Claudia Stevens

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Claudia Stevens (born 1949) is an American musician, performance artist and librettist. Initially a pianist specializing in contemporary music, she is recognized for creating and performing widely an array of interdisciplinary solo performance works, and for her collaborations with composer Allen Shearer as librettist of seven operas.

Early career[edit]

Claudia Stevens was born in Redding, California on May 29, 1949 and attended Vassar College, graduating summa cum laude with the Frances Walker Prize in piano performance.[1] She studied piano with Leon Fleisher, Arie Vardi and Leonard Shure,[2] receiving the DMA from Boston University in 1977. She also attended the University of California at Berkeley (MA in musicology, Alfred Hertz Fellowship, 1972) and twice was a fellow in piano at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1977 Stevens joined the Music faculty at the College of William and Mary, where her papers and an archive of her original works and recordings are housed.[3] Stevens' piano performances[4] focused on new music, with recitals in 1979 and 1981 at the National Gallery in Washington, DC in honor of Roger Sessions [5] and Aaron Copland.[6] Her 1983 Carnegie Recital Hall concert honoring Elliott Carter was sponsored by the New York Composers' Forum. Stevens commissioned over twenty American composers, including Shulamit Ran, Samuel Adler, Robert Xavier Rodriguez, Andrew Imbrie, Allen Shearer, Sheila Silver, Betsy Jolas, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Jeffrey Mumford and Vivian Fine, to contribute new pieces for those recitals, also performing them in Dallas[7] and Boston’s Jordan Hall. Most of the compositions, including two of her own, were published in the journal Perspectives of New Music.

1980s to 2000s[edit]

In 1985 Stevens launched a career as a musical and dramatic solo performer, creating a repertoire of some twenty original works, first in collaboration with composers including Vivian Fine in The Heart Disclosed (1988)[8] and Fred Cohen in An Evening with Madame F (1989), which was televised and presented in performance continuously for twenty-five seasons.[9][10] By the 90's, portraying Felice Bauer in Felice to Franz (1992)[11][12][13] and multiple characters in Playing Paradis (1994),[14][15] Stevens was composing both music and text. A Table Before Me (1999) [16][17] and In the Puppeteer's Wake (2000), of which Baltimore Sun theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck wrote, "Claudia Stevens is a performance artist adept at using the unlikely to unearth unexpected truths,"[18] drew on Stevens' Holocaust-related family history. Dreadful Sorry, Guys (2001), one of three works published by Andrei Codrescu in his poetry journal Exquisite Corpse, dealt with hate crimes and homophobia. The Poisoner on the Train (2004) was staged by Baltimore Theater Project to commemorate the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.[19] Blue Lias, or the Fish Lizard's Whore (2007), about fossil hunter Mary Anning, explored controversies between science and religion. Its presentations around the Charles Darwin bi-centennial included the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Flea (2008)[20] and Pigeon (2011),[21] about naturalist Miriam Rothschild, dealt with human-animal relations.

Opera Librettist, 2008 to present[edit]

In collaboration with composer Allen Shearer, Stevens created librettos for seven operas:

  • The Dawn Makers (2008), a chamber opera in one act, of which Allan Ulrich wrote in Opera “Claudia Stevens’s libretto sings well and wavers cunningly between comedy and pathos”[22]
  • A Very Large Mole (2009), a chamber opera in one act, after Kafka.
  • Riddle Me (2010), a chamber opera for youth in one act, commissioned by Opera Theater of UC, Santa Cruz
  • Middlemarch in Spring (2014), a chamber opera in two acts after the novel by George Eliot[23] reviewed by Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle[24] and Janos Gereben in the San Francisco Examiner who noted Stevens' adaptation for "keeping Eliot’s voice and the meandering story intact—and even enhanced—within the constraints of inevitable abbreviation and the demands of the stage.”[25] Kosman also named Middlemarch in Spring one of the ten best Bay Area operas produced in 2015[26] and it was listed by Encyclopædia Britannica as a major new classical work on the world stage.[27]
  • Kissing Marfa (2015), a comic chamber opera in one scene based on a short story by Chekhov.
  • Circe's Pigs (2015), a comic chamber opera in one act based on an episode from Homer's Odyssey
  • Howards End, America (2016), a chamber opera in three acts after the novel by E. M. Forster. Referring to a preview of scenes from Act III, San Francisco Classical Voice noted that the libretto "masterfully adapts the E.M. Forster story to McCarthy-era Boston."[28]

Interviews (selected)[edit]

  • Charles Sydnor WCVE (Richmond) broadcast (1990)[29]
  • Dee Perry WCPN (Cleveland) broadcast (2009)[30]
  • "Revelation, a conversation with Claudia Stevens" in Reform Judaism (2009)[31]
  • Erica Miner in Broadway World, San Francisco and LA Opus, May, 2015[32][33]

Published writings[edit]

  • “A New Look at Schumann's Impromptus" in Musical Quarterly (1981)[34]
  • "A Bouquet for Elliott Carter," Perspectives of New Music, (1983)[35]
  • "I, My Man, Only and Doll: monologues for one to four performers by Claudia Stevens" (the original title of “Dreadful Sorry, Guys”) in the online journal Exquisite Corpse (2001)[36]
  • The Poisoner on the Train in the online journal Exquisite Corpse (2003)[37]
  • "A Very Large Mole: A chamber opera after Franz Kafka" in the online journal Exquisite Corpse (2010).[38]
  • "A New Opera: Middlemarch in Spring" in George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies (2015)[39]
  • "Page to Stage: A New Opera, Howards End, America" in the Polish Journal of English Studies, March 2, 2017, a special issue devoted to E.M. Forster[40]


