Claudia was invited by the International E. M. Forster Society to contribute a chapter on the opera to its upcoming (2017) publication on E. M. Forster in film and the arts. Here is an excerpt from “Page to Stage: A New Opera, Howards End, America,” where Claudia explains creative decisions that led to the opera’s title and American setting:
Why the change of title? Why not simply name the opera Howards End?”
First, we needed to acknowledge the existence of other adaptations of the book: the Oscar-winning Howards End feature film released in the early 1990’s and redistributed to select theaters in 2016; or the high-profile, four-part Howards End BBC television series currently in production. Perhaps such spin-offs did affect our renaming the opera. But so did the more pertinent fact that our opera, any opera, cannot just be “the book.”
To that end, aspects of the novel had to undergo alteration. Rather than setting the action in England, it is placed in America within a particular social, economic and political climate, that of the McCarthy era, with which an American audience might identify. I realized that the English lower-class status of Leonard Bast and his wife Jacky would not resonate with our audience. So I decided that Leonard and Jacky would be African American; that they would be subject to the racial politics and attitudes of the fifties (indeed, possibly of the present day). How much more convincing for an audience is the “forbidden love” between Helen and Leonard Bast, the indifference of the Wilcoxes, and their refusal to take responsibility for the homeless Leonard and Jacky! The new setting and the reassignment of roles along racial lines, then, were practical decisions as well as creative ones, enabling a modern audience to respond to the opera’s story and characters not as a costume drama, but as a work of potency and relevance for the present day. And so, the opera inevitably became a somewhat different animal than Howards End, the novel. It became Howards End, America––the opera.