restaurant. Turning his attention to Carrie, whom Drouet praises as a talented actress, he challenges her to improvise certain stock characters — an ingenue, a street urchin — in front of the assembled actors. Carrie comes through with flying colors, adding triumphant vocal roulades to crown her improvisations.


listen Hurstwood begins a passionate secret relationship with Carrie. His wife Julia gradually becomes suspicious about his many absences and sightings of him about town in the company of a young woman. Finally, one night when he is closing up at Fitzgerald & Moy, Julia has served him with divorce papers. His future prospects are in ruins until he notices that someone has left the restaurant safe open.

On the train

listen With ten thousand dollars in cash stolen from the restaurant, Hurstwood shows up at Carrie's apartment claiming that her lover Drouet has been hurt in an accident and that he will take her by train to the hospital on the outskirts of Chicago. In reality, he boards a train for New York with her. This excerpt begins at the moment that he is forced to admit his ruse.
Archetypal themes of the American experience...vividly drawn...An important addition to the American operatic canon.

"An important addition to the American operatic canon."

Opera News, November 2016

FLORENTINE OPERA SCORED a success on October 7, with the world premiere of Sister Carrie, based upon Theodore Dreiser's urban fable of a young country girl's pursuit of the American Dream. The opera is a collaboration of composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein, who gave us the Grammy award-winning Elmer Gantry.

Like Gantry, Sister Carrie trades in archetypal themes of the American experience — this time the lure of money and social standing. And like its predecessor, the new opera is triumphantly, and unapologetically tonal. Its music skillfully propels the narrative forward—perhaps even more so than Gantry, which was relatively text driven. Garfein's intelligent dramaturgy conceives episodes like George Hurstwood's temptation towards embezzlement as true operatic soliloquies. The score fields some wonderful touches. George's domestic unhappiness is vividly drawn with a cacophony of sound in an ensemble concerning a petty squabble over theatre tickets, which contrasted nicely with a gentle harp figure underscoring Carrie's major aria. Aldridge knows how to bring down a curtain, and he ended the first act with a marvelous effect as the brass rendered a poignant evocation of the lonely sound of a distant train, while Carrie and George escape to New York by rail and their relationship begins its downward slide.

There were some excellent performances. The title role is a tricky wicket, something of a turn-of-the-century Manon. Adriana Zabala created a sympathetic Carrie whose actions were entirely understandable. Zabala's warmly-textured lyric mezzo registered enchantingly, with an easy fluidity reflective of her capability in Baroque music, and she resonated to text insightfully. She was given a lovely aria “Everything is Paid For” in which she deftly revealed the girl's frightened need to find a safe place. Carrie's lover George is the more interesting character however (as was the case in William Wyler's 1952 film, in which Laurence Olivier gave one of his best performances). Baritone Keith Phares nailed the assignment with a beautifully sung, keenly nuanced account of Hurstwood's plunge into desolate desperation. Beyond his work in standard rep, Phares has carved out a notable career niche as an authentic contemporary-American-opera divo. His George joined an impressive gallery of finely-drawn character portraits....

Conductor William Boggs drew glorious sound from the Milwaukee symphony. William Florescu's straightforward staging and Kris Stone's setting of industrial cogs and an omnipresent moon framed matters nicely. Florentine must have put a generous portion of their NEA grant on Rachel Laritz's gorgeous costumes; there seemed like a zillion of them. Sister Carrie was a satisfying evening, and an important addition to the American operatic canon.

Florentine's 'Sister Carrie' is a triumph. Magnificently sung by its two leads... stirringly relevant to modern conflicts.

Florentine's 'Sister Carrie' Is a Triumph

Urban Milwaukee, October 12, 2016

Magnificently sung and acted by its two leads.... It is hard to imagine a better Carrie than mezzo Adriana Zabala nor an improvement to baritone Keith Phares as her imploding lover, George Hurstwood. It is even harder to imagine a score that could more successfully demand acting of such subtlety and singing power.

Aldridge and Garfein are intense and loving readers who also recognized how those times and this tale are stirringly relevant to modern conflicts — and could be enhanced by the spectacle elements of opera. The music and words become a symbolic marriage with Dreiser's original, elevating its naturalism into operatic form.

Aldridge understands the era while ranging across his own opera signatures (as anyone who recalls the same team's Elmer Gantry will realize). In tonality it is close to the period yet deliberately fresh in unexpected extension of notes and adventurous inversions on the way out the door. The compositional arias are not “stand on your hind legs and sing out,” but intricate pacing within the behavior... Just as Dreiser was unflinching in his portraits of the times, so has librettist Garfein extended the trivialities of good eating, or the mechanics of a female assembly line, or angry men huddling and cursing on the street into major musical numbers.... Everyday words are given an amplified and meaningful repetition — a musical opportunity Aldridge seizes.

