Folk opera based on Bill Clinton to open in New York

Sat Jun 18, 2011 8:33am EDT
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By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - An Americana folk opera based on a teenage Bill Clinton debuts this weekend in New York, featuring some of the exaggerated Southern characters who surrounded him growing up, such as his fun-loving mother.

It is the brainchild of Arkansan Bonnie Montgomery, who has spent the last four years composing "Billy Blythe."

The opera is based on a day in the life of a teenage Clinton. She enlisted a friend, Britt Barber of Atlanta, to write the lyrics. Last fall, Montgomery premiered a part of the opera in Little Rock.

The Metropolis Opera Project in New York debuts the entire opera at The Medicine Show Theater on Sunday and Monday.

"When we heard about it, it sounded completely intriguing," said Zach James, the opera's director. "It was very clear that it was an astonishingly beautiful piece and very much in the vein of what we want to do."

The Metropolis Opera Project, which is three years old, and Montgomery want to attract a new generation to opera, which is struggling to keep up with modern times. A contemporary opera like Montgomery's does just that, James said.

The opera's name derives from Clinton's birth surname. His biological father, Bill Blythe, died three months before the future president was born in 1946. Clinton later took his step-father's name.

Montgomery, an Arkansas native and classically trained musician, examines a summer day in 1959 in Hot Springs, Arkansas with a young Clinton who lives with his mother, the late Virginia Clinton Kelley, and his abusive stepfather, Roger Clinton.   Continued...

<p>Bill Clinton is escorted to a craft shop by his aides before the start of the ThisDay annual awards for Excellence and Good Governance at Eko Hotel in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos March 25, 2011. REUTERS/Joseph Penney</p>