William Kennedy

William Kennedy

Roscoe's Operatic Rendering

By Paul Grondahl, M.A.'84

William Kennedy finds it fitting that his novel Roscoe, a fictional reconstitution of Albany’s legendary Democratic political machine, is going to be turned into an opera by composer Evan Mack.

“I think Roscoe would approve because he led a grand, operatic life,” Kennedy said of the title character, Roscoe Conway, the fixer and bagman who wants to quit politics after 26 years of carrying out the machine’s chicanery. The New Yorker praised the novel – set in Albany on V-J Day 1945 – as “thick with crime, passion and backroom banter.” Roscoe was published in 2002 and reached the New York Times bestseller list.

Last June, Mack announced a two-year development deal with Kennedy to render the fictional portrait of the O’Connell-Corning machine into a new American opera. “The novel had been sitting on my desk for a while. I read it a few months ago, and it hit me in the gut that this is an opera,” said Mack, an Albany-based award-winning opera composer and professor of music theory and piano at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.

“Roscoe” will be Mack’s third full-length opera and his second collaboration with librettist Joshua McGuire. Mack’s operas have been performed around the country. He figured it will take about one year to create the opera.

Kennedy, founder and executive director of the New York State Writers Institute, said Mack approached him. He listened to the composer’s work and liked it.

It is the first time that the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who has sold movie and stage options for his novels, inked a deal for an operatic rendering of his work.

“The world of opera is a new musical incursion for me,” said Kennedy, who is known for singing popular tunes at parties, sometimes while playing ukulele, and for performing in a barbershop quartet.

Kennedy reads at Skidmore each summer as part of the Writers Institute. At 85, he is rewriting two plays and “fiddling around with a new novel.”