“Inbox Zero,” a monodrama presented by UrbanArias, will be performed as a live stage reading at the Keegan Theatre in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 2023. UrbanArias was founded in 2010 by General Director, Robert Wood, and has produced over 30 operas, including 15 world premieres. Twelve of these were commissioned by the group. “Inbox Zero” deals with Internet scams and a man’s desire for riches winning over common sense. Jackie, a average man, is lured by an Internet scam that will drain his family’s bankbook in hopes of getting rich quick.
This work is the third collaboration from Peter Hilliard and Matt Boresi commissioned by UrbanArias. This one also features baritone Keith Phares and the Inscape Orchestra will by conducted by UrbanArias’ own Artistic Director, Robert Wood. The show is directed by Dennis Whitehead Darling.
Peter Hilliard (composer) is music director of Villanova University’s Graduate Theatre Program. With Matt Boresi, he has written award-winning operas and theatre works, and his choral music has been performed across the U.S. His operas, including “The Filthy Habit,” “Blue Viola,” and “The Last American Hammer,” have been programmed across the country by numerous opera companies, including Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Memphis, Opera Grand Rapids, Urban Arias, Lyric Opera of the North, Carnegie Mellon University, Florida State University, and the University of Illinois. His music has been performed by Broadway stars Christianne Noll and Marla Schaffel; ensembles including Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club; the San Francisco Choral Artists; The San Francisco Girls Chorus and the St. Olaf College Orchestra; and operatic superstars Luca Pisaroni, Karen Slack, Jen Aylmer, and Elizabeth Futral. His works have received awards and nominations from the National Association of Teachers of Singing; the Turner Classic Movies Young Film Composers Competition; Vocal Essence; The Young New Yorkers’ Chorus; The National Opera Association; and the Ned Rorem Award. He is the recipient of the 2020 Hofer Prize from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and his comic reduction of the complete works of Verdi won a 2022 award for Digital Excellence in Opera from Opera America. Peter is music director of The Abington Choral Club and Philadelphia’s Savoy Company, the oldest company in the world dedicated to performing Gilbert and Sullivan. He has conducted “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Iolanthe” at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Harrogate, UK. A new full-length musical will receive a production at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana next season.
Matt Boresi (librettist) has collaborated with composer Peter Hilliard on a number of operas premiered or presented by UrbanArias including “The Last American Hammer,” “Blue Viola,” and “The Filthy Habit,” all of which have receive multiple productions across the country. With Hilliard, he is the co-founder of the award-winning Decameron Opera Coalition and creator of “Verdi by Vegetables,” the puppet opera, film documentary comedy which recently won an Opera America Award for Digital Excellence. The song cycle, “Dead Mall Ballads,” recently performed at Lyric Fest Philadelphia by soprano Jennifer Aylmer. Their many works also include “Met the Musical,” a full-length, musical comedy about opera produced by Nathan Gunn and Julie Jordan-Gunn, currently being workshopped at the University of Illinois. Other works by Boresi are the upcoming chamber opera “Caraboo” (composer James Stephenson), “Black September” (Gregory Berg), and the operetta “Lunacy” (Jonathon Lynch). Boresi lives in Chicago with his wife, Northwestern University professor and author Melissa Foster, and their young daughter, actress Viva Boresi.
Can each of you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Peter Hilliard (PH): I was born in San Bernadino, CA, and grew up in far Northern California. I currently live just North of Philadelphia with my wife Allison and my kids. I am a professor at Villanova University and I conduct quite a bit in the local area.
Matt Boresi (MB): I was born in Coal City, IL, a little former mining/farming town. Now I live on campus at Northwestern University just outside of Chicago with my wife Melissa Foster, a voice professor there, and our 11 year old daughter, Viva Boresi, who is an actress. My wife has a book coming out on Hip-hop, my daughter is in a musical, and I’m writing operas. A lot of art is happening in our house.
How did you become collaborators?
PH: Matt and I met at NYU, in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. We were the odd ducks who really wanted to write operas. We have written quite a few of them at this point. Depending on what counts as an opera, we’ve written somewhere between eight and 10 of them.
How did you come up with the idea of “Inbox Zero”?
MB: We’d been looking for years for a subject matter intimate enough for a monodrama but emotionally substantial enough for opera. I became fascinated by stories of people getting bilked in internet scams. When we sat down to write it in earnest, we found specific news stories that provided some remarkable inspiration. Advance Fee Scams like “Nigerian Prince” e-mails have been around as long as the internet, and variations of them, like the “Spanish Prisoner” scam have been around for literally hundreds of years. But they’ve been picking up since the pandemic with so many people sitting at their computers dreaming of getting rich quick. So in a way this piece is, as the saying goes, “ripped from the headlines.”
“Inbox Zero” deals with the pitfalls of the Internet. Do you feel that the Internet is a positive or negative force in the world?
PH: The internet is a tool. Like most tools, it can have positive or negative uses. A lot of great things have happened on the internet. But the internet also seems to amplify some of our most troublesome traits as humans. It makes us vain, enables our confirmation biases, encourages us to insulate ourselves in echo chambers, and makes us potential prey for scammers and opportunists. The internet isn’t going anywhere, so it’s up to us to learn how to be our best selves on the internet. I have faith that we’ll figure it out eventually, but we have a long way to go.
MB: I don’t know that there is any villainy on the Internet unique to the Internet, but there are certain kinds of villainy that thrive on the internet. I think it’s because when people are online, they’re alone, and sometimes it’s late, and they’re often at home, so their defenses are down—their judgment is cloudy. Scams, catfishing, radicalization—these hustles seem to work especially well when we’re alone on the web, alienated from real human contact.
“Inbox Zero” has a lot of humor, all of our work does. But it also deals with the loneliness a lot of modern people feel when they’re overwhelmed by robot voices, AIs, automated messages, e-mails, voicemails, and texts—all asking us for things, all promising us things.
Do you have a new project on the horizon?
PH and MB: We have quite a few projects looming. We are writing a musical in collaboration with Nathan Gunn and Julie Jordan Gunn that is being developed at the University of Illinois. We’re also developing a few other pieces, one involving Baroque era surgery and another about a person who thinks he’s a character in Mozart’s “Magic Flute.”
Don’t miss this topical musical production, “Inbox Zero,” presented by UrbanArias. It will be playing one night only on May 4, 2023 at 8 pm with a talkback to follow at The Keegan Theatre in DuPont Circle, 1742 Church Street, NW, Washington D.C. 20036. For more information and tickets, go online.