Composers & the Voice – Session 5, Nov. 7, 2011

November 28, 2011

Zach Redler, Guest Blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2011-12

Hey all!

Here is the LONG overdue post from our session three weeks ago, at which our first compositions were brilliantly performed!  It is such a great honor and opportunity for us to have such a safe environment to present pieces that are fresh off the presses.  To be in the company of such a diverse and interesting group of voices (compositionally, lyrically and vocally) really made the night for me.  Slight disclaimer: I do not wish to act as critic or musicologist, but I do have that in my background, so that person will probably be present.  Please correct me or call me out on anything I get wrong.  Also, I hope everyone will add their own feelings about their performances.

We started with a pairing of pieces by Rachel Peters, performed by Justin Hopkins.  She was so smart and creative to take two completely different texts, one by Oskar Pastior and one by Walt Whitman, and unite them in such a comedic and dramatic way.  The former, “Dominotaurus,” is a setting of, basically, one extremely long word in which each subsequent syllable creates a new word.  So it was Rachel’s choice as to which syllable to stress where, which created a very compelling piece that kept our attention.  Her harmonic language is also clever and, though tonal, it uses a good deal of polytonality or harmonic independence, quoting different “styles” as she goes along to enhance the drama of the piece.  For example, setting a falsetto coloratura section in a simple, almost baroque fashion.  Her second piece, “To A Certain Civilian,” is set with a gentle swing, and cleverly comments on the first with lines like “Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow?”  All in all, a great start to the evening.

Baritone Justin Hopkins sings at the Nov 7 C&V workshop session.

Second on the docket was my and Sara Cooper’s monodrama “Count To Ten.”  Now, normally asking a singer to prepare an eight-minute operatic monodrama when they are only supposed to prepare a three to five minute aria or art song may seem daunting, but Amy Shoremount-Obra really stepped up to the plate.  She took command of the character that Sara and I had created, a 39 year-old prostitute, and really embodied her as she sang about her daily life and her hopes and dreams of one day being alone with just her pimp boyfriend Joe, after he “takes care” of all of the Johns who now think she’s too old, of course.  I am happy to say that I learned a lot about what may work for one singer vs. another and how to be flexible in really chiseling a piece to a certain performer’s strengths.  Luckily, Amy has so many that it wasn’t difficult.

Next, I believe, was Ronnie Reshef’s moving arioso “Transport” from The Waiting Woman, performed by Andrea Arias Martin.  So gorgeous.  It begins with a lovely ostinato (almost a passacaglia) with a pedal C over which Andrea’s voice just hovers, describing being “transported” in a cargo train for eight days and night climaxing on a glorious Bb!  We talked, as we did with everyone, about the possible strengths of small tweaks here and there, such as possibly altering a few pitches and/or tempi to optimize Andrea’s power for the piece.  But, in my opinion, it was a really great arc of an aria that used an entirely syllabic setting in a very lyrical and dramatic way.

Penultimately (I like that word), we heard from Mikael Karlsson.  I really, really enjoy Mikael’s music…and I’m not necessarily one for what I would call “out-there tonal music”.  It doesn’t seem to be atonal because there is definite “line” and “harmonic” direction, but rarely is there much homophony to establish any kind of solid tonal structure.  Though, I may be pulling this out of my butt…maybe Mikael can describe his style a little better. “Internal” from Decoration, performed by Rebecca Ringle is a bit of a tour-de-force.  Though the text is set on pitches, it seems to serve a bit more aliatorically in that certain phrases and sentences are separated in order to create specific word emphasis, rather than complete sentence understanding, which works very well.  Mikael used some “extended” techniques like Sprechstimme and some almost “growling” type sounds, along with directions to “spit it out” or use straight tone (no vibrato).  However, when all is said and done, we come away from the piece feeling connected to this character he’s created and that Rebecca has well developed.

Finally, we ended the night with a piece by Sidney Marquez Boquiren and Daniel Neer called “Washington Square Park,” performed by Brandon Snook.  In what seems to be Sidney and Daniel’s voice, this piece seems to be all about the text.  Sidney does a wonderful job of keeping a musical momentum while allowing ample room for the text to speak in the hall.  I have not yet seen a piece of Sidney’s that uses barlines, which is so interesting to me.  He instead generously gives the performers space to interpret their aria in the most powerful way.  We discussed a little bit of the use of sitting in a tenor’s passaggio on a FF phrase.  And again, like any good collaboration, they came out with a slightly altered tempo that helped the piece come to life as both Sidney and Daniel had envisioned.

Thus ended a great night of new music.  I apologize again for anything I either forgot or got COMPLETELY wrong.  These are just my observations, and please feel free to comment, clarify or just scold me for my stupidity.

Yay new work.  Yay American Opera Projects!

Composers and the Voice, Libretto Analysis 1 – Tosca – part 2 (macrocosmic)

November 23, 2011

Let’s look at the big structure of the libretto to “Tosca.”  3 Acts.  Why 3 acts?  Why not 2?  Why not 4?

Act 1 – The Church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle – noon

Act 2 – Pazazzo Farnese – that evening

Act 3 – Castel Sant’ Angelo – 4:00 the next morning

What do each of these acts share in common?  What strikes you as notable in the storytelling?  Go!

Composers and the Voice, Libretto Analysis 1 – Tosca

November 22, 2011

Big night tonight.  Acting 3 with Kathleen– starting our look at Ibsen’s “Ghosts” and arguing over beat breakdown of a scene.  And then our first foray into libretto analysis.  For this session, and to launch it all, I chose Puccini’s “Tosca.”   We had time to read through the entire libretto around the table, and to begin a rudimentary discussion of the piece.  But let’s use the blog this time to dive deeper into the libretto, and what each of us took away from it.

Many many thoughts and reactions to come soon.  But let’s start with this– most of the C&V fellows were coming to “Tosca” for the first time, so one of my assignments going into the reading was:  Look for something in the libretto that makes you curious to discover how Puccini realized it in music.  Then for our next session, explore how exactly Puccini brought this thing to life in the score.  Perhaps something like exploring how Puccini sets repeated iterations of the same text– i.e. Tosca’s “Ah, ah, Ah!” OR “You murderer!  You murderer!  You murderer!”  Or maybe how he underscores the sometimes vast stage directions, and the time he allows for them.  Maybe exploring all the instances of “real sound” within the opera score.  Anything really that strikes your fancy.

So, fellows, what is it?  What made you most curious tonight in our table read of “Tosca”?  What do you want to examine in the score?

O’Regan/Phillips open their “Heart” to praise at London premiere

November 11, 2011

"Superb": Alan Oke, right, as Marlow, with the "splendid" Sipho Fubesi, front left, in Tarik O'Regan's The Heart of Darkness. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

The maiden voyage into Heart of Darkness is complete! On November 1, the AOP-developed chamber opera from Tarik O’Regan and Tom Phillips premiered at London’s Royal Opera House in a co-production by ROH2 and Opera East. AOP Artistic Director Charles Jarden, Managing Director and Board President Bob Lee and several members of the AOP Board were there at the Linbury Studio Theater to see the creators take their bows with so much joy and pride that they barely noticed that they were up to their ankles in the set’s water-filled stage.

“This is a show that any opera company in the world would have been proud to present,” said Mr. Lee. “It’s been incredible to watch it grow through our public development process, from libretto to premiere. AOP does really provide something to opera audiences that they can’t get anywhere else – witnessing the creation of a work of art from beginning to end.”

Across the pond here at the AOP office, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of positive response from audience and critics alike. Stephen Pritchard from The Guardian/Observer UK  in particular gave an incredible rave:

Workshopped by OperaGenesis and American Opera Projects, it was developed by Opera East and ROH2 ready for its triumphant world premiere last week – 75 minutes of intense, sinister storytelling, combining crystal-clear narrative with complex ideas about idealism and self-delusion… Underpinning all this is a score of concise originality. Restless, leaping woodwind propel the narrative through the murky waters of the Congo, while interesting combinations of sonorities – double bass and classical guitar, for instance – trickle and bubble through the music… Concision is nowhere more evident than in Tom Phillips’s gloriously spare libretto. Drawn entirely from Conrad’s own writing, it hacks through the dense jungle of the author’s prose and elevates it to the status of the finest poetry.

Jeanne Whalen of The Wall Street Journal said, “’Heart of Darkness’ is very good … The English-language libretto by Tom Phillips is beautiful. … If you think of opera as an often bloated, over-wrought art form with hammy plots and acting, you would do well to try this one. It is elegant, moving, and, at just 75 minutes, short enough to allow time for dinner afterward.” And Claire Seymour from Opera Today said that Tarik O’Regan’s “fluent melodic idiom…skillfully evoked place and ambience with precision and impact.” And finally we can’t help but repeat that “preliminary development work with American Opera Projects and ROH 2’s OperaGenesis, reaped dividends for the finished article as jointly presented by Opera East Productions and ROH2.” Nice to know we’re doing it right.

Read The Genesis Foundation’s digest of press reviews for HEART OF DARKNESS.

New Digital Music Publishing Site, PSNY, to Feature Select AOP Composers

November 2, 2011

Schott Music, one of the world’s leading music publishing houses, has launched a new digital music publishing platform called PSNY, Project Schott New York.  AOP composers and collaborators Kamran Ince, Hannah Lash, David T. Little, Tobias Picker, Alvin Singleton and Gregory Spears will be among the group of artists participating in the pilot phase of this new and innovative publishing strategy.

Check out PSNY here:

AOP Composers with corresponding Projects:

Kamran Ince—Judgment of Midas (January 2011)

Hannah Lash—Composers & the Voice (2006)

David T. Little—Opera Grows in Brooklyn (July 2009)

Tobias Picker—Composers & the Voice Composer Mentor

Alvin Singleton–Brooklyn Bones: Requiem for the Revolutionary War Prison Ship Martyrs (November 2008)

Gregory Spears—Paul’s Case (June 2010) and The Lost Laïs of Albion (September 2011)

Kamran Ince

Kamran Ince, one of several AOP composers to be featured on Project Schott New York

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