OOPERSTOWN is a tale of ambition and jealousy set in League Baseball. The New York Bluebloods are chasing a pennant, but their young pitching star ANGEL CORAZON is at war with catcher MARVIN WILDER. Angel routinely waves off his signs, infuriating Marvin and exasperating manager “DUTCH” SCHULHAUS.
Angel, born dirt poor in the Dominican Republic, is paid over $9 million a year, adored by fans and lionized by sports writers. But he keeps a secret: his heart is flawed, prone to race out of control when he is upset or angry. His agent and former lover JAN GREEN carries a torch for him. She arranges a double date with Angel and Marvin in hope of rekindling Angel’s ardor and introducing Marvin to her friend, chic Upper East Sider LILLY YOUNG. But Marvin’s attempts to impress Lilly fall flat. She’s attracted instead to the flamboyant young Dominican.
Angel and Lilly become lovers, but Lilly has doubts about the prospects of their affair. Angel’s ardent machismo is compelling, but his dismissal of Lilly’s conflicted emotions only deepens her ambivalence. Marvin, stung by Lilly’s rejection, vows to exact vengeance. Yearning to win Angel back on any terms, Jan reluctantly agrees to join Marvin’s scheme of lies and deception that leads Lilly to believe that Angel is a womanizer who casually romances other women as well.
During an evening at a night club, Marvin plies Lilly with liquor while planting more seeds of doubt in her mind. Lilly’s head rests on his shoulder as he guides her out the door. When Angel and Lilly meet again, there are angry accusations, and she leaves in tears.
At season’s end, Angel is on the mound, about to throw the pitch that could cinch the pennant. But there is no joy in it for him, for Marvin has falsely told him that he is now Lilly’s lover. Stunned and disillusioned, Angel, laments his faith in love.
Summoning his best, he hurls his final pitch and strikes the final batter out, winning the game and the pennant. But Angel’s graceful follow-through becomes a slow collapse — the emotional strain on his flawed heart brings him to his knees. Lilly joins the rush onto the field and cradles Angel in her arms as Dutch and Jan join them on the mound.
NOTE FROM THE COMPOSER
“COOPERSTOWN OR BUST!” is chalked on many vans that pull up every summer in front of our house across the lawn from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It is a long and winding road trip to Cooperstown, and the recording process was that way as well. But what a trip! Such great talent here to hear, on both sides of the microphones. Rod Gilfry! John Atkinson! I have been honored by their enthusiastic support and participation. I have been to the Show.
“It breaks your heart.” That was the poetic language A. Bartlett Giamatti used in his beautiful essay “The Green Fields of the Mind”, and I am pleased that the Giamatti estate gave us permission to use his text. I began to work backward from there in the fall of 2000. Whose heart? And how was it broken? In Giamatti’s thinking, baseball is a game but also an art form, with the capacity to express the deepest emotional truths about individuals and society. One has only to pick up the sports pages to see this dynamic acted out against the economic and cultural realities of our time.
Baseball has its own specific historical musical attributes. One of them is the sound of the stadium organ. That sound led me quickly to scoring the music for a “Miles” jazz quintet. This particular grouping of instruments is as capable as any large orchestra of realizing music in all its potential variety. The musical materials boil down to the rising three-chord “Charge” fanfare still heard in stadiums everywhere, which can be turned to the dark side by becoming an altered dominant harmony.
Early on in the work process I had a sonic picture in my ear of what a finished recording of “Cooperstown” might sound like. I used as a model the great Blue Note stereo recordings of the late 50’s and early 60’s by Rudy Van Gelder: trumpet hard left, saxophone hard right, then added a vocal cast of five. I have nothing on my shelf that sounds quite like it.
“Cooperstown” brings together forms and techniques from jazz, opera, musical theater and baseball itself, to tell a uniquely American story in a new and different way.
— Sasha Matson
Cooperstown was first performed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theatre on May 19, 2007. Music Direction by Charles Schneider. Directed by Patrick Calleo.
Cooperstown is dedicated to the memory of Marvin Galbraith Barrett.
All text excerpts public domain, except excerpt from the essay “The Green Fields of the Mind” by A. Bartlett Giamatti, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Publisher. Used by permission.
The painting “Fastball” by Josephine Coniglio (oil on canvas, 2003, 12 x 12 inches) is used by permission of the artist.
© 2013. Published by Sasha Matson Music Co. BMI.