Home | About ARSIS | New Releases | Best Sellers | Catalog | ARSIS News | Order
A Premier Catalog of Premiere Recordings


CD154   Firebird Motel


CD154 Firebird Motel
An Opera in One Act

Music by David Conte
Libretto by David Yezzi

Thick Description Theatre Company
San Francisco Conservatory Chorus & Chamber Ensemble
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

  • Complete libretto
  • Performer profiles
  • 60'12" total playing time

CD154     $15.95

Purchase from Canticle Distributing


Firebird Motel
An opera in one act based on a scenario by David Yezzi and Tony Kelly, Firebird Motel was commissioned by Thick Description with the support of the Flintridge Foundation. The work was premiered at Thick House on November 17, 2003, Jeffrey Thomas, conductor; Tony Kelly, stage director. The premiere production was also supported in part through Subito, the quick advancement grant program of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American Composers Forum.

Ivan: Mark Hernandez, tenor - night clerk at the Firebird Motel, he keeps to himself
Nova: Milissa Carey, mezzo-soprano - longtime Firebird resident
Julie: Julie Queen, soprano - she danced in Vegas, wound up at the Firebird, disappeared some time ago
Corina: Shawnette Sulker, soprano - she looks young for her age, a weary sensuality like a desert mirage
Trooper: Micah Epps, baritone - petty and easily angered, with the torpor and menace of a horned lizard
Chorus - Church choir heard through Ivan's radio
Elena de Mattos, Elena Krell (soprano); Ruby Fulton, Gabrielle McColgan (alto); Robin Estrada, Lawrence Pech (tenor); Abraham Fabella, Patrick Leveque (bass)

Megumi Stohs (violin); Robert Howard ('cello), Alden F. Cohen (bass); Jonathan Russell (clarinet); Keisuke Nakagoshi (piano)
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor



{Conte’s} short opera is clearly the work of an experienced writer for the stage. It is terse dramatically, and because of that makes its impact with maximum effect…The opera is constructed along the lines of a number opera…Conte knows how to use this structure to work towards a climax…this is definitely well worth hearing. – Colin Clark, FANFARE, April 2007

Mr. Conte pays great attention to melodic vocal writing and that is the main reason we listen to opera…Mr. Yezzi’s libretto provides sufficient interest and detail to what could be a stock opera plot. The motivations of the characters seem justified and the emotional outburts of arias happen at the right times.The instrumental group of violin, cello, bass, clarinet, and piano supports the singers well without overpowering and does not grow stagnant to my ears as the hour is up… The instruments get their own moments in the sun but, as it should be, the voices are the prominent sounds….The lyricism of Firebird Motel provides just the right balance the desolate setting and the hopes and dreams of the characters… Firebird Motel is a solidly constructed one-act opera that singers should enjoy singing and audience should enjoy hearing.– Jay Batzner, Sequenza21


"'...Firebird Motel weaves a hypnotic spell. Conte's sinuously suggestive melodies create a paradoxically lush impression and build gently, almost pensively, but inexorably toward the climax. Plaintive solos alternate with vibrant duets and lustrous trios, punctuated by Conte's lovely Christmas chorales, in an almost seamless creation... Conte's 'Firebird' takes flight on the wings of its music." - Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle (11/19/03)

'Conte's music is mesmerizing ... an arresting balance between the squalid and the sublime' - Chloe Veltman, SF Bay Guardian (11/28/03)

'Moments of extraordinary beauty ... an intimate, even moving one-act accompanied by lush, appealing music.... - Chad Jones, Oakland Tribune (11/21/03)

“Conte’s score for five-piece chamber orchestra, singers, and tape is accessibly tonal and his American sound reveals a penchant for his Yankee predecessors—Barber, Gershwin and Sondheim among them…. His real strength lies in the ruminating orchestration that fills the space between the dialogue. He demonstrates a knack for convincingly avoiding cadences and prolonging musical phrases, which mightily sustains the tension of the [drama].” – Ben Finane, Classics Today (11/28/03)



Prologue: Nova's Warning
A few months earlier at the Firebird Motel, a young woman named Julie disappeared under mysterious circumstnaces. Nova sings a song of the desert, joined by the wordless voice of the missing woman.