For anyone who might long for the bel canto trills of classical opera, these are provided in rapid abundance during a backstage “mash notes” duet by Zabala and fine soprano Alisa Suzanne Jordheim as fellow chorine Lola.

To detail Carrie's advance in theater there's a mock Arabian nights tale with ditties much as if Sigmund Romberg's The Desert Song was being interrupted by flippant counterpoints from modern music.

Similarly a defiant march — another light dash of Romberg but flipped in meter and purpose — rises among the homeless, the strikers and the strikebreakers. In coarse angry words it is a persistent blunt reminder that the common man was paying quite a price as Carrie rises.... The intended purpose is crystallized in the finale. Carrie and her chorus girls stand under her name in lights on one side of the stage as Hurstwood recedes into darkness on the other side. The bitterness of the march echoes from the rafters as the orchestra combines clangs and crashes with a sweet, sad and dangling musical line.

Dramatically compelling, beautifully sung...an inventive score...powerful orchestrations... a bold convincing performance by the Milwaukee Symphony.

Compelling singers lead Florentine's world premiere of 'Sister Carrie'

— The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 8, 2016

Mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala gave a dramatically compelling, beautifully sung performance in the title role on Friday. Baritone Keith Phares was strikingly well matched to Zabala in the role of Hurstwood, both in dramatic presence and focused, refined, vocal deliveries.

Tenor Matt Morgan brought energy and a warm sound to the role of Drouet.... Alisa Suzanne Jordheim provided a vocally and theatrically sparkling Lola.

A large ensemble cast, and the Florentine Opera Chorus, gave polished, convincing performances, including some particularly strong, lovely singing from Florentine Opera Studio Artist Ariana Douglas.

The opera is built on an inventive score that reflects music written in the 1890s in spots. Its powerful orchestrations were given a bold, convincing performance by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under conductor William Boggs.

Florentine Opera Hits the Right Notes in World Premiere of 'Sister Carrie'

— Shepherd Express, October 11, 2016

Sister Carrie, a two-act opera by composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein (the duo behind Elmer Gantry), received an outstanding launch by the Florentine Opera. Based on Theodore Dreiser's 1900 novel, Sister Carrie isn't really a feminist story but rather a genuinely unflattering portrait of a rigid and economically stratified country as told through the experiences of one young, attractive, aspiring singer—Carrie Meeber of rural Wisconsin.

Aldridge's through-composed score carried the action forward scene to scene. Carrie and George's love music was tender and lush – but tinged with foreboding. The sounds of an unforgiving urban scene and a steam-powered industrial age were angular and jolting. An excellent supporting cast filled out the action, and the production's lighting, staging and costuming all brought the whole experience of Sister Carrie to brilliant fruition and a powerful dénouement.

Florentine Opera Company® presents:

Sister Carrie: A New American Opera

music by Robert Aldridge
libretto by Herschel Garfein

Based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser

Adriana Zabala (mezzo)
Keith Phares (baritone)

Alisa Jordheim (soprano)
Matt Morgan (tenor)

The Florentine Opera Chorus
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
William Boggs,conductor
William Florescu, director
Kris Stone, scenic designer
Scott Stewart, chorus master
James Zager, choreographer
Noele Stollmack, lighting designer
Rachel Laritz, costume designer
Dawn Rivard, wig & makeup designer

Sister Carrie is published exclusively by Edition Peters (CF Peters Corporation). Rental information on request.

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On Sister Carrie

by Herschel Garfein

Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900) is the great American novel about social status — how it is bestowed, how it must be maintained, and how it can be withdrawn. In its protagonist, Caroline Meeber, Dreiser captured a powerful American archetype, the young person turning her back on where she has come from and who she has been, who continually and almost reflexively strives for ever-higher standing in the world. The currently fashionable term for this is “reinventing oneself” — but it is commonly applied to superficial manipulations of public image by pop stars or politicians. In the United States of the 1890's, when Sister Carrie is set, "“reinventing oneself” was an economic necessity, and a social good. The 1890's were an unparalleled boom time for American industry and for American cities (Edison set up his first power station in lower Manhattan in 1881). The burgeoning economy required an entirely new workforce. Whole generations of men and women had to reinvent themselves as factory workers, as city dwellers; to move from place to place seeking economic opportunity; to discover their skills and to claim as high a place on the social ladder as they could.

