From my perch on the third step of the amphitheatre in Pettoranello Gardens, Dr. Craig Levesque appears exactly as I imagined, walking up from behind the warping wooden stage to meet me. The afternoon has clouded over, leaving perfect conditions for the cameras, and the never ending slough of passing Jersey traffic has quieted to a conducive interview volume. Dr. Levesque introduces himself, and we sit down to begin what I fear will become a forced conversation, the onlooking tripods trampling our chances of exchanging something meaningful. But, as I soon discover, the interview — and Dr. Craig Levesque — are full of surprises.

In his casual dress shirt tucked into khakis, Dr. Levesque is not a picture of the academic esoteric, and though he teaches composition at Westminster Conservatory, he acts much more like a student of music than a professor. Having introduced himself as “Craig” when we first met, I had no idea he even had a doctorate until he used his title in describing himself to the cameras, and even then it was only on the second take, like an afterthought. His speech is approachably intelligent, far from pretentious, and he possesses the unique gifts of a master explainer. This is a man who could condense all of particle physics into a single sentence if he wanted to, and you would walk away from hearing it feeling more enlightened than you ever would leaving a college lecture.

Growing up, Dr. Levesque explains, his interests were more in playing music than in composing it. In his high school band, he showed talent and dedication as a French horn player, finding himself drawn more and more deeply to music as he progressed through his four years there. “I was very lucky in that I was in a place that had a strong music program, and I had a very supportive teacher who saw my interest and helped guide it,” he says, referencing the band instructor who first pointed him toward composition. “It was the only place in school were I really felt I was really successful,” he explains, which led him to spend more time in the program, which led to his being more successful and caused his teacher to take note. “When he saw my interest, he gave me more and more opportunities,” he tells me of his teacher, which began the young Dr. Levesque’s first forays into composition. “The more that I did this, the more I realized that it was something I really liked to do.”

His love of music never faltered, and he went on to pursue a B.A. in theory and composition from the University of New Hampshire and, just for good measure, topped it all off with a Rutgers Ph.D. He has been playing, composing, and arranging ever since, to great success and critical acclaim, not to mention the many instructional hats atop his head at several New Jersey universities. With such an impressive resume and a prodigious talent for arranging, Dr. Levesque was the natural choice to score OPERAnauts’ ingeniously portable La Petite Carmen, a collaboration to which he enthusiastically agreed. He set to work on the score, and OPERAnauts on the production, forging a productive artistic pairing until, at last, La Petite Carmen was ready to debut. And the rest is proverbial history.

by Niccolo Bechtler