Written by Henry Mollicone
Libretto by John Bowman
Sandra Bengochea, Soprano
Stephen Guggenheim, Tenor
Roberto Perlas Gomez, Baritone
Barbara Day Turner, Conductor
Daniel Helfgot, Director
Produced by Guggenheim Entertainment and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra
Running length: 120 minutes + 15 minute intermission
In celebration of Mr. Mollicone (a long time San Jose resident) and the 40th Anniversary of his opera, The Face on the Barroom Floor, audiences will enjoy a live performance of the opera followed by clips from “The Face on the Barroom Floor: The Poem, the Place, the Opera”, a film directed by Rhode Island-based filmmaker Lawrence Kraman, written by David Patrick Stearns, and edited by an impressive young filmmaker, Dillon Poole, The Face on the Barroom Floor will take viewers on a historical, musical, and poetic journey. Other songs will be performed during the celebration which Mr. Mollicone has written throughout his illustrious career.
The evening will feature Soprano Sandra Bengochea, Tenor Stephen Guggenheim and Baritone Roberto Perlas Gomez, along with members of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. The production is produced by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and Guggenheim Entertainment and will be staged by Daniel Helfgot and musical directed by Maestro Barbara Day Turner.
Tourists and opera-goers in Colorado regularly stop in the “Face Bar” at the Teller House to see the chestnut-haired enchantress painted on the floor. Though unsigned, the famous face on the floor of the Teller House bar is credited to Denver artist Herndon Davis, who was inspired by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy’s poem The Face Upon the Floor. The actual subject of the painting is not known for certain but is believed to be Davis’ wife Edna Juanita (Nita).
In 1978, a work commissioned by the fifth oldest opera company in the nation, the Central City Opera Company in Central City, Colorado, became one of the most performed modern American operas worldwide. “The Face On The Barroom Floor,” with music by Henry Mollicone and a libretto by John Bowman, took its inspiration from a painting of a female face on the floor of the Teller House bar that stands adjacent to the Opera House.
The opera tells two tales, separated in time, but parallel in character and theme. Present-day Isabel is a singer in the Central City Opera chorus who dreams of singing Violetta in La Traviata. The beautiful Madeline is a saloon girl in a 19th-century gold camp. Both are loved by two men, and as the opera moves between centuries, the parallel plots come to the same tragic end – a timeless tale of love and jealousy. Just thirty minutes long, The Face on the Barroom Floor is regarded as a showcase for rising talent, playing in regional opera companies with “a cult-like success” (The New Yorker.)
A Fascinating Backstory
Hugh Antoine d’Arcy’s “The Face Upon The Floor” was inspired by a supposed occurrence in 1872 at Joe Smith’s Saloon at Fourth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan. Though d’Arcy’s work was first published in 1887 in the New York Dispatch, an earlier work based on the incident was written by the poet Henry James Titus and was published in 1872 in the Ashtabula (Ohio) Sentinel. Literary historians give recognition to both poets for each of their works, but unfortunately for Titus, it is d’Arcy’s poem that is more widely published and revered.
The story of “The Face” continues in 1939 when, as a late-night prank, a local artist sketched a face upon the floor of the historic Teller House Hotel in Central City, Colorado. With intentions of capitalizing on d’Arcy’s famed poem, the owners of the Teller House falsely advertised the face as the original one from d’Arcy’s work. Despite this inaccuracy, the face on the barroom floor of the Teller House is the number one tourist attraction in Central City.
With controversial and artistic origins such as this, it’s no wonder that d’Arcy’s poem has yielded a critically acclaimed 1914 silent film short directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin, a 1923 John Ford film, been put to song and adapted for the stage, publicly recited in its entirety, and was even featured and illustrated in a 1954 issue of Mad Magazine. Decades later in 1978, composer Henry Mollicone and librettist John Bowman were commissioned to write the opera “The Face on the Barroom Floor” for the Central City Opera Company which is adjacent to the Teller House Hotel — the one-act production has been performed by the Company every season since.