Ghosts, an opera Nicolas Reveles (1948-2023) completed shortly before his recent death, premieres on Friday 14 April 2023. He was visibly ill when I interviewed him in January, but excited and enthusiastic about the coming production. Part one of my interview described how the new opera came to be written. This concluding part covers the fascinating background and career of the man who his many saddened friends called 'Nic'.
Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle was his favorite opera as a child. 'It was the darkness of the story. You know kids love fairy tales. My taste just ran a little darker than most. I was fascinated by the story and already studying some of Bartók's Mikrokosmos pieces for children. Bluebeard is still one of my favorites. I find it very melodic with lush orchestration, one of the most beautiful creations in the music world.'
Another of his favorites in elementary school was Alban Berg's Wozzeck in which a horrific subject is often intensified with atonality. (I am in awe of the sophistication of his early musical taste since my own favorite at that age was Peter and the Wolf.)
Reveles' precocity was evident when he made his first public appearance at the age of five. 'I competed in an annual summer talent show at the Oceanside-beach stadium. I was just there, and they threw me in when they found out I could play. My Für Elise brought the house down and I won the competition! A big boost for a little kid.'
He began his composing career not long after. At eight he took second place in a San Diego Symphony Young Composer's Competition, and the piece he'd entered was later performed at a Young People's Concert. Reveles went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of San Diego, a Master of Music in Choral Conducting from the University of Redlands and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance from the Manhattan School of Music where his teachers included the well-known pianist Gary Graffman.
'A wonderful man, a real mensch. He taught me so much and I will be forever grateful to him.'
Dr Reveles began his professional career as a church musician in the San Diego area. 'I was a priest for sixteen years. But that came with the music, you know. I was a choral conductor and organist, and many of my compositions were inspired by the church.'
Unlike many musicians, he never felt insecure about his career. 'I never even thought much about it. I was always able to fall into something that was interesting and would keep me busy and paid. It's like when I was the pianist for Baryshnikov and his dance troupe. I just sort of fell into that and stayed for six or seven years. I enjoyed the hell out of it, traveling all over the world performing for audiences often including famous people I recognized from world events. One of my proudest moments was when Misha and I did a solo at the National Theatre in Prague for Passover. The Czech president and well-known poet Václav Havel was there.
'Every moment working with Baryshnikov was amazing. Another that stands out was a performance at La Scala. We were a small band, a piano string quartet. He didn't always invite us to come on stage for bows, but this time invited us to take a solo bow. I was very excited, and now I can say I've taken a bow on the La Scala stage.'
Reveles was all-in for anything he took on. He wrote his one and only mariachi score for a show that was named 'Musical of the Year' by The Arizona Republic. 'It was fun and interesting at the time, but once it was done, I thought, okay, been there done that. Let's move on.' A 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2018 'was a fun ride for a good cause'. As a pianist he'd accompanied stars such as Ferruccio Furlanetto, Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello. Not even a gardening habit was neglected. His Bonita garden was twice a featured installation on the California Native Plant Society's annual garden tour.
As a composer, Reveles is equally hard to categorize. He loved operas from the listener friendly La bohème to the often atonal Wozzeck. He mentioned influences from Monteverdi to Popeye, depending on the project. Monteverdi influenced his numerous religious choral pieces. The more surprising cartoon source, a childhood favorite, influenced one of the jaunty rhythmic tunes he composed for Rumpelstiltskin, a highly successful children's opera.
Dr Reveles was optimistic about the latest trends in opera. 'We're at a very odd juncture of course, as always. I'm delighted about what's happening in many opera companies, a devotion to smaller productions that seems to open up the range of things that can be done and where they can be staged. We have new composers, new ideas and exciting new music. It's also tremendously exciting that black voices and Latino voices are finally being heard and represented on stage, and I love the new subjects and new ways of looking at the world. I just wish that the audience would come along more quickly and let us know what they want in subjects and style.'
Never ready to rest on past successes, Nicolas Reveles finished our conversation by describing what he'd like to do next, but sadly never would. 'I'd like to do something a little longer. Something out of the ordinary that would take me out of my own comfort zone. I'm not sure what that is yet. It just has to be the right property.'
Nic Reveles' passion and creativity will be missed by both friends and fans.
Copyright © 8 March 2023
San Diego, USA