(a one-act opera based on a short story of the same name by Italo Calvino

from the book Cosmicomics)


Music by Melissa Shiflett

Libretto by Mac Wellman

Production History

Workshop production from the first Opera America/New Dramatist  collaboration of composers and librettists, staged at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul

Full production by Minnesota Opera New Music Theatre Ensemble, stage direction by Ben Krywosz

        Photos from Minnesota Opera New Music Theatre Ensemble production


   Listen to Excerpts



Review of Without Colors by George Heymont, originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter in his column Tales of Tessi Tura on May 11, 1989.   It was reprinted on the blog My Cultural Landscape (myculturallandscape.blogspot.com/2007) on November 23, 2007, and was titled New and Unusual Operas.


Because I haven’t encountered too many operas which take place in prehistoric times, the thought of a chamber opera in which one soloist takes on the role of a meteor and the protagonist is named “Qfwfq” sounded pretty kinky.   Based on a story by Italo Calvino (from his Cosmicomics collection) Without Colors explores what happens to a character’s love as the earth’s atmosphere forms, colors begin to replace the drab grays of its previous environment and the planet’s early inhabitants must adapt to a new world: a world with color.

While the philosophical debate triggered by Mac Wellman’s libretto may not send anyone staggering out of the theatre in an existential daze, I was thoroughly entranced by Melissa Shiflett’s score for cello, flute, piano and seven performers.   Using simple but incredibly deft strokes, she created a musical environment for Without Colors which sounded acutely primordial yet highly theatrical.   In a curious way, Shiflett accomplished something astounding by creating a musical theatre ambience which allowed the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks.   Not an easy trick, but one which was crafted with great skill and sensitivity.

Without Colors is hardly the kind of opera which calls for bravura performances.  However, James McKeel’s Qfwfq, Kathryn Wright’s Ayl and Joan Barber’s Meteor offered nicely-etched cameos while Dan Dressen, Merle Fristad, Maria Jette and Cynthia Lohman provided a sense of balance as a chorus of, shall we say, prehistoric protozoa singing back-up.


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