Friday, February 20, 2015

The Work at Hand at Carnegie Hall

The New York City Experience of
The Work At Hand, Carnegie Hall

By Brenda McGillicutty Burgoo

Charlene traveled from 81 degrees Fahrenheit to 18° on February 14, the day of her departure from San Diego and her arrival at New York City’s JFK. The purpose of the visit was to attend the world premiere of her daughter Laura J. Morefield’s The Work at Hand as set to music by Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick). The three-part cycle was sung by luscious mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton at Carnegie Hall.

Sadly, Jake was laid up on the West Coast with a flu bug and could not attend the premiere.

Barton was magnificent throughout the recital. Charlene was verklempt from beginning to end because it seemed as if Barton’s intelligent program was built around Laura, who loved life, including nature. God and wit, fought for it valiantly, reluctantly departing in 2011, having left behind a legacy of words.

Laura J. Morefield, 2008
Laura knew Jake because he had set Charlene’s poems. They became close friends when Laura and mom were on their annual mother-daughter travels, which sometimes centered on Heggie premieres, the last of which was a mid-chemo trip to the 2010 world premiere of Jake’s Moby-Dick  in Dallas. Subsequently, while seeking a miracle at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Laura and Dan, her beloved husband, went to see Jake’s Dead Man Walking. She declared him her favorite opera composer.

At his request, Laura sent Jake her “top ten poems” before she died. When his Carnegie Hall/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra commission arose, Jake determined to set Laura’s work for Barton and cellist Anne Martindale Williams. What we heard at Carnegie Hall (collegial pianist was Bradley Moore of Houston Grand Opera) was the chamber music version. To come is the world premiere of the orchestrated symphonic version, which takes place in Pittsburgh May 15 and 17. Charlene plans to attend.

Charlene adds

Dan took our little group (I especially enjoyed being with Dotty Morefield, Laura’s other mother, and Chad Riter, her god-son) to see two Broadway musicals, and treated a larger party to dinner at Trattoria Dell’Arte prior to Jamie’s vocal recital. Le Parker Meridien was marvelously comfortable, with a caring staff that would not let me out the door without a coat! I met with numerous artists who once lived in San Diego – that was so good to see them thriving and happy.
Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and Charlene
Photo courtesy of Josh Ellis

Dan Morefield, Jamie Barton and Charlene
Photo courtesy of Josh Ellis

About Jake’s music:  Laura adored the sea music from Moby-Dick, and the more tranquil writing (for the final section titled “The Slow Seconds”) was rife with a similar, expansive motif. Impressively, Jake managed to capture the anger, frustration and grief one feels when receiving so terrible a diagnosis. Those who have read Laura’s book, The Warrior’s Stance, or have seen the play based upon her work, know how much she loved life. Jake and Jamie paid homage to that, capturing her spirit and allowing her words and amotions to live.

In answer to many queries, there is no recording of The Work at Hand. Laura's book may be ordered through me or by going to Proceeds benefit the Colon Cancer Alliance.


  1. It was a never-to-be-forgotten evening, with talented artists performing in memory of Laura and celebrating her life.

  2. The saga continues: I'm so tempteted to make my own trip back east coordinate w/ Pittsburgh mid-May!