By Randi Bjornstad

If you’d like to see a brand-new opera emerging in its earliest stages — and being performed by well-known musicians to boot — you can do it at 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 24, when composer Ashley Hastings introduces his new chamber opera, The Dream, via a community workshop.

Not everyone could pull that off, of course, but Hastings, 79, has the chops. He grew up in a music-loving family, taking piano lessons and listening to the (New York) Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturdays during childhood.

He didn’t pursue writing opera for a very long time, though, until he was well into his 70s. When it came time to select a career, Hastings instead chose to study language, eventually completing a doctorate in linguistics and spending the next several decades teaching teachers how to teach language.

Then, when he had retired from that, he moved to Eugene. Through attending performances by Eugene Opera, he reconnected with his love of the art, began volunteering with the opera organization, and eventually served on its board of directors.

Four years ago, Hastings began to wonder if he actually could compose music in general, and chamber opera — much shorter than traditional opera, with few voices and instruments — in particular.

So he started trying, and his initial effort, a chamber opera titled Free Men, was the first to be presented, during the coming-out-of-the-pandemic environment earlier this year. In March, Hastings held a workshop to present Free Men to the public — it examined the world facing Southern soldiers as they returned home after the Civil War — with a discussion session afterward to receive responses from the participants about what worked and what didn’t.

That went well, and in the meantime Hastings already had forged ahead with his second chamber opera, The Dream, now ready for its first glimpse by the public.

This one is very different. It’s about a novelist named Penny Pensive, whose books always have the word “truth” — in one form or another — in the title.

But after she finishes one centered on a character named Verity Semper — semper veritas in Latin translates to always the truth — Pensive finds herself with a writer’s block so severe that she can’t continue, much less meet her publisher’s next deadline.

Then, as she struggles to find her way, she is visited by a woman who claims to be Verity Semper in the flesh, and who claims that Pensive’s writer’s block comes as punishment for the fact that in her book she killed off Semper’s husband, Frank, and Verity wants the story changed.

That sets up the plot, as Hastings sums it up: What happens when an author’s main character shows up at her door and demands changes in her story? Who’s awake? Who’s asleep? Who’s dreaming? Who knows?

It’s definitely the stuff of opera, and Hastings keeps the mystery and the plot twists close to the vest.

“There really are three ways to interpret the ending,” he says. “And I don’t think Penny is singing toward a particular ending.”

How it ends all depends on the very last word of the libretto, he says, and he’s not revealing that, so listen carefully.

Because of his long experience with Eugene Opera, Hastings has the luxury of knowing some high-level musicians who will debut The Dream with him.

Emily Pulley

Emily Pulley, an internationally known mezzo-soprano who has sung with Eugene Opera many times, will sing the role of Penny Pensive. Hastings has known her for years and calls her “a friend, a tremendous comedic talent, and a great singer.”

Years ago, when she sang with Eugene Opera in The Girl of the Golden West, “I picked her up at the airport, and by the time we got into town we were best friends,” he recalls. “We have been friends ever since.”

Jocelyn Claire Thomas

Soprano Jocelyn Claire Thomas, well-known to opera aficionados throughout the West, will be Verity Semper. She most recently performed with Eugene Opera earlier this year as Papagena in The Magic Flute and appeared twice with Eugene Opera in 2016, as Sister Constance in Dialogues of the Carmelites and as the character of Amy March in the chamber opera, Little Women.

Nathalie Fortin

They will be accompanied by virtuoso pianist Nathalie Fortin, originally from Canada, who has accompanied vocalists throughout Canada, Europe, and the United States and who now lives in Eugene. She has performed with the Oregon Bach Festival, Eugene Opera, Eugene Symphony, the Oregon Mozart Players, The Shedd Institute for the Arts, and the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance, as well as Lane Community College, Chamber Music Amici, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene Vocal Arts, and the Eugene Gleemen.

For his part, Ashley Hastings is the creator of the story, libretto, and music.

Ashley Hastings

“I wore three hats — as author, librettist, and composer,” Hastings said during an interview about his previous chamber opera, Free Men. “The creative team all sat in the same chair.”

But he hastens to add that doesn’t mean he’ll be the boss when it comes to evaluating the workshop.

“We’re dealing here with three very talented women performers and one amateur composer,” he says. “If there’s a difference of opinion about changing something in this opera, they win — the artists always win.”

Like Free Men before it, The Dream is a project of Cabaletta Productions, founded by Hastings and his wife, Barbara Wheatley.

To view Eugene Scene’s previous story about Ashley Hastings, go to

The Dream

When: 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 24, 2022

Where: Emmaus Lutheran Church, 1250 W. 18th Ave., Eugene (corner of 18th and Polk streets)

Tickets: $12, available online through eventbrite at

Covid detail: Masks required, except for singers