Image courtesy of the Millbrook Library

HALCYON

Music by Joshua Groffman and Libretto by Sarah Heady

Halcyon (formerly Unfinished ) is a new documentary-style opera that explores the question: “What happens to us when a place that matters to us comes to ruin?”

Centered on the story of Halcyon Hall and Bennett College in Millbrook, NY and developed through extensive archival research and personal interviews, the piece speaks to the importance places hold in our lives.

Halcyon is the product of an intensely collaborative multi-year development process that will culminate in a world premiere in 2–3 years. The initial research and creation period took place in 2015–2016. In August 2016, Vital Opera produced a weeklong workshop in Millbrook to explore five initial scenes and workshop performances in Millbrook and New York City, soliciting feedback from the audience in facilitated post-performance discussions. This feedback led to a series of revisions and additions. In October 2018, the company presented a concert reading, featuring newly added material, at the National Opera Center in New York City. And in May 2019, we produced a Creative Intensive, involving composer Joshua Groffman, librettist Sarah Heady, Artistic Director Kelvin Chan, stage director Amanda Consul, and dramaturg Caitlin Kane, to further explore the dramatic storytelling and structure of the piece. Throughout the next year, Dr. Groffman and Ms. Heady will continue working towards a new iteration of the work that we will present in Millbrook in June 2020.

You can see photos and video from our previous iterations here:

Music by Joshua Groffman and Libretto by Sarah Heady

Halcyon (formerly Unfinished ) is a new documentary-style opera that explores the question: “What happens to us when a place that matters to us comes to ruin?”

Centered on the story of Halcyon Hall and Bennett College in Millbrook, NY and developed through extensive archival research and personal interviews, the piece speaks to the importance places hold in our lives.

Halcyon is the product of an intensely collaborative multi-year development process that will culminate in a world premiere in 2–3 years. The initial research and creation period took place in 2015–2016. In August 2016, Vital Opera produced a weeklong workshop in Millbrook to explore five initial scenes and workshop performances in Millbrook and New York City, soliciting feedback from the audience in facilitated post-performance discussions. This feedback led to a series of revisions and additions. In October 2018, the company presented a concert reading, featuring newly added material, at the National Opera Center in New York City. And in May 2019, we produced a Creative Intensive, involving composer Joshua Groffman, librettist Sarah Heady, Artistic Director Kelvin Chan, stage director Amanda Consul, and dramaturg Caitlin Kane, to further explore the dramatic storytelling and structure of the piece. Throughout the next year, Dr. Groffman and Ms. Heady will continue working towards a new iteration of the work that we will present in Millbrook in June 2020.

You can see photos and video from our previous iterations here:

Unfinished: An Opera Creative Intensive | May 2019

Unfinished: An Opera Creative Intensive | May 2019

In May 2019, composer Josh Groffman, librettist Sarah Heady, stage director Amanda Consol, dramaturg Caitlin Kane, and Vital Opera General Director Kelvin Chan gathered for four days to continue working on Josh and Sarah’s Unfinished (now Halcyon) with a focus on refining the piece’s dramatic storytelling.

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Unfinished: An Opera | Inaugural Workshop

Unfinished: An Opera | Inaugural Workshop

The inaugural workshop presentations of Unfinished (now Halcyon) took place on August 20, 2016 at Grace Episcopal Church in Millbrook, NY and on August 21, 2016 at the National Opera Center in New York City.

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More about Bennett College

Opened in Millbrook, NY in 1907 as a finishing school for young women, the Bennett School for Girls’ unique educational philosophy often belied the stereotype of a finishing school. Recognizing that “to many American girls a diploma spells finished instead of begun,” founder May Friend Bennett emphasized the development of each young woman’s unique spiritual connection with herself and with the world. She encouraged her students to cultivate creative expression through the arts and to commune deeply with their idyllic Hudson Valley surroundings. As the twentieth century progressed and educational expectations for women changed, Bennett evolved into a junior college offering degrees in horsemanship, fashion and interior design, fine and performing arts, and early childhood education, in addition to a liberal arts curriculum that prepared students for transfer to four-year institutions.

Following the social upheavals of the 1960s, the model of single-sex education itself came under strain and Bennett College, as it was now known, suffered the same financial uncertainty as other American women’s colleges. In the early 1970s, Bennett began admitting male students and made efforts to restructure, including mergers with other institutions of higher education. Despite these efforts, as well as enormous investments in state-of-the-art facilities designed to attract applicants, enrollment dropped until it was at less than half capacity; the college’s financial situation deteriorated precipitously.

On August 10, 1977, the Millbrook Round Table ran the headline “Bennett College folds.” About 120 people lost their jobs and 225 students faced a nonexistent fall semester. As one of Bennett’s last presidents had noted in the mid-1960s, “Bennett College and Millbrook are synonymous…we are one, and this is as it should be.” With the loss of this major facet of its identity, the Village of Millbrook experienced significant changes to its economic and social fabric.

Since its shuttering, the 22-acre Bennett College campus, just outside the village of Millbrook, NY, has stood abandoned. Decades of attempts to repurpose the site have failed; the sprawling, Victorian heart of the campus, Halycon Hall, has decayed beyond repair. In 2014, the property passed into the hands of local owners, who declared their intention to repurpose the grounds as a public park.

(To see a collection of archival and contemporary images of Bennett College, click here.)

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