At the turn of the twentieth century, women's social status was almost entirely dependent on men. Their employment possibilities were few. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for 1900 show that only 18.8% of women over 16 years of age were gainfully employed — of these, fully 50% were employed in farm or domestic work, 25% in factory work, and the remaining 25% in more skilled professions — basically, teaching and nursing. For the vast majority of women, marriage and motherhood were the only life options. The reality was that women could only achieve status-stability or status-advancement through the agency of men. This is the world that Dreiser unflinchingly depicts in Sister Carrie. He created a heroine who instinctively understands the world around her and advances by following her desires and her ambition, reinventing herself exactly as men are doing all around her. Much of the notoriety of the book stemmed from Dreiser's refusal to criticize her or judge her for this. She begins as a lowly factory worker in Chicago, and eventually she carves out a place for herself as a singing star on Broadway. Meanwhile her lover Hurstwood follows a nearly opposite trajectory. He is a man of high, but provisional, social standing (manager of a successful Chicago restaurant) who at first displays to Carrie and to the world all the signs of unassailable social status: he is impeccably well-dressed, socially easy, self-assured, a man's man. But his self-destructive desire for Carrie leads him to throw away all his former life — to leave his wife, to steal from his firm, to lure Carrie away from Chicago under false pretenses — and thereby, to completely unmoor himself from the world around him, with disastrous consequences. If Carrie has an instinctive understanding of social status and the invisible network of bonds that create our identities and buoy us up in society, Hurstwood has a nearly pathological disregard for those bonds. Carrie sings in her first aria, "everything is paid for" and she lives by that. She compromises and sacrifices for everything she gets; Hurstwood merely grabs for it. Once he has attained the object of his desire --Carrie-- he suffers through a helpless despondency (today, it might be diagnosed as agoraphobia) that becomes intolerable to her. She eventually leaves him and he lands among the homeless of New York City. Even as he declines into abject poverty he continues to grab for status, taking a job as a scab worker during a violent trolley strike. Finally, he gasses himself in a flophouse: his grab for death.

Late in our opera, Carrie is introduced to Balzac's Père Goriot, and finds herself haunted by two unsettling lines, uttered by the aged title character in a spirit of great optimism, just at the moment when all those around him are mercilessly defrauding him: "Money is life. Money can do everything." Carrie understands the irony of these lines, but still struggles to disbelieve their import as she surveys the world around her and considers her own tortuous route into the Leisure Class. Bob Aldridge and I hope that our opera of Sister Carrie has particular relevance for our own times, when the division between the haves and the have-nots of the country has come to seem particularly stark, and when traditional American mores governing the meanings and the purposes of wealth have largely eroded. In rising up the social ladder, Carrie fights battles that all women still fight. Hurstwood's plummet down that same ladder dramatizes a bleak vision of the economic imperative (and its less reputable cognate, the status imperative) at work throughout every segment of American society. And the love story between them is driven by the harsh, at times harrowing, confrontation between two dark, unknowable forces: the force of desire and the force of survival.

Sister Carrie at Florentine

We are deeply indebted to Florentine Opera Company and its General Director, William Florescu, for making Sister Carrie actual. Actual. He didn't make it possible; it was faintly possible. But in the opera world there is a huge, deadly chasm between the possible and the actual — especially when the opera in question requires massive forces: a large cast with highly demanding leading roles, men's and women's choruses, a 40-piece orchestra, multiple complex settings, even dancing harem girls. Without Bill's remarkable support and advocacy, we would certainly have ended up in the chasm.

Florentine has a strong track record of premiering new American operas, and it had given to our first opera, Elmer Gantry, that wonderful, all-important gift: an excellent second production. This happened in 2010, two years after Elmer had premiered at Nashville Opera and Peak Performances at Montclair State University. The Florentine production was recorded "live" and the recording (on the Naxos label) went on to win two GRAMMY awards: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, and Best Engineered Classical Recording. We couldn't have dreamed of a better reception for Elmer Gantry. But Bill was not done with us; he immediately asked us what we might have in mind for a second opera. If he was hoping for something smaller than the massive Gantry he did not betray it in his demeanor. When Bob mentioned Sister Carrie and laid out its rough dimensions and requirements, Bill did not bat an eye. He just told us to get to work, and he did the same — introducing the idea to his community and his audiences, drumming up support through traditional fundraising and through a Kickstarter campaign that ended up doubling its stated goal of donations.

Throughout the past five years, Bill Florescu has been our staunch advocate and patient ally as we struggled with the difficulties of adapting an extremely complex novel. He knows us; he knows how we like to work; he knows the singers and conductors and directors we love to work with. He produced a public workshop of Sister Carrie in Milwaukee in 2014 that became a breakthrough moment for us in the creation of the opera. Now we look forward to the great thrill of Sister Carrie reaching the stage at Florentine Opera Company in October. Actually.

— Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein