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 Anyone here know/Anyone interested in modern opera? 
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Joined: 24 Jul 2006 14:08
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Location: Eugene, Austin, LA, Bedlam...
Backstory:I was having a very bad 4th of July (among other bad things, I lost the tip of my index finger, and fireworks were not even involved!), and generally feeling down and worthless, feeling left out and missing my friends--especially my best friend Aniela, whom I haven't been able to reach for a month--making calls which went unanswered, etc.

After I had resigned myself to my funk for the night (and cleaned up all the blood), I made a declaration aloud that I wished I had something creative to work on, and then, again, that I could talk to Aniela.

Ten minutes later, Aniela rang. She was having a left out, down-in-a-funk 4th as well, and it occurred to her that the person she wanted most to speak to was me. She checked her phone and realized that I had just called (she's house-sitting for one of her students, a television producer who lives in Laurel Canyon, and apparently has spotty cell reception inside her otherwise perfectly amazing home). So Aniela calls me back from this person's gorgeously landscaped and lush backyard/garden.

We talk a bit about life, our immediate situations, the cosmic forces at work in our calling each other at the same time and the beautiful skunk who suddenly appeared and calmly approached her as we reconnected, completely at odds with the manicured setting (the skunk is perhaps a story for another post, its particular symbolism and the fact that it's one of my totem animals are especially interesting given the situation).


Point of post
: Midway through our conversation, Aniela suddenly blurts out, "OH! I'm writing an opera! ...Guess I should have told you that first, as it's a pretty major development in my life and because also I want you to help write it..." It seems all the random bits of melody and fragments of compositions that she's been creating/collecting/coming up with over the years are finally beginning to coalesce into a coherent form. And given the planned themes and subject, I'm uniquely qualified to contribute!

She mentioned that a particular inspiration is Alban Berg's Wozzeck (not thematically or sonically, but in the way in which themes and characters are presented within the story, and perhaps the way it is staged--she hasn't seen it performed, she's only heard and played it.). I'm renting the only DVD version I can find, and downloading MP3s, but I was wondering if anyone here (Shearwater fans are such diversely intelligent folk, after all!) has any knowledge or thoughts on this subject? Either opera in general, Wozzeck or writing stories for staging or composition. It's been so long since I've even written a play, that I'm unsure where to begin.

Other related tidbits: Aniela usually does Girls Rock Camp before heading to Banff every summer, and this year she's planning to stay a week or two with her brother in addition to traveling to Portland (Rock Camp takes place there). Well, her brother still lives here, so YAY! I get to see her! BUT in the course of our talk last night it comes out that her Rock Camp stay will be the week of July 18-25. She'll be in Portland when I am! She can, we think, have a night out on the 23rd! For Shearwater! Two of my very favourite things on one night! Woohoo! :mrgreen:

It'll be the best belated birthday ever!

I'll stop blathering on now (it's harder to type without using my left index finger than I had originally supposed!) and contemplate chopping off all my excess hair (to match my finger, obviously, and to rid myself of an unnecessary extra foot or so of heat and hassle! :wink: ).

Cheers.

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05 Jul 2008 15:38
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Joined: 19 Jun 2008 22:03
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I don't know if this qualifies, but just to show that the world is a small place, Jonathan's aunt Martha Malone is a voice professor at Mercer University in Macon, GA, where among other things she runs the Mercer Opera Workshop. Not sure how this might assist you or whether she is familiar with that particular composer or style, but if it is of interest I'm sure she'd be amenable to a contact.


05 Jul 2008 19:22
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Joined: 24 Jul 2006 14:08
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That's very interesting... thanks for the information. I'll look into it. I wasn't aware there was a personal connection, that's cool!

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05 Jul 2008 19:47
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Joined: 08 Feb 2006 22:10
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I'm a opera fan! I spent seven years working at the Sydney Opera House and during opera season I probably saw two a week. With a job like that, you learn to love opera or you go crazy. My favourite is Britten's Peter Grimes. I saw a lot of modern opera , some by young Australian composers, and although they never got the bums on seats, after endless rounds of La Traviata, etc, they were a breath of fresh air. I confess that on my trip to New York about 15 years ago I was so excited to be seeing the Metropolitan Opera that I went three times (cheap seats and standing) - one of those performances was Wozzeck. I only have vague memories of it, though. The thing I find with modern opera is that they are difficult to listen to on their own - the theatre and drama of the performance seems much more crucial and intertwined with the whole experience. I can put on a CD of La Boheme and just listen to the music, but I can't listen to Peter Grimes in the same way. But that could just be me as an uneducated fan - I know very little about music and nothing about composing or writing librettos. And I've written for film but never for the stage. I've just seen lots of operas. (Although not for years now. :( )

So this is a post of enthusiasm rather than help.

Sorry about your finger.


05 Jul 2008 21:31
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Joined: 24 Jul 2006 14:08
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Location: Eugene, Austin, LA, Bedlam...
Posts of enthusiasm are helpful, too!


kerrie wrote:
I can put on a CD of La Boheme and just listen to the music, but I can't listen to Peter Grimes in the same way. But that could just be me as an uneducated fan - I know very little about music and nothing about composing or writing librettos. And I've written for film but never for the stage. I've just seen lots of operas. (Although not for years now. :( )


Interesting that you saw Wozzeck (I'm telling you, Kerrie, connections and coincidences...). Listening to the little bit I've heard so far, and with my very limited experience with new opera, I don't think it's a question of being an uneducated fan (although, being an uneducated fan myself, I could be wrong!), I agree that the spectacle of the production is probably much more integral and intertwined with the music than with the classics. Maybe that's only a result of the fact that they are classics and therefore familiar, though.

Of course, it's been ages since I've seen (or heard performed in any part) ANY operas. When I worked at our local Performing Arts Center, I'd sometimes get passes to "the basics" ... Much as I adore Mozart, however, there are only so many variations on staging Don Giovanni when it's always the same company! Despite having a great school of music here, we don't get a lot of up-and-coming composers in opera.

Which is, for the third time this week, given the information I now have, making me question why Aniela and I didn't take the leap in relocating to Atlanta a few years back... but that's neither here nor there.

I'd be interested in talking to you when you're in the US, by the way (about your half-remembered impressions of operas or whatever you like :wink:). Let me know when you're arriving. It'll be a local call when you're in Austin...

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05 Jul 2008 21:52
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Joined: 08 Feb 2006 22:10
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Just for the sake of modern opera trivia, the Patrick White novel Voss was transformed into an opera with a libretto written by another well-known Australian novelist, David Malouf. I remember enjoying the production but the theatre was half empty for every performance.

I sometimes wonder what's going to happen to opera as an art form as the older audience who attend gradually die off and aren't replaced by a younger audience (some of that is due to its prohibitive expense, at least here in Oz). And how will new composers be heard if people only want to see operas by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini et al and there's no interest in modern works?


05 Jul 2008 22:10
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I have yet to see/hear the opera form of Woyzeck(which inspired the opera Wozzeck). The theater company I worked with in Boston performed that two years ago. Very gritty.
Currently I am working on the opera Cunning Little Vixen by Janacek which was written around the same time as Wozzeck, but they are quite the opposites stylistically. Though they both have a life/death theme, Vixen being the more positive outlook.
Another modern opera I worked on was A Postcard From Morocco which premiered in 1971. Not a big turnout for that show unfortunately since it was so dark and the plot was rather vague. The unclear plot structure is done intentionally to make a point about the uncertainties of life. Very surrealistic and most of us working on it thought it reminded us of Samuel Beckett's work. Argento, who wrote it, also used a variety of musical styles as well which is rather uncommon but very interesting.
I almost forgot, I did work on another modern opera from the mid-1980s Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Dealt with a visual agnosia case study. The small cast and minimalistic score lends itself very well to a smaller, intimate venue. We produced it in a black box theater very effectively. As well as another modern opera Hostage which premiered last year also in the black box venue. Although, I think you'd be hard pressed to find information about it yet. Hostage, Postcard, and Man...Hat are one-acts.
Personally, I've never tried writing an opera since I have only been involved as the design and production team realizing an already completed score. But my hat off to you and your friend because I am sure it is no easy task. But yes, I do see opera very often because it's my job! As for where to start, well, I'm not sure. Everyone seems to do it differently. Though, helps to have the general story first. :wink:
On the topic of modern opera, have you every read anything by Adolphe Appia? He is considered the father of modern stage design and believed opera was the truest form of art. Whether or not you agree with that, he makes for an interesting read. I had to do quite a few papers on him when I was in college. Appia had a lot of influence on more well known designers like Edward Gordon Craig.
In response to Kerrie: It is true most audiences want to see the classic operas done. I just finished The Magic Flute in Boston and it was done by a director who hasn't changed his stage blocking in 20 years because it just "worked." We fought him tooth and nail because it is so boring to do the same regurgitated show. As most people in the theatrical world say: "Theater is in a constant state of dying and it's up to us to keep it relevant." The operas performed in smaller venues like the one acts in the black boxes may be a way of reaching out to the younger audiences since they are cheaper(lower production costs=lower ticket prices, in general). And some new plots. Just finished Cosi Fan Tutte and we all were rolling out eyes "Oh, the fickleness and faithlessness of women story. Haven't heard this one before..."


