didn’t want to set one note to music without Wilkinson’s
approval, so she sent him a draft of her libretto based on Michael
Tougias’s book “Ten Hours Until Dawn,” in which
Wilkinson was quoted.
Wilkinson never saw the opera come to life. In September of 2018, he
died at the age of 57 from stomach cancer. But the Nahant Music
Festival lives on, and according to Perry, its survival is greatly owed
to Wilkinson’s enthusiasm for it.
festival’s small board has had to adjust to the loss of its
captain and work through unfamiliar challenges, explained Perry, a
tenor who previously assisted Wilkinson as the festival’s
thought, well, Don wanted this thing to go on,” he said.
“So we’re going to do it. We’re just going to find a
was by all accounts a man of many passions, and Perry sees this
year’s festival as a tribute to his life. A longtime North Shore
resident, Wilkinson left a promising career in electrical engineering
to pursue singing full time. His primary musical home, said Perry, was
Emmanuel Music, for which he auditioned at the age of 23; he also
appeared as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on multiple
occasions, and sang with the Handel and Haydn Society and the Boston
Camerata. He was also an avid birder, and a collector of “I Love
Lucy” and “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia.
was an angel sent down to earth,” Camerata music director
emeritus Joel Cohen described Wilkinson over the phone. People wanted
to give their best for him, he said. “I don’t think he had
an enemy in the world. Everybody is struggling for little crumbs in the
music business, but — everybody loved him! And that’s
because he was a fine person.”
its inception in 2014, the festival has included an apprenticeship
program for rising vocalists, which is now named after Wilkinson. The
apprentices are mostly working in the industry or have finished a
master’s program within the last few years, said Perry. In the
spirit of welcoming singers who, like Wilkinson, may have started their
careers later, there is no upper age limit.
this rebuilding year includes fewer events than past seasons, this year
marks the first in which the festival has been able to provide the
vocal apprentices with an honorarium in addition to room and board,
Perry said. “Because the apprentice program is now in Don’s
name . . . we want to honor Don’s legacy by also respecting the
work and the time that our artists give.”
programming past festivals, Wilkinson drew on both the time-tested and
the new. Baroque music was a regular fixture; even suffering from
late-stage cancer, he conducted a program of Bach cantatas last year.
He also made a point of commissioning new pieces. Trester in particular
has a long association with the festival, having composed a song cycle
and an opera for it already.
one of their final communications before his passing, Perry says, he
and Wilkinson agreed on the 2019 festival’s repertoire. On June 9
at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Gloucester, the apprentices
will perform the St. Mark Passion by Reinhard Keiser, a contemporary of
Bach. Then, on June 15, they’ll deliver the world premiere of
“Keepers of the Light,” stage directed by Joshua Major and
music directed by Timothy Steele, at the Nahant Town Hall. The program
also includes an “opera to Broadway” selection of songs
about the sea. Supplementing that, “Ten Hours Until Dawn”
author Tougias will give a free talk on June 11.
music of the half-hour opera weaves in a seagull motif — a
tribute to Wilkinson’s birding as well as an anecdote from
Tougias’s book — and a setting of Tennyson’s
“Crossing the Bar.” Language, Trester says, greatly
influences her music. “I want the words to sing,” she
ultimate fate of the Can Do is not explicitly revealed in the libretto.
It ends with the crew making the decision to go out and aid the Coast
Guard vessel, knowing the danger.
you know what happens, it’s very dark,” says Trester.
“But . . . the light is the fact that there are people
who are willing to do things like this.”
NAHANT MUSIC FESTIVAL
In Gloucester and Nahant, June 9, 11, and 15 . www.nahantmusicfestival.org
Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.
Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music
Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon