What do you call a poem set to music?
"An art song," answers art-song composer Lori Laitman in a phone interview from her home in Silver Spring, Md. "In my art songs I seek to capture the spirit of a poem and to amplify its emotional content through music. Both the vocal line and accompaniment illuminate and intensify the meaning of each of the poems once they are set to music. Each musical motif takes on a distinct aspect of the text."
Laitman's art songs are an integral part of the Cleveland Opera's upcoming premiere production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "Come To Me in Dreams." The performance, designed to honor Anne Frank's 75th birthday, will be performed at the Ohio Theatre on June 9, 11, 12 and 13.
"Come to Me in Dreams," featuring baritone Sanford Sylvan in the lead, is comprised of 15 art songs composed by Laitman and put together by David Bamberger, founder and, until recently, general director of The Cleveland Opera.
The art-song opera tells of a man who survived the horrors of World War II, his recollections of his wife and a daughter who died at the hands of the Nazis, and of his surviving daughter, to whom he finally reveals his story.
Two years ago, Bamberger discovered Laitman's Holocaust-related art songs online and contacted her. He was interested in commissioning a companion piece for Russian composer Grigori Frid's opera, "The Diary of Anne Frank" for his June 2004 concert.
When Laitman sent him a tape of her work, Bamberger immediately saw the possibilities of using these poetic musical compositions to create the art-song opera "Come to Me in Dreams."
"Through Laitman's art songs we have created a very moving and uplifting opera that allows us to see and experience Holocaust stories using a refreshingly different medium," says Bamberger.
"This was the easiest opera anyone has ever written," adds Laitman. "It was also the easiest libretto ever written."
Included in the opera is Laitman's art song from the poignant poem "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," written by Pavel Freidmann, who was born on Jan. 7, 1921, in Prague and deported to Terezin on April 26, 1942. He died in Auschwitz on Sept. 29, 1944.
Although her own life was not personally touched by the Shoah, Laitman says the subject matter of Holocaust-related poetry touches her deeply.
Laitman does not write art songs for any poem unless she has gotten permission from the families. In the case of Holocaust-related poetry, that can be a lengthy detective process. "In one instance, I had to go to the Jewish Museum in Prague to secure the rights to the English translation," she says.
Laitman divides her art-song earnings with the poets or their estates. "This is only fair; my music would not exist without their poetry," she says.
A trained flutist, Laitman earned her B.A. degree in musical composition at Yale University. She has performed with leading orchestras and written music for film and theater.
The mother of three finds writing art songs her most fulfilling work to date. "This is what I am meant to do," she says. "Setting poems to music allows important poetry to be brought before a new audience and interpreted in a whole new light."
For ticket information, call Cleveland Opera at 216-575-0903 or visit their Web site at www.clevelandopera.org.