Bill Clinton's teenage years, told in soprano

An opera about former President Bill Clinton's years as a teenager in Arkansas recently debuted in his home state.

Jim Young/Reuters
Billy Blythe,' an opera about a day in the life of former President Bill Clinton, recently debuted in Arkansas.
Courtesy of Lizzie Burnham
Montgomery in ‘Billy Blythe.’

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

With a colorful, conflicted story, former President Bill Clinton’s life seems ready-made as an opera.

“Billy Blythe,” an opera about a day in the life of a teenage Bill Clinton, recently debuted in Arkansas. The story highlights Mr. Clinton’s family life as he struggles with an abusive stepfather and his flamboyant, unconventional, and beloved mother, Virginia Kelley. The title comes from the name the former president used until he turned 14, when he legally took his stepfather’s surname.

The opera’s creator, Bonnie Montgomery, spent four years composing the music and storyline along with its librettist, Britt Barber. Ms. Montgomery, who grew up in Arkansas while Clinton was governor, was inspired by Clinton’s 2006 autobiography, “My Life.”

“There were rich passages in the book about Clinton getting up in the morning and spending time with Virginia when she was putting on her makeup that inspired me,” Montgomery says. “I wondered how his early life as a teenager shaped him into the man he would later become and who would be president.”

The debut featured four scenes, including one where Clinton confronts his stepfather in order to protect his mother. Montgomery is currently looking for venues to workshop the entire opera.

And yes, Clinton knows about the project. Last year, Montgomery ran into the former president when he visited Arkansas and told him about it.

“He wished me good luck,” she says.

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