06 Jul 2008 10:46
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Joined: 24 Jul 2006 14:08
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Location: Eugene, Austin, LA, Bedlam...
Ooooh thanks for all the tips! I'll see if the university library will let me borrow the Adolphe Appia (which may be hard as I'm not a student). It's great that there are people (on here and elsewhere) who do still have thoughts on opera. It's very helpful.

A side note: I just went out for a much needed coffee (allergies and asthma and general lethargy have kept me from even showering yet, let alone getting anything done!) and as much as I hate to be seen in public in this scattered and disheveled state, it was cosmically fortuitous: The guy at Dutch Bros says, "You're Christel, right?" and I think "Oh god! Here I am less than 2 blocks from my apartment with no bra on, and of course, someone knows me!" :roll: It turns out it's my son's friend, actually, his godparents' son, Alex. He just graduated with his degree in composition from the UO School of Music (obviously he's older than my kid, who although smarter than most would not yet be ready for graduate studies...it may be my birthday, but I'm not that old!).

I didn't get to broach the subject of modern opera with him, but the opportunity is there, now that I know where he's working for the summer. I find that to be yet another example of cosmic synchronicity, you see. AND I got free coffee (for my birthday, although I think he'd have treated me regardless!)! Free Coffee is the best thing in the universe! :mrgreen:

Back to opera: we already have the main story idea in place. Of course, it will change a lot, and multiple times, before we get near the end, but for now I'm just trying to re-familiarize myself with the medium. I'll suggest A Postcard from Morocco to Aniela, because the intentionally unclear plot structure to make a point about the uncertainties of life seems to me to be something she was trying to express interest in employing even in our short initial conversation.

Thanks for all the thoughts. If you have more, by all means, keep them coming!

Edited to say: Just spoke to Aniela (she's very excited by the flurry of ideas we're both having, and so risked a ticket to call me from the road on the way to a lesson in Altadena. She sends her thanks to all of you for the suggestions as well (she'd give them herself but I'm pretty sure as California Highway Patrol frowns on behind-the-wheel cell phone use, they would be very displeased with driving while accessing the internet!).

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06 Jul 2008 14:44
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Joined: 03 Jun 2007 22:01
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Oh my gosh Christel, I'm very sorry to hear about your finger. I think that you're pretty amazing to "keep on goin' on" with your bad-ass-msg-board-typing self. (okay, sad attempts of trying to sound hip ends here)

As for modern opera, I'm blogging about my art interests and Satyagraha by Phil Glass was my first and only topic so far.

http://artextremophile.blogspot.com/


11 Jul 2008 09:25
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I agree Ain'tNoDisco about the emergence of storefront opera as a means to keep the torch going. When you think about it, that's how a lot of new playwrights get heard. I don't think they pick just any green playwright to do the token "modern work" at prestige theaters in major cities. Usually, it's someone who develops a buzz within that industry from their plays at a storefront/off the district theater. I remember when Avenue Q played at the Bond Street Theater (well, at least one of those theaters near NYU) and now it's got a semi-permanent house on Broadway and a touring cast to boot.

Operas still have a pit to maintain in addition to the singers/extras/techies so operations will run more expensive. Of course, this will also take the composer to consider how to score the opera. Does the composer write a truncated (in personnel) score and one for a bigger orchestra once it gets picked up by a major/semi-major opera house? How will that affect the overall score, audience response, etc. etc. Could operas with a prerecorded instrumental score become de riguer depending on budget restraints?

Anyway, I don't think that this problem is exclusive to our times. Berlioz complained a lot about the difficulty of getting his operas performed in his time. I can also see that the equivalent to Meyerbeer (contemporary who could get his operas performed in his time) could be found in today's musicals.

Wagner had to build his own shrine and kiss Ludwig II's ass to perform his Ring Cycle.

If you want a fun kind of read in an "If NPR existed in the 19th century" way, read Evenings with the Orchestra. Unlike Wagner, Berlioz could write prose and translates well into English.

Good luck and remember you're probably gonna have to alter your libretto before a note of the score gets changed.


19 Jul 2008 20:37
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Joined: 24 Jul 2006 14:08
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Location: Eugene, Austin, LA, Bedlam...
Thanks for the tips and comments you guys!

I'm now armed with a list of resources and some other operas to check out when Operation Opera resumes.

I've actually had to take a few weeks away from this because of family/personal events, and Aniela is teaching at Rock Camp, but when we get together in a couple of weeks--before Banff--I'll at least be able to hold my own in the brainstorms.

Oh, and you may be interested to know that my finger is back in top-typing-form (I heal quickly because I think positively, you see. That and I refuse to be kept from the keyboard! :wink:)

Thanks again, y'all!

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19 Jul 2008 21:13
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Joined: 14 Jul 2006 19:11
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Christel, I'm also curious as to your friend's musical background. Is she trained in composition/orchestration? If so, where? Has she done anything of this scope?


21 Jul 2008 18:54
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