Scene One: The Graveyard Shift
In the Firebird's lobby, denizens of the motel are waiting out a violent storm. The local cop, Trooper, taunts Corina, with whom he has been having a series of forced assignations. As he exits, he orders her to meet him outside. Corina, who mocks Trooper in front of the night clerk Ivan, ultimately goes to him as a way to avoid a beating and possibly jail.

Scene Two: Ivan and His Radio
Ivan is unable to stop Corina from leaving. He has seen this destructive cycle played out before with Julie, whose disappearance haunts him and whose voice he hears over the radio. The lights go out. Julie appears to Ivan and reveals that she was shot by Trooper and left in the desert to die. She warns Ivan that Corina is in danger and urges him to help her.

Scene Three: Ivan's Ideal
A few hours later, Nova enters the lobby brandishing a pistol, as the lights come back on and Ivan is startled awake. Corina enters with Trooper's blood on her shirt. They have been fighting. Nova offers her, first, a cup of tea and, then, a pistol to protect herself. Corina discovers a picture of Julie as a girl and sings of her own childhood. Ivan comforts Corina and dreams of world without violence, warning Corina to get away from the motel and Trooper. Corina explains that she has nowhere else to go.

Scene Four: A Shot in the Dark
Trooper enters. His ear is crudely bandaged, and blood stains his clothing. He confronts Corina, with his gun drawn. The lights go out again, and a shot is heard. Nova believes that Corina has been killed and flees to her room. Corina, who has collapsed on the floor, was too scared to fire her gun. Ivan makes a confession, and Julie's voice is heard, as the sun rises and Ivan and Corina escape to an unknown fate.



Librettist David Yezzi was one of the founders of Thick Description in New York City in 1988, acting in all of the company's shows in 1988 and 1989 and writing a verse drama for the company, The Killer and the Corpse. He is the author of The Hidden Motel (TriQuarterly Books) and Sad Is Eros (Aralia Press). His poems and criticism have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Yale Review and elsewhere. Recipient of a Stegner Fellowship in poetry from Stanford University, he was director of the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York City from 2001 to 2006. He is executive editor of The New Criterion.

Thick Description is one of the contry's smallest professional theater companies, founded in New York City in 1988 by Karen Amano, Tony Kelly, Rick Martin, and David Yezzi and now based in San Francisco. The name comes from anthropologist Clifford Goertz's "The Interpretation of Cultures." Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, it has dedicated itself to the realization of a new American dramaturgy inclusive of America's diversity of race, culture, and sexual orientation. It seeks out artists who innovate and scripts that challenge; it continues to focus on representing the perspectives of people of color; and it is also concentrating on the development of new music theater works that draw inspiration from sources as varied as hip-hop and opera.

Composer David Conte is Professor of Composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Composer-In-Residence for Thick Description. He has received commissions from Chanticleer, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, The Oakland-East Bay Symphony, Sonoma City Opera, the Dayton Philharmonic, and the Stockton Symphony, and has composed songs for Barbara Bonney, Thomas Hampson, and Phyllis Bryn-Julson. He is the composer of three operas: The Dreamers (with librettist Philip Littell); The Gift of the Magi (with Nicholas Giardini,and recorded on ARSIS CD141); Firebird Motel (with David Yezzi) and a musical, The Passion of Rita St. James (with John Stirling Walker). The Gift of the Magi has been produced at the San Francisco Conservatory, Winnipeg Opera, Asheville Lyric Opera, Muddy River Opera Company, and Opera South.

