The Secret Agent


Amy Burton as Winnie; Jason Papowitz as Chief Inspector Heat
Center for Contemporary Opera,
March 13, 2011
The Kaye Playhouse, New York City

“… in the tradition of ‘Makropolous Affair’, ‘From the House of the Dead’, ‘Wozzeck’ and ‘Pelleas et Melisande’ — its music urgent, agitated and intense, with occasional lyrical interludes.” — OnStage

“The Center for Contemporary Opera has lovingly produced a show that boasts high production values, accessible music and a compelling story, and the distinct possibility of future productions.” — Operaticus

“… not a single player was poorly cast. Similarly, the orchestra … performed with polish and sophistication under the direction of Sara Jobin.” — Opera News

Composer and librettist have effectively collaborated to produce a work that is dramatically well-paced and never flags in interest.” –  Fanfare



The Secret Agent was my first collaboration with librettist J. D. (“Sandy”) McClatchy. For me, as I think for most people, it’s important that an opera have a good story.  On one level, The Secret Agent is a mystery, and McClatchy’s libretto works very much in that genre – it creates just the right amount of confusion at the start; facts are introduced slowly and subtly, and in the end everything is revealed.  And of course that description of a mystery – initial confusion, everything slowly falling into place, final revelation – could itself also work as a formal plan for a musical composition.  For a composer, it’s not enough that a libretto tells a good story, it must also be suggestive musically; its words should inspire melody, to be sure, but its structure should also inspire long-range musical connections that help impose musical unity over several hours.  I remember when I read through Sandy’s libretto for the first time, being struck by the way he made the opera’s characters appear, disappear, then reappear in new configurations, just the way themes and motives might do in a purely instrumental work.  I liked that, because it suggested a number of ways to organize the piece over relatively long stretches of time.

The Secret Agent was ommissioned by The Center for Contemporary Opera, Long Leaf Opera, and San Antonio Opera, the opera is based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, and had its first performance on March 18, 2011 at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, New York.  

Director: Sam Helfrich
Conductor: Sara Jobin
Set Design: Laura Jellinek
Costume Design: Melissa Schlachtmeyer
Lighting Design: Eric Southern

The cast (in order of appearance):

First Secretary / The Singer / Constable — Nathan Resicka
Ambassador — Andrew Cummings
Lady Mabel — Jodi Karem
Adolf Verloc — Scott Bearden
Prime Minister — Mark Zuckerman
Stevie — Jonathan Blalock
Winnie Verloc — Amy Burton
Ossipon — Matthew Garrett
Michaelis — Aaron Theno
The Professor — Matthew Boehler
The Commissioner — David Neal
Chief Inspector Heat — Jason Papowitz
Lady Millicent — Deborah Lifton
Lady Isabel — Kate Oberjat
Lady Verena –Sarah Miller
Lady Olive — Cherry Duke

The performances were recorded by Soundmirror, Blanton Alspaugh, producer, and released in 2013 by Albany Records.

The Secret Agent
Albany Records
cover design by Chip Kidd

Listen to selections:

Excerpts from The Secret Agent

Center for Contemporary Opera production - Sara Jobin, conductor, directed by Sam Helfrich

We Have the Power(Matthew Garrett, tenor; Matthew Boehler, baritone)



The Secret Agent had its European premiere on October 18, 2011 at the Armel Festival in Szeged, Hungary, with Sam Helfrich, director and Sara Jobin, conducting the Szeged National Orchestra.   Armel Vocal Competition finalists Adrienn Miksch and Nicolas Rigas sang the roles of Winnie and Verloc.   Nathan Baer was The Professor and Rick Piersall the First Secretary/Liedersinger/Constable.  The rest of the cast was the same as the New York premiere listed above.  The production was named the festival’s “Laureat”, and went on to a performance at Opera Avignon in France (below.)

Armel Festival Poster, 2011 The Secret Agent (A Titkosügynök)

Here is an excerpt from the live European broadcast on the Arte Channel.  


The Secret Agent had its French premiere at the Opéra Théâtre d’Avignon on April 18, 2012 

A Center for Contemporary Opera production (Jim Schaeffer, Director)
and sponsored by the Armel International Opera Festival and Competition (Ágnes Havas, Director)
Directed by Sam Helfrich
Sara Jobin, Conductor
Set by Laura Jellinek
Costumes by Melissa Schlachtmeyer
Lighting design by Eric Southern
Mary Kathryn Blazek, Stage Manager
The Szeged Symphony Orchestra (Sandor Gyüdi, Artistic Director)
Nathan Baer  (The Professor)
Jonathan Blalock  (Stevie)
Jason Detwiller (The Ambassador)
Cherry Duke (Lady Olive)
Matthew Garrett (Ossipon)
Courtney Huffman (Lady Isabel)
Jodi Karem ( Lady Mabel)
Deborah Lifton (Lady Millicent)
Adrienne Miksch (Winnie)
Sarah Miller (Lady Verena)
David Neal (The Commissioner)
Jason Papowitz (Chief Inspector Heat)
Rick Piersall (First Secretary / Liedersinger / Constable)
Nicolas Rigas (Verloc)
Aaron Theno (Michaelis)
Mark Zuckerman (Prime Minister)
with thanks to Jamie Leonard, Laura Kund, Adrienn Barabás

with cast member Aaron Theno (Michaelis) in front of Opera Avignon (France)


Score available through American Composers Alliance (BMI)

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