Tom Cone and me and The Architect


David MacIntyre and Tom Cone had a lasting six-year relationship as composer and librettist, one that resulted in the first-ever commission from Vancouver Opera for The Architect, an opera in two acts for four principals, chorus and orchestra. It premiered June 11, 1994 at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre and played for eight performances featuring mezzo Gloria Parker, soprano Valdine Anderson, tenor Andre Clouthier and baritone John Fanning, conducted by Leslie Ueyda and directed by Kelly Robinson.

In this first in a series of blogs about the making of The Architect, David MacIntyre (on the left) writes about his first fated meeting with Tom Cone (on the right).



First Part - On Meeting Tom Cone

On August 8, 1988, I met Tom Cone at the Arts Club bar. I remember the date because it was the “lucky-date” – 8.8.88 – and everybody had been talking about it for months. I remember getting up that morning and wondering what lucky-event would happen to me this lucky day. Across town on that lovely August morning was Tom Cone, thinking the very same thing. Twelve hours later, we had our answers, courtesy of designer Ted Roberts and, curiously, the New York Times.

In August 1988, I had just come back from a hot July in New York City where my collaboration with choreographer Jean Pierre Perreault titled Piazza for 24 dancers and 10 saxophone players had been a hit at the First New York International Festival of the Arts. Performed on the horticultural grounds Wave Hill in The Bronx at the former estate of conductor Arturo Toscannini, Mark Twain and others, Piazza was a featured pick of dance critic Anna Kisslegoff of the New York Times. Especially, she noticed my work for the 10 saxophonists who were elegantly integrated into the performance: “Certainly the score by composer David MacIntyre of Vancouver BC, worked to perfection in its fragmentary structures… creating rich overlapping textures. ” I was thrilled, especially for my ten saxophone players, all New York pros from the jazz and classical community who don’t land in the New York Times too often.

Tom Cone was in Vancouver on July 1, 1988 and he’d picked up the New York Times that day (as all good New Yorkers do) and he’d seen that review. My name immediately went to that steel-trap brain of his and when Arts Club resident designer Ted Roberts introduced us on August 8, 1988 at the Arts Club bar, he didn’t miss a beat, “Oh yes, David MacIntyre, composer of Piazza with choreographer Jean Pierre Perreault of Montreal! A pleasure to meet you,” said Tom rattling off details with precision and accuracy – like he’d studied the file.

He hadn’t, of course. He simply has the kind of brain that allows him to remember people, their names and what they do without really trying to. It’s the way he’s wired. Tom knows more people than anyone I know and every single one of them feels special because of it. With his Southern charm and cotillion training, his memory for details and his love of talking, Tom’s charisma lies in always making the person he’s talking to feel like the centre of the universe. Nicola Cavendish, one of Canada’s best actors and comediennes, once introduced Tom Cone at Larry Lillo’s funeral as “Tom Cone, the man who’s managed to turn the gift of gab into a career as a playwright."

I was hooked into Tom Cone’s magic on 8.8.88 and he was hooked into mine. Like two magnets, we immediately began talking opera. I was looking for a librettist and I immediately recognized one in Tom. Here was a playwright and a composer both itching to write something original from scratch and we were suddenly, fatefully, thrown together like in a script. Before an hour had passed, we were talking about writing an opera together. And by the end of the evening, we’d made arrangements for further discussions to follow the next day.

Now, I’m not one to jump into the collaborative bed too easily. I’ve done a lot of collaboration over the years and I recognize good opportunities and can smell bad ones a mile away. I teach a course in collaboration at SFU and I’ve seen hundreds of collaborative teams over 32 years of teaching. One thing I’ve always told my students is: “never commit to a collaborative relationship in a bar!” And here I was talking about starting a collaborative partnership in the very place I shouldn’t.

The next day, I called Tom and said, “whatareyoudoing?” and he said “comeonover” and we hung up. Twenty minutes later, we’re talking opera again face to face. People tell me I’m intense. But, I have to say, Tom Cone is way more intense than I am, if there is such a thing. After offering up a smoke, he pulled his new play out of the pile on the table and started reading it to me right in my face: “I love my clitoris,” he began, speaking the words of a female character in a five minute monologue. Yikes, I thought.  The next scene starts “Suck me,” one man says to another, “it’s not a gay thing, I just need to get sucked.” I’m reeling. Ninety minutes later, the reading ended. Wow! Talk about intense!

It frightened me. These texts. They were words by somebody who was not holding back. Was I up for writing with a writer like this? First thing I said was “”fuck” doesn’t work when you sing it, Tom. It has to be spoken. It sounds stupid when sung, especially by an opera singer.” And so our collaboration began: me drawing a line in the sand. I remember that there was a lot that Tom Cone needed to learn about writing words to be sung, but he was a willing student. And besides, he was ready. Why move from plays to opera libretti? I remember his answer clear as a bell “There’s way more running room in opera than in theatre. Opera has street cred and history, and it’s ripe for change.” I agreed. Opera is sexy, no doubt.

We were on the same page. Right from the beginning, we knew we were meant to write an opera together. There were too many things “fated” in our meeting. And our similar views on art and society meant that we had to work together, we simply had to.

Our first project started. The first scene was set on a Ferry – a BC Ferry – during loading of the vehicles. We pictured cars filling the stage and a flag man directing cars to their lanes, everybody singing. We had no idea where this was going, but we needed to start somewhere. Tom fed me a couple of lines and I began sketching music. A partnership had begun.

End of Part 1

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