Venus and Adonis

Venus and Adonis


a chamber opera in one act (45')

Add PDF to Cart

Mesmerizing... Astonishingly confident. Wadsworth’s lyrical dissonance adds mystery to his strangely attractive music.
— Roy C. Dicks, The News & Observer
This young man has flair. ... Rapturous and reflective ... Contemporary, easily accessible, and a pleasure to hear throughout.
— Ken Hoover, Classical Voice North Carolina
An evocative mixture of old and new ... Wadsworth has a beautiful appreciation for the dramatic flow of the work.
— Abigail Aresty, Campus Times

Instrumentation: Six singers (Operatic S and T, Choral SATB), Alto Saxophone, String Quartet, and Piano (doubling optional Celesta)

Completed in October, 2004.

Dedicated to Brad Lubman. Concert premiere on February 28, 2005 at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY. Annamarie Zmolek (Venus), Zachary Wilder (Adonis), Laura Dunbar, Gretchen Snedeker, Zachary Wadsworth, and Nathaniel Adam (chorus), Ari Streisfeld and Christopher Otto (violins), Elizabeth Ristow (viola), Lauren Radnofsky (cello), Lynn Ligammari (alto saxophone), and Bobby Mitchell (piano/celeste).

Additional stagings at the Long Leaf Opera (June, 2007), Virginia Arts Festival (May, 2009), Boston Metro Opera (November, 2010), and Lone-Star College-Montgomery (May, 2012).

Text: from Shakespeare's long poem of the same name, adapted by Gretchen Snedeker and Zachary Wadsworth.


“Venus and Adonis” is a long lyric poem written by William Shakespeare but based on ancient mythology. In it, the Roman goddess of love, Venus, attempts to seduce the beautiful Adonis, a young mortal who is in the end more interested in hunting with his friends than romancing her. Venus tries her very hardest to woo Adonis, deceiving him into kissing her by pretending to faint. They continue to kiss until night falls and Adonis, eager to wake up early the next morning and hunt wild boars, attempts to depart. Venus tries to restrain him, but he expresses his disgust with her amorous advances and struggles away. The next morning, Venus awakes, hearing nothing of Adonis or his hunting party. She then discovers that the hunted boar was so taken by Adonis’ good looks that it, in an attempt to kiss Adonis, accidentally gored and killed him. Devastated by his death, Venus returns to the heavens.

In this piece, since Shakespeare’s text is a poem and not a play, there is a great amount of colourful, evocative narrative. In order to keep these sections without reworking the text to suit a stage production with only dialogue, I set it as a concert work with a Greek chorus. This chorus sings the stage direction and narrative that the audience would normally see acted out onstage in an opera or other theater work.

To suit the mythological context of Shakespeare’s text, much of the musical material of this oratorio imitates Renaissance and Baroque styles, from the continuo of the modern piano to the straight-tone of the Greek Chorus and the Baroque dance influence of some of the string passages. The lush sound of the saxophone, one of the most modern instruments in common use today, evokes the tone and the power of ancient reed and brass instruments. The use of modern instruments is not, however, grounded solely in convenience. The oratorio, though certainly referential to ancient music, still sounds thoroughly “modern” in both harmony and rhythm, making it more suitably played by modern instruments.

This piece is dedicated to Brad Lubman, without whose initiative and leadership this piece would never have been written or performed. Also, I would like to thank Gretchen Snedeker for, as always, helping me turn a theoretical piece into a reality (in this case by adapting the huge Shakespeare text into a concise but still wonderfully coherent libretto). Finally, thanks to Annamarie Zmolek, Zach Wilder, Nathaniel Adam, Laura Dunbar, Elizabeth Ristow, and Bobby Mitchell, all of whose practical performance input shaped this piece in ways I never could have imagined.

To purchase a score or arrange for a performance of this work, please contact us. Full scores, vocal scores (with piano reduction), and parts are all available.


The complete opera, semi-staged at Lone-Star College-Montgomery, with Annamarie Zmolek (Venus), Joseph Mikolaj (Adonis), the Lone-Star College-Montgomery Chamber Singers, Divisi Strings, and Dr. Dominick DiOrio (director).

Aria excerpts of the opera from the Boston Metro Opera's 2010 staging, with Megan Stapleton as Venus and James Onstad as Adonis.