Archives of Stevens’ papers and original works: Claudia Stevens Papers, 1967-continuing, Swem Library Special Collections, College of William and Mary: Series 1: Claudia Stevens’ papers as pianist and in the commissioning and advocacy of music of the second half of the twentieth century, 1966-2003 (includes Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter commissioning projects); Series 2: Works of Claudia Stevens as interdisciplinary performer, writer, composer, playwright and librettist, 1986 - continuing. Audiovisual collection in Manuscripts mss. 1.04 includes audio VHS and DVD recordings, radio and television broadcasts.[41] University of Richmond, Boatwright Library: Claudia Stevens' papers and memorabilia re performances of "An Evening with Madame F," 1989 - 2006 Aaron Copland House: Papers devoted to Stevens' commissioning project honoring Aaron Copland, 1980-81.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Masters and Mentors of the Piano: an account by Claudia Stevens of her piano study with major piano teachers and performing artists of the second half of the twentieth century, 1966-81"
  3. ^
  4. ^ Dika Newlin, “Music,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 6, 1981
  5. ^ Paul Hume, “Music Notes,” Washington Post, May 1, 1979
  6. ^ Joan Reinthaler, “Claudia Stevens,” Washington Post, April 21, 1981
  7. ^ Olin Chism, “A birthday tribute for Elliott Carter,” Dallas Times Herald, 10-E, Dec. 21, 1983
  8. ^ Channing Gray, “A pianist’s Poe-pourri,” The Providence Journal-Bulletin, “Lifebeat,” section D, Oct. 5, 1990
  9. ^ Elaine Schmidt, “‘Madame F’ a compelling performance,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Encore,” Apr. 15, 1996
  10. ^ Catherine Foster, "Musical drama recalls Auschwitz performers," The Boston Globe, "Critics' Picks," D6 Weekend, March 17, 2006
  11. ^ Clarke Bustard, “Vivid monodrama sets love affair to music,” Richmond Times Dispatch, Feb. 24, 1992, p. C3
  12. ^ Carl Dolmetsch, “Felice to Franz,” Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), Sept. 30, 1992
  13. ^ Cheryl Pallant, “Love Letters,” Style Weekly (Richmond), “Theater,” p. 45, Dec. 21, 1993
  14. ^ J. Wynn Rousuck, “Playing Paradis is intense, moving drama,” The Baltimore Sun “Maryland Live,” p. 23, Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 1994.
  15. ^ Zsofia Kaplar, “One woman, many characters, twice,” The Budapest Sun (Hungary), May 18–24, 1995
  16. ^ Laura Stewart, “Stevens in A Table Before Me,” The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, May 9, 2000
  17. ^ Teresa Annas, “Secret Songs,” The Virginian Pilot, “The Daily Break,” E1 and E4, March 31, 2001
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Allan Ulrich in Opera, July 2009, “San Francisco,” 845
  23. ^ Delia da Sousa Correa and Michael Halliwell, "Middlemarch in Spring" in George Eliot Review 2016, issue 47, September, 2016
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Middlemarch--literature's gift to opera" by Janos Gereben, San Francisco Examiner, March 20, 2015
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ radio interview with Dee Perry on WCPN
  31. ^ Aron Hirt Manheimer, editor, Reform Judaism: "Revelation, a conversation with Claudia Stevens," Reform Judaism, vol. 38, No. 2, Winter, 2009, p. 38-40, continues p. 53[permanent dead link]
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ "A New Look at Schumann's Impromptus," Musical Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 4, Fall, 1981, pp. 568-586 (author as Claudia Stevens Becker)
  35. ^ "A Bouquet for Elliott Carter," Perspectives of New Music, vol. 22, nos. 1 and 2, Fall-Winter, 1983:program notes p. 8-9 for the cassette tape, Side A, "A Bouquet for Elliott Carter," Claudia Stevens, pianist
  36. ^ Exquisite Corpse: Journal of Letters and Life, "Stage and Screen": "I, My Man, Only and Doll: monologues for one to four performers by Claudia Stevens," Issue 10, Fall/Winter, 2001-2002
  37. ^ "Claudia Stevens: 'The Poisoner on the Train.' Our fabulous playwright is back!" Exquisite Corpse: Journal of Letters and Life, "Stage": cyber issue 13, winter, 2003,
  38. ^ "A Very Large Mole: A chamber opera after Franz Kafka," Libretto by Claudia Stevens for the opera by Allen Shearer, Exquisite Corpse: Journal of Letters and Life, "Scenarios", summer, 2010
  39. ^ Stevens (2015). "A New Opera: Middlemarch in Spring". George Eliot - George Henry Lewes Studies. 67 (2): 227. doi:10.5325/georelioghlstud.67.2.0227. JSTOR 10.5325/georelioghlstud.67.2.0227.
  40. ^ Polish Journal of English Studies, March. 2, 2017
  41. ^