Video: ‘Je T’Aime’ performed by composer Robert Butts
By Kevin Coughlin
It’s hard to picture Maestro Robert Butts in a cowboy hat. But the founder of the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey — which recently premiered a newly discovered opera from 1693 — once gave Nashville a whirl.
“I was a country and western singer,” Butts revealed this month while receiving an award from the Morris County Tourism Bureau in Morristown.
At Nashville’s Fairgrounds in the summer of 1987, Butts opened for Jerry Reed, New Jersey’s Eddie Rabbitt, Tammy (Stand By Your Man) Wynette, and the Man In Black, Johnny Cash.
“It was pretty cool,” said Butts, whose classical pedigree includes the University of Iowa, the Juilliard School and the American Conservatory of Music.
The Tourism Bureau honored him for his contributions to the Morris County cultural scene at its 18th annual membership meeting, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Tourism is a $2.1 billion industry in Morris, which ranks seventh out of the state’s 21 counties, said Leslie Bensley, executive director of the Bureau. Hotel business improved by 2 percent in 2015, and visitors from 32 states and 22 countries, including Russia and New Zealand, were among the 1,400 walk-ins to the Bureau’s Morristown office, Bensley said.
A 17TH CENTURY PREMIERE
Butts performed Je T’Aime, from Wilde’s Wild West, a musical theater production he composed about an Oscar Wilde visit to Colorado.
The maestro’ operas include The Cask of Amontillado and Mark Twain and the General, scheduled for a May 2017 performance at the Morristown National Historical Park.
One of the highlights of Butts’ career started with an email from Jude Pfister, archivist for the park at its Washington’s Headquarters Museum.
“You don’t know me, but I have a 1693 manuscript of an Alessandro Scarlatti opera. Would you like to look at it?'” the email said.
Butts said he thought someone was pulling his leg. But this past May, Butts conducted la Giuditta at the museum.
“With Jude’s help we did bring it to life, and it’s the only time it’s ever been performed,” Butts said of the two-and-a-half-hour composition.
When he’s not conducting rare operas or composing his own, Butts teaches at Drew and Montclair State universities. Two decades ago he founded the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, which began its life at the old Darress Theatre in Boonton.
These days, Grace Church in Madison is the orchestra’s home base. Butts’ music will be celebrated there on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, at 4:15 pm, as part of the Madison Holiday Arts Festival.
“When I started the orchestra 20 years ago, one of my goals was not just to make music and bring music to the community, but to be part of the community,” Butts told the Tourism audience.
“Everybody says the arts are in trouble and to one degree they are. But at the same time I don’t think there’s ever been as much great art as there is today. The only way to keep that going is to work together and to collaborate.”