Conte received degrees from Bowling Green State University and Cornell University, where he studied with Karel Husa, Robert Palmer, and Steven Stucky, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Paris where he was one of the last students of Nadia Boulanger. For Thick Description, he has scored five productions, including the premieres of the company's adaptations of Iphigeneia at the Bay of Aulis and Elektra, the West Coast premieres of Thomas Disch's Ben-Hur and Horvath's Figaro Gets a Divorce, and the premiere of Octavio's Solis's Santos & Santos. He has published over 60 works with E.C. Schirmer Music Company, Boston, and his music has been recorded by Chanticleer, Elektra, St. Olaf's Choir, The Choir of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., organist David Higgs, and many others. Conte co-wrote the film score for the documentary Ballets Russes, shown at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals in 2005, and the score for the PBS documentary Orozco: Man of Fire.

Mezzo-soprano Milissa Carey's most recent engagements include the Broadway National Tour of Evita, directed by Hal Prince, and currently, Desiree in A Little Night Music at Pacific Alliance Theatre Company. An award-winning actor and singer, Milissa has performed principal roles throughout the Bay Area with companies like AMTSJ, Theatreworks, Center Repertory Theater, San Jose Repertory Theatre, TheatreFirst, Thick Description, Foothill Music Theare, Willows Theatre, 42nd Street Moon, Broadway by the Bay, California Conservatory Theater, Theatre Rhinoceros, San Francisco Playwrights Festival, PlayGround, and George Coates Performance Works.

Baritone Micah Epps is a native of Houston, Texas, and his experience ranges from opera to classical and sacred choral iterature. His operatic roles include Eumolpus in Satyricon by Lisa Scola Prosek; Kaiaphas and Tiberius in Sub Pontio Pilato by Erling Wold; Creon in Mark Alburger's Antigone, the Secret Policeman in The Consul; Figaro and Bartolo in The Marrige of Figaro; Guillermo in Così Fan Tutte; Ctseipe in Penelope; Sarastro, 1st Priest and Armored Man in The Magic Flute; Simone in Gianni Schicci; and Masetto in Don Giovanni. He has performed as a soloist in such groups as the San Mateo Masterworks Chorale (an Eastern European Tour soloist), and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. He was recently soloist in Mozart's Requiem in Mermosillo, Mexico.

Tenor Mark Hernandez has sung over fifty roles with San Francisoc Bay Area companies such as Berkeley Opera, Cinnabar Opera, Lamplighters, Music Theater Collaborative, Pocket Opera, Thick Description, and West Bay Opera. An experienced performer of contemporary music, he has worked with several composers on their operas, including Hector Armienta (River of Women, Z), David Conte (Firebird Motel, The Dreamers, The Passion of Rita St. James), Myron Fink (The Conquistador), Carla Lucero (Wuornos, Sor Juana), Henry Mollicone (Emperor Norton, The Face on the Barroom Floor), and Conrad Susa (Transformations). Mark has worked as a teaching artist for San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, and West Bay opera, and has sung with San Francisco Opera's Extra Chorus for several seasons.

Soprano Julie Queen is a San Francisco based singer/performer whose performance antics in ropes, trapezes, in cages, in startling operas and in diverse venues from dive bar to concert hall, have made her uncategorizable. She has performed in many premieres of new works ranging from the opera Wuornos in the title tole about convicted serial killer Aileen Wuornos, to the role of Frida in an opera about Mexican Frida Kahlo. Julie has sung in concert with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kent Nagano. She is co-founder of the interdisciplinary performance group the Qube Chix, who have performed in theaters and clubs throughout the Bay Area as well as The Knitting Factory and CBGB's in New York. She has collaborated on a new opera theatre piece, Burning Louise, which premiered in 2004, and she is also co-directing/producing her first documentary film, Tango Stories, with her filmmaker husband Paul Lundahl.

