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Even in high school Gus Motta (Gustavo Alfredo Motta, Jr., June 20, 1944, Providence, Rhode Island - February 6, 1993, New York, New York) showed a passion for opera and an affinity for teaching, writing and directing. He organized trips to the Metropolitan Opera for his fellow students, and held "classes" for them beforehand so they would know what they were hearing. He directed and wrote incidental music for a student production of Macbeth. And the school literary magazine he founded and wrote for, The Laureate, still exists today. (Photo: courtesy Jo Marian Motta Going)

As a student at Georgetown University in the 1960s Motta wrote, directed and produced three original musicals — Gambit (1963), 571 B.C. (1964) and My Son Hamlet (1968) — with fellow undergraduate Richard Murphy, and wrote incidental music for productions of The Good Woman of Setzuan, Hetty and Mourning Becomes Electra.

Motta entered the graduate theater program in Stage Direction at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and received Shubert Fellowships in Playwriting in 1966 and 1967. He directed several student productions including Albee's Tiny Alice, and created a sensation with his modern production of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. He also wrote and produced an anti-war play, Heresiarch, and founded and directed a student summer stock company. Some of the people he worked with in those years, such as set and costume designer John Wright Stevens and stage manager Margaret Peckham, along with Richard Murphy, remained his lifelong friends.

In 1969 Motta pursued postgraduate studies in playwriting at Columbia University and received another Shubert Fellowship in Playwriting. He directed his own modern adaptation of Die Entfuehrung Aus Dem Serail with members of the New York City Opera and Metropolitan Opera Studio in 1971, and wrote the music for an erotic puppet show, Kumquats, given by Wayland Flowers and "Madame" late at night at the Village Gate after performances of Jacques Brel.

By 1974 Motta was a fellow of the National Opera Institute, had received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for opera libretto translation and served as Assistant Director of the Washington Opera Company at the Kennedy Center, and was active as a guest director in the United States and Europe, including opera companies in the Netherlands and East Germany. He directed Wars of the Roses and Richard III as summer theatre director at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and staged other productions at Houston Grand Opera, Opera Society of Washington, Augusta Opera, Tanglewood Festival and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Michael Steinberg praised him in a Cincinnati Globe review entitled "An Astonishing Performance of Moses and Aron":

"Gustavo Motta...dazzled with his sleight-of-hand in suggesting a performance more fully staged than it in fact was.... the Golden Calf scene was a marvel of discretion and intense sensuality... [The production] was so direct, so immense in its impact, that it was hard to think of 'Moses and Aron' as a problem opera. Afterwards, Schoenberg's son, Lawrence, who has seen more than 20 stage performances of 'Moses and Aron,' said, 'It all seemed so easy, I don't think anyone here realizes what a fantastic job they did.'"

In San Francisco he directed a small theater group in an experimental production of Woyzeck; directed and produced "I Am A Concert," a major fund-raising event for the Hunger Project, involving more than 50 artists, at the War Memorial; and began giving solo concerts of his own songs. A concert at First Unitarian Church in the mid-1970s was titled "What's-A-Motta?/A Musical Coming Out."

In 1980 Motta moved to New York, directed a Gilbert & Sullivan production for the Blue Hill Troupe, and continued to perform his songs, alone and with Cornelia Ladas (now Iredell) and other musicians, in concerts and cabarets in New York (Grady's, Kate's, Jan Wallman's, Old Merchant House), Philadelphia (Gay Community Center) and San Francisco. In the 1980s Motta also traveled frequently to Philadelphia and San Francisco as an account executive for the Nexis division of Mead Data Central.

In 1985 Motta moved to Philadelphia and collaborated with Richard Murphy and John Wright Stevens to write and produce another original musical, The Green Monkey, at the Plays & Players Theater as a benefit for

the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force. The cast consisted of singers Karen Saillant, Rossana Fichera and Cornelia Ladas and dancer/actor Otis Zachary. The following year Motta gave a benefit concert for the Task Force — "Painters/A Concert of Songs by Gustavo Motta" — at The Academy of Vocal Arts with Ladas, Saillant and cellist Lisa Philabaum. After testing positive for HIV in 1987 he devoted himself full-time to recording and performing his music in solo concerts and AIDS benefits. He appeared in Philadelphia's first Living Legacy Festival in 1988.

Following a diagnosis of full-blown AIDS in 1991, Motta returned to New York and redoubled his efforts to ensure that his songs would be preserved and performed. He gave concerts at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center, The Rheedlen Foundation, Manhattan Center for Living, Trinity School and Greenwich House Music School, and worked with such groups as OutMusic and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. In January 1992 he gathered several longtime musical friends — vocalists Jason Bauer, Win Rutherford and Cornelia Iredell — to record 65 of his songs. He was putting the final touches on this taping project at the time of his death.

Gustavo Motta died of AIDS in New York at the age of 48 on February 6, 1993.

His songs "Let There Be Love" and "Joe & Marie" were performed by Grant King and Dan Martin in their program "Brothering: Songs of Love, Passion and Healing" at the Philadelphia Ethical Society in October 1993. Steve Ross performed "Through The Music" and "Joe & Marie" in the Benson AIDS Series in December 1993. — Nurit Tilles

The stage director was a very affable, intelligent, and artistic soul named Gustavo ("Gus") Motta. I liked him immediately. It was obvious to me that we shared similar dreams of using the stage to make characters come to life. I felt like I could easily do the staging he wanted and also draw from my own preparation for this role. Gus was something of a rising star in Opera America. He was being seriously examined by the moguls who make or break careers, and the King mogul was there for the whole production, Matthew Epstein. Gus has done great research on Verdi and Rigoletto which made it easy for me to draw from my own research. I enjoyed being compliant with his concepts.
The system just could not stand Gus Motta's mistake in the staging of Rigoletto's ending... "because the... lower rungs of the profession are not congenial to the biggest mistakes, the more abrasive temperaments of the truly dramatic artists." Gus never worked in opera again.--GOOD DREAMS - Miracles In Opera And In Life by Joseph Shore
Further Readings:

GOOD DREAMS - Miracles In Opera And In Life by Joseph Shore
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 29, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1479114308
ISBN-13: 978-1479114306
Amazon: Good Dreams: Miracles in Opera and in Life
Amazon Kindle: Good Dreams: Miracles in Opera and in Life

Joseph Shore was well on his way to becoming a theologian when he heard an inner voice telling him to become an opera singer. “Your characters can be your sermons. Your audience can be your congregation. Now go put feet to your faith.” He left seminary and, without ever taking any voice lessons he won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and set out on a new career in opera. He learned to hear an internal voice which guided him in all things. Shore gives a gripping account of his struggles and triumphs in the opera world. Shore takes us into the back rooms of opera where dark men decide a singer’s fate. The book is peppered with references to great opera singers with whom Mr. Shore sang. This is an intimate book written to enable self identification, empathy and personal learning. Mr. Shore’s journey is not just through the world of opera but through spirituality and love. All in all, this unusual book will lift you up and make you think of GOOD DREAMS.

More LGBT History at my website:, My Ramblings/Gay Classics

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