Composers, like poets or painters, travel incognito. They aren’t visibly weighed down, unlike instrumental musicians with those often unwieldy cases. Unlike actors, they wear faces nobody knows. In mixed company, most might see them as afficionados or patrons. But, their agenda sets them apart. When composers attend performances, they are present as keen observers, taking nourishment. They are the unseen, as yet unheard harbingers of the music to come.
In my brief lifetime, I have known only a few composers. One of them is a dear friend.
I met Stephen Colantti, first from afar, then up quite closely. He’d moved to Erie after twenty years living and working in New York City, and we were formally introduced at the former Mercyhurst College D’Angelo music department’s opera workshop. Around these parts, we seemed to have few Philadelphia-born Italians, and his raven hair, in those early days, was a social stand-out. So also his countenance, always bright and sunny, engaging all who met him.
And, it still does. Stephen has, to this day, the face of a happy boy. One might miss, at first glance, the depth of his capacity for reflection, for contemplation, for wise commentary, or the breadth of his emotional range. But, one will almost immediately grasp his earnest and passionate appreciation for art and artistry.
To my uninitiated ear, his voice was embodied magnificence. I had never sat in such close proximity to a real, Metropolitan tenor – I, with my classical background limited to orchestral and chamber music, my vocal exposure first to that of my beloved father’s croon and, later, the hymns of the Protestant mind. That Stephen Colantti would invite me to learn his original compositions based on the poems of Edna St Vincent Millay, and then perform them as pianist while he sang, was the truest honor.
How surely his melodic line could carried above such harmonic complexity. This was a true scholar, one who could lift motif and element effortlessly from all stylistic periods, yet still let his heart lead. Although more than a decade had passed since my introduction to his writing, I knew what this composer had in him – and, fully expected more to come. And, more did come.
Stephen took his retirement from public education a bit prior to my own, and this began his molting period. He’d worked for several years at Harding School, helping the children create and develop unique childrens’ operas, each one more worthy than the last. But, the bleak and frigid winter of 2013, he was finalizing what would emerge in the spring as his “piece de resistance” – an opera for all audiences, based on the poetic story of the same name by Oscar Wilde: “The Selfish Giant.”
From the moment soprano Lisa Layman gave voice to Autumn’s aria, I heard the first of what would bespeak Stephen Colantti’s small masterpiece. All at once, he had captured the personality of the four seasons, the nature of the encumbered giant, the purety of the child. His color palette was tonally rich, laying down hues and tints and shades from across the emotional spectrum. His sense of drama so well-paced, married to the sensibilities of one devoted to the craft of solid structure and seamless segue. I couldn’t wait to be a part of the realization of this work of art.
“The Selfish Giant” made its world premiere in 2014 on the graciously offered stage of the Erie Playhouse. This spring, almost a year to the day, many of those of us who enjoyed that debut will enter the studio to make this wonderful work available on audio recording. Mark Steven Doss, Grammy-award winning bass-baritone, will sing the role of the giant. We are all fully aware that we are going to be part and parcel of something exquisite, humbly created, brilliantly conceived, and devotedly shared – by our own, gifted composer, Stephen Colantti.
Ruth Ann Scanzillo, principal ‘cellist
Erie Chamber Orchestra at Gannon University.
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