The Leopard


The Leopard  was my third opera collaboration with poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy.   I completed the score in February, 2018, just two months before McClatchy’s death.   Commissioned by American Opera Projects, with funds provided by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and the Paul Underwood Charitable Trust, the work is based on the internationally acclaimed 1958 novel Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. (The 1962 film by Lucchino Visconti, also based on the novel, is at least as equally well-known.)

I first read The Leopard over forty years ago.  Its theme, “for things to remain the same everything must change” perplexed me to the point of irritation: after all, few people in their twenties want things to remain the same, and how can the purpose of change be anything other than change for the better? “This is one of the great lonely books” E.M. Forster said of The Leopard, and over time, as I have gotten older, each re-reading reveals more of that loneliness.  The novel’s world-weary sentiments are perhaps best understood by those of us who have lived more than half a lifetime and through several periods of change, and who have come to understand that the fundamental questions in life are no different today than they were a thousand years ago. 

The Leopard was published in 1958, posthumously, just a year after the death of its author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The story takes place in Sicily in 1860, at the time of the Risorgimento, just as Garibaldi and his men are approaching Palermo. It is a time of hope for some, anxiety for others, but for the book’s main character, Don Fabrizio, the Prince, it is a time of recollection and loss — of places and people, of ideas, and of youth. What happens today will be felt and remembered tomorrow, next year, or even a hundred years from now.  For things to remain the same everything must change.

Forster said The Leopard is a reflective book, “almost Proustian” in describing a Sicily constantly prodded by forces, forces as sudden and powerful as an advancing army, or as subtle and gentle as paint faded by the sun and dust.  These forces are always transforming, remolding, reorienting feelings and thoughts, obliterating the past and introducing the fresh and the new.  As with all my mature works, this piece is intended to be expressive and evocative, and my choices regarding musical vocabulary, instrumentation, and form have been made to serve that end.

The opera is in two acts, a little over two hours in length, including intermission. There are 4 principal roles (2 sopranos, tenor, baritone) and 8 supporting roles (2 sopranos, mezzo, 2 tenors, baritone, 2 basses). The orchestra: fl/picc; ob/; 2 cl/; bn; 2 hn; tp; tb; perc; hp; 12-string gtr; strings.

The Leopard is made possible, in part, through generous funding by The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and The Paul Underwood Charitable Trust.


McClatchy and Dellaira after a presentation at the Colony Club, October 2016.

In March, 2016, the Manhattan School of Music, in collaboration with American Opera Projects, presented 4 scenes in workshop as part of its “Page to Stage” series. Anne Shikany directed and Andrew Altenbach conducted, with music direction by Scott Rednour.

l-r: Martin Case,Anna Dugan, Brittany Bellacosa, Hidenori Inoue, Tim Sirinunthikal, Michael Gracco, Oliver Sewell, Blake Friedman, Janet Todd, Phlippe L’Esperance, Kayla Fuentes.  

Photo credit: Matthew Gray,American Opera Projects (photo used on this site’s main page.)

On September 30th, 2016 excerpts were recorded at the Berklee College of Music’s Studio One. Our thanks to the Boston Conservatory (especially Johnathon Pape), and to Berklee’s sound and video engineers. This is one of their first collaborations since the two conservatories merged the year before. Here’s a video of Andrew Altenbach conducting Angelica’s aria “I Am Angelica”.  Other recordings are below.


Lauren Cook, soprano, Andrew Altenbach, conductor

Here’s a recording of the same aria sung by Nicole Haslett, and accompanied on piano by Jennifer Peterson:

I am Angelica(Nicole Haslett, soprano; Jennifer Peterson, piano)

I am Angelica
I am Angelica . . .

[This, as she comes forward. Then she stops to looks around the room.]

Here I am at last.
Oh my, here I am at last.
And you must be Concetta!

I know all about you—
How you tease the priest,
Your favorite color, favorite flower,
The glamorous parties you’ve been to.
And I am going to like this house.
I am going to like this house very much.

I came through the garden,
So silvery and so lush.
And just look at that chandelier,
Each crystal a dusty teardrop,
Each candle patient for a flame,
Each echo ringing down the hall,
Each mirror with its tales to tell
Of who confessed to it, who cursed in it, who kissed it.

Oh, I am going to like this house very much.
Here I am at last.
Oh my, here I am at last!
Dear Concetta, I hope we will be friends.

In Act 2,  Don Fabrizio (the “Leopard”) turns down an offer to represent Sicily in the new republic of Italy, and gives his reasons in the aria “Sleep.”

Here are two recordings: the first with the Boston Conservatory Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Altenbach, and with baritone Michael Miller; the second by baritone Theo Hoffman accompanied on piano by Jennifer Peterson:

SLEEP from The Leopard

Sleep(The Boston Conservatory Orchestra; Andrew Altenbach, conductor; Michael Miller, baritone)

Sleep(Theo Hoffman, baritone; Jennifer Peterson, piano)


Sleep, sleep is what Sicilians want.
They will always hate whoever tries to wake them,
Even in order to bring them gifts.
Our sensuality longs for oblivion.
Our violence longs for death.
Our languor longs for voluptuous immobility,
Which in the end is death itself.
From this comes our power.
The lag in our artistic life.
From this comes the myths we love
Because they plunge us back into a past
That attracts us only because it is dead.

You must excuse me, dear man.
I belong to an unlucky generation,
Swung between the old world and the new,
And ill at ease in both.
You need young men,
Bright young men
Who ask “how” rather than “why.”

I would suggest you ask Calogero Sedàra.
He has power.
He has no illusions, but is clever enough
To know how to create them when needed.
He’s the man for you.
Sleep, sleep is what Sicilians want.
Don Calogero is wide awake.
He’s the man for you.

And here’s the ensemble finale from Act 2, Scene 4, again with the Boston Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Andrew Altenbach, and singers Tascha Anderson, Quinn Bernegger, Meghan Callahan, Lauren Cook, Abigail Dock, Sean Galligan,  Cory Gross, Wes Hunter, Blake Jennings and Michael Miller.