Soprano Shawnette Sulker has been described by the San Francisco Chronicle as a singer "...displaying a bright, superbly controlled soprano with perfectly placed coloratura." A native of Guyana, Ms. Sulker has been a featured artist in two San Francisco Opera productions: The Mother of Us All and Louise, and the joint productions between San Francisco Opera and The Crucible of Dido and Aeneas. Shawnette has performed with the Natchez Festival of Music, American Bach Soloists, Mark Morris Dance Group, Mendocino Music Festival, San Francisco Choral Society, West Bay Opera, and Berkeley Opera. Her repertoire includes roles in Die Fledermaus, Un ballo in maschera, L'elisir d'amore, Le nozze di Figaro, Treemonisha, La bohème, and Porgy and Bess. Her concert repertoire includes the soprano solos in Handel's Messiah, Mahler's Symphony No.4, Mozart's Exultate, jubilate, Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass, Bach's Non sa che sia dolore, and Faure's Requiem.

Conductor Jeffrey Thomas is Artistic and Music Director of the American Bach Soloists and the American Classical Soloists, with whom he has directed and conducted recordings of more than 25 cantatas, the Mass in B Minor, the Musical Offering, motets, chamber music, and works by Schütz, Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Haydn, and Beethoven. He has appeared with the Baltimore, Berkeley, Boston, Detroit, Houston, National, Rochester, Minnesota, and San Francisco symphony orchestras; with the Vienna Symphony and the New Japan Philharmonic; with virtually every American baroque orchestra; and in Austria, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Mexico. He has performed at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Spoleto USA Festival, Ravinia Festival, Saratogo Performing Arts Center, Berkeley Festival and Exhibition, Boston Early Music Festival, Bethlehem Bach Festival, Göttingen Festival, Tage Alte Musik Festival in Regensburg, E. Nakamichi Baroque Festival in Los Angeles, the Smithsonian Insititution, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, and he recently collaborated as conductor with the Mark Morris Dance Group in their production of Handel's Dixit Dominus. Before devoting all of his time to conducting, he was one of the first recipients of the San Francisco Opera Company's prestigious Adler Fellowships. He as artist-in-residence at the University of California, where he now associate professor of music (Barbara K. Jackson Chair in Choral Conducting) and director of choral ensembles in the Department of Music at UC Davis. In 2001 he was designated a UC Davis Chancellor's Fellow.

Bassist Alden F. Cohen, born in San Francisco, is currently a free-lance musician, performing with orchesras and small ensembles in the Bay Area. Mr. Cohen is an artist-in-residence with the Presidio and A. P. Gianini Middle Schools, teaching the double bass. He also teaches music theory at his alma mater, the San Francisco School of the Arts High School (SOTA).

Cellist Robert Howard has performed in festivals around the United States and in Europe including Tanglewood, Verbier, Spoleto, Accademia Chigiana, and the Sandor Vegh Academy in Prague. Robert currently divides his time between teaching and performing chamber music.

Pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi began his study of piano at age ten under the tutelage of Kaori Fujiwara. At age 18 he came to the United States to study piano and composition. He has been a staff accompanist at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performs regularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, Japan, Germany and many other cities in the US as both accompanist and soloist.

Jonathan Russell is active in the Bay Area as clarinetist, conductor, and composer. A native of Poughkeepsie, New York, he has performed locally with groups such as the Marin Symphony and the Parallel Ensemble. He conducts the recently founded San Francisco Repertory Orchestra, and he has had his compositions performed by many ensembles including the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra, San Francisco Conservatory Chorus among others.

Violinist Megumi Stohs is a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she has taken part in the Olympic, Aspen, Marrowstone, and Kneisel Hall Music Festivals and has received honors from the Oregon Symphony Corbett Competition, the Oregon Association of Music Clubs and the Willamette Valley Fiddling Association. Megumi is a member of the Chabrier String Quartet, and she has performed as a soloist with Portland's Columbia Symphony Orchestra, the Oregon Sinfonietta, the San Francisco Conservatory String Orchestra and the Sapporo Philharmonic of Hokkaido, Japan.