The Secret Agent

Amy Burton (Winnie)& Jason Papowitz (C.I. Heat),

Winnie (Amy Burton) & Chief Inspector Heat (Jason Papowitz) – March 18, 2011, The Kaye Playhouse, New York City, Center for Contemporary Opera

“… 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

Available through American Composers Alliance (BMI)

The Secret Agent is an opera in 2 acts, on a libretto by J. D. McClatchy (based on the novel and play by Joseph Conrad).  The opera was commissioned by The Center for Contemporary Opera, Long Leaf Opera, and San Antonio Opera 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

Albany Records Recorded by Soundmirror, Blanton Alspaugh, producer

available on Albany Records
Recorded by Soundmirror,
Blanton Alspaugh, producer

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)


European Premiere

On October 18, 2011 The Secret Agent had its European premiere at the Armel Festival in Szeged, Hungary, with Sam Helfrich, director and Sara Jobin, conductor.   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.

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

Here is an excerpt from the live European broadcast:



On April 18, The Secret Agent had its French premiere at the

Opéra Théâtre d’Avignon.

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 the Avignon opera house




Libretto by J. D. McClatchy

based on the novel and play by Joseph Conrad

Act I

1894. At the German Embassy in London, a plot is hatched to bomb the Greenwich Observatory in order to scare the British government into dealing more severely with terrorist threats. Adolf Verloc, a secret agent, is hired to carry out the job. He lives behind a poor shop with his wife Winnie and her mentally retarded bother Stevie, to whom she is devoted. Verloc and his fellow terrorists—Ossipon, Michaelis, and the sinister Professor, who deals in explosives—meet, but Verloc finds them inadequate to the mission.

At a café, Ossipon meets the Professor and tells him of an explosion which failed to destroy the Observatory but blew up the bomber. Assuming it was Verloc, the Professor urges Ossipon to go after Winnie’s money. Meanwhile, the Police Commissioner and Inspector Heat are conferring over the grisly remains, trying to reconstruct events. Verloc is discussed as a possible suspect, but Heat thinks Michaelis is the culprit, and sets out after him.

Act II

At Lady Mabel’s glamorous soiree—where anarchists and socialites mingle—the German Ambassador has been frightening the ladies with details of the explosion. But by this time the Commissioner knows the bomber was Verloc, and confronts the Ambassador as the instigator. Heat has meanwhile gone to Verloc’s house, and shown Winnie the shred of an overcoat, proving the dead man is her beloved brother. The frightened Verloc returns, having withdrawn all his savings and given them to the stunned Winnie. Heat emerges and tells Verloc to flee, as he tries to explain to Winnie how the accident happened. Silently she goes upstairs and prepares to leave the house, which has no meaning now that her brother is gone. When Verloc begs her to stay, she kills him.

Ossipon slips in and Winnie begs him to save her—though it is clear that grief has ruined her mind. He only wants her money and makes her false promises. When he then notices Verloc’s body, and realizes it was Stevie who died, not Verloc, he grows more desperate. The police arrive, Ossipon sneaks out. Heat too discovers Verloc’s body, but realizes Winnie is beyond blame. Ossipon is caught, the Professor cynically comments on the situation, and the “game” between terrorist and the State continues, while the devastated Winnie, crumpled on the floor, can only mutter “Blood and dirt.”

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