A Waterbird Talk

by Dominick Argento
(Adaptation ofthe Chekhov monologue "On the Harmfulness Of Tobacco" by the composer)

A DVD with menu of a live performance by Donald Collup
February 22, 1990

Watch a Youtube excerpt at the bottom of this page


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Mr. and Mrs. Argento, Donald Collup and Geraldine Collup
After performance on February 2, 1990

During the summer of 1985 while I was preparing for my Alice Tully Hall recital, I was having a Mexican dinner with the composer Stephen Paulus whose "ArtSongs" I would give the first New York performance. Knowing my ability as a pianist, he recommended that I look at Dominick Argento's one-man opera "A Waterbird Talk" - an opera that "requires" the singer to play the piano.

A Waterbird Talk was first performed on May 19, 1977 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, N. Y., by the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble under the direction of Philip Brunelle with Vern Sutton, a favored colleague of the composer, as the Lecturer. It was directed by Ian Strasfogel. I later bought the score but did not have the where-with-all just to learn it without a performance looming in the near future. The difficulty of the work was something that would require a long period of study, not to mention the difficulty of finding someone to accompany the learning process.

That opportunity came four years later when Lynn Taylor Hebden, the Alumnae director at the Peabody Institute called me. She said that the school was planning a tribute to one of its alumnae, Dominick Argento on February 2, 1990 and would like to ask me to sing "A Waterbird Talk." I didn't have to think about it. After doing all of my initial study, I hired a cracker-jack of a pianist, Christopher Oldfather, to help me with the score. He played it flawlessly.

Washington Post review of first performance

This video is from the second staged performance, eighteen days later, on February 22, 1990, at a chamber music concert. During this performance, just as my fingers hit the piano keyboard, I discovered major obstruction in its mechanism: a percussionist, not knowing the piano was to be used in the second half of the concert, had hastily wrapped brass temple bells in a blue t-shirt and "stored" them inside the piano. I stopped the action momentarily, removed the saucer-sized bells and continued again.

The Peabody Camerata was conducted by Gene Young. Roger Brunyate was the gifted designer and director.