On the face of it, librettist Peter M. Krask’s and composer Daniel Crozier’s opera, With Blood, With Ink, seems a curious candidate to enter the contemporary repertoire. The 100-minute, nine-scene, one-act drama is about the life of 17th-century Mexican feminist/poet nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Her resolute iconoclasm regarding women’s rights outraged religious authorities, ultimately resulting in her renouncing her writing. She died at 43 (or 46, depending on the source) during a plague while treating other nuns.
And yet this past spring, more than 20 years after the pair wrestled the work into existence as Peabody students, Krask (MM ’91) and Crozier (MM ’89, DMA ’94) witnessed the Fort Worth Opera Festival give With Blood, With Ink its first professional production.
“It has been a long road filled with disappointment and discouragement more often than not,” notes Krask, 47, who owns and operates a New York City–based design firm. “So to arrive at Fort Worth in the company of such talented professionals is a joy of the highest order.”
The Fort Worth production acclaimed by Opera News as “gripping, dramatic, and philosophically relevant,” with an “eclectic, often lyrical, and occasionally atonal” score came to life initially in 1993 in Peabody’s Friedberg Hall after Roger Brunyate, longtime artistic director (now retired) of the Peabody Opera Theatre, suggested that Krask and Crozier collaborate.
“Peter sent me a short libretto of 18 pages that I thought would be an opera of approximately 20 minutes,” recalls Crozier, 49, now a professor of theory and composition at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. “From the outset, I was very impressed by the tightness of its structure and by the exceedingly high quality of Peter’s writing, which contained a generous number of excerpts of the stunningly beautiful poetry of Sor Juana.”
Krask’s original 18 pages soon mushroomed to 52, and then Crozier spent two and a half years composing the score, with the 20-minute work expanding to five times that length. “I was attracted by many aspects of Peter’s idea, not least the thought of showing the Dying Juana and the Young Juana on the same stage at the same time,” explains Brunyate, who directed With Blood, With Ink’s 1993 debut. “Another thing that impressed me was his idea of framing the opera by successive sections of the Requiem Mass, and Dan’s response to this using and transforming the plainsong chant melodies.”
Over the inter vening years, With Blood, With Ink has been presented in its entirety at Baltimore’s Theatre Project (in 2000, with Brunyate again directing) and at a handful of universities, with excerpts also performed at the New York City Opera VOX Festival in 2000 and 2010.
Now the work boasts a professional imprimatur. On hand for one of the Fort Worth performances, Brunyate came away suitably wowed: “I realized that although entirely unchanged since its Peabody production this was no student work to which we could point with paternal pride but rather, musically as well as dramatically, a splendid piece of opera that could and now would stand on its own two feet.”
While Krask and Crozier ponder the possibility of a second collaboration, for the moment they’re still savoring With Blood, With Ink’s recent success. “It is a great satisfaction to know that Sor Juana’s story as told in our opera still engenders interest,” says Krask. “Dan and I have both discussed that her story seems even more relevant now than when we first wrote it a tale of intellectual freedom and the right of self-determination. She is a hero, a giant, and someone who is also wonderfully, mysteriously, and fascinatingly human.”
— Michael Yockel