Some paintings inspire viewers to ask, "What is that?" Edward Hopper's paintings inspire viewers to ask, "What's going on?" That makes his images ideally suited as the inspiration for theater, or opera. As VOA's Susan Logue reports, when the National Gallery of Art in Washington collaborated with the University of Maryland School of Music, the figures in Hopper's art were given a voice.
It is no coincidence that the characters in Later the Same Evening resemble those in the paintings that are an important part of the set.
Once he took on the project, librettist Mark Campbell says, "I just stared at the paintings for a very long time and waited for them to speak to me.”
Campbell says he hopes the opera he wrote with composer John Musto inspires others “to recall their own experiences of looking at paintings, in particular Hopper paintings."
Edward Hopper's paintings just seem to inspire that kind of speculation, says Franklin Kelly, curator at the National Gallery of Art, where a Hopper retrospective is currently on display. "Everybody I think can bring to them their own experience and play them out in their own minds,” Kelly says. “I think it is Hopper's subjects that seem to be so familiar. And I think it is a reason so much of his art resonates today."
No Hopper painting is more familiar than Nighthawks. "It's hard to think of an image that is better known in American visual culture,” Kelly says. “Many people know the painting who don't even know who Hopper was."
Hopper's career spanned more than half of the 20th century, and Kelly says his paintings are more than nostalgic scenes of rural and urban America. "When you see how strongly and beautifully colored they are and how masterfully composed, you realize this is a very aesthetically conscious painter."
Hopper once said what he wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house. And he did, often without any people in the scene.
But his paintings of New Yorkers, often in solitude, are what inspired Mark Campbell to create the story for Later the Same Evening. “This is just what I saw,” he says. “I would love for every person who goes to a gallery to write their own libretto about Hopper and what they see in his work and how it speaks to them."