January 29, 2012

BROOKLYN, NY – American Opera Projects (AOP) announces that composer Huang Ruo’s The Weeping Camel and composer Gregory Spears’s Paul’s Case are awarded $10,000 each from the National Endowment for the Arts  ART WORKS to support developmental workshop productions with AOP and partners. Both operas will be developed through AOP’s First Chance series that presents concert readings of new operas in an intimate format that allows for direct conversation between audience and artist. Operas that receive fully-staged premieres after passing through First Chance include Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness (London’s Royal Opera House), Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls (Fort Worth Opera), and Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon (New York City Opera, Opera Santa Barbara), among many others.

Huang Ruo

Based on a true story that was the subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary, The Weeping Camel follows a family of nomadic shepherds in Mongolia and their struggle to save a newborn camel calf through a native musical ritual.  The opera for audiences of all ages will integrate both Western and Chinese opera traditions with contemporary musical language as well as use Chinese masks and puppetry to tell its uplifting story about the spiritual power of music. The Weeping Camel composer Huang Ruo and librettist Candace Chong most recently collaborated on the opera Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, which received the world premiere of its Chinese orchestra version at the Hong Kong Culture Centre Theatre with four performances in 2011 and a recent debut at Le Poisson Rouge, January 10, 2012. American Opera Projects will develop The Weeping Camel in collaboration with New York City’s Symphony Space and the Guangzhou Opera House company in China.

Gregory Spears

Paul’s Case, by composer Gregory Spears with a libretto by Kathryn Walat based on the story by Willa Cather, is a two act chamber opera that chronicles the dissolution of a high school dandy living in sooty turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh. Initially developed during American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice residency program, has presented workshops of Paul’s Case at the Manhattan School of Music, OPERA America’s Opera Conference 2010 in Los Angeles, and at Center City Opera Theater in Philadelphia where it was noted for its “solid dramatic timing, compassionate characterizations, and huge potential” (Philadelphia Inquirer – David Patrick Stearns’ Best in Classical Music for 2009). The opera has been developed in part with grants from the BMI Foundation and the Virgil Thomson Foundation. Paul’s Case will complete development in Brooklyn during the 2012-13 season.

For complete project info, including audio and video samples, visit

Paul’s Case:

The Weeping Camel:


C&V Roundup: The Last Three Sessions

January 20, 2012

Rachel Peters, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2011-12

It’s been a long time since you’ve heard about what goes on behind closed doors in our C&V laboratory. There are now three classes to describe, so as Inigo Montoya says in The Princess Bride, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” And fellow Fellows, please chime in if I’ve misremembered or omitted something.

December 12th: We whisked through our final Role Analysis roundup, then onto acting class, where we worked with our partners to identify and agree upon beat changes in our assigned scenes from Ibsen’s Ghosts. Each team read their scene in front of the group with these discoveries in mind.

In the evening our singers were back to perform our second pieces. Let me just say that if you think opera is fusty and outmoded, we are here to prove you wrong! Topics for the evening included but were not limited to stalking, S&M, a transgender Jewish wedding, racist cops, and robot love. We began with Amy singing Ronnie’s absolutely heartbreaking “When I Find You,” another installment from her Holocaust-era opera The Waiting Woman. Then Rebecca sang my “Pronoun”; the take-home message for me was that writing the approach to the note is everything and can change the sound entirely. Justin treated us to another of Sara and Zach’s monodramas, “Installing your Blinds,” by turns lilting and sinister. Next up was Brandon’s interpretation of Mika’s setting of Rob Stephenson’s text, “O Song,” full of potent and timeless images. Equally potent are Mika’s tempo markings and instructions. My favorite is the last [instruction]: “Basically don’t make a big deal of it.” Jorell sang two songs in a row, Sidney’s harrowing “Stop and Frisk” and Rob’s playfully twisted “A Man’s Needs.”  Also from Rob’s Fetish (An Erotic Opera) was Andrea’s plaintive performance of “Talk to Me.”

December 19th: Our ranks were severely diminished by flu season and awards season- only three of us were present for an evening of acting and libretto study. After a new warm-up game called “Big Booty,” we had a chance to delve deeply into some physical character work for Ghosts based on 1) a highly detailed questionnaire Kathleen gave us 2) some people-watching we’d done with our characters in mind. Ronnie and were both assigned to play Mrs. Alving, and I was fascinated by our very different takes on her physicality. Then we played our scenes in different styles to change up what could become rote line readings. This included telenovela and, of course, opera.

Maestro Steve led us through a final sweep of Tosca libretto/score analysis (see previous blog entries for burning questions and some answers thereto), then we read William Ball’s libretto to Lee Hoiby’s A Month in the Country. We discussed potential choices of fach/range for each character relative to age and type, then Steve revealed how Hoiby went along with or against them and why.

January 17th: Special guest star Charles Jarden started off the afternoon with a chat about the logistics of producing new work and a helpfully candid/candidly helpful Q&A. Then it was on to Improv with Terry. Highlights included “Freeze Transformation,” identifying given circumstances when walking from somewhere specific and then to somewhere specific, grappling with a difficult imaginary object, free association singing based on a (not musical but literal) theme, and a game I can only call “Bippity Bippity Bop/Jello/Airplane/Elephant.” Reportedly we now have a robust toolbox from which to build longer form improve scenes.

In the evening, we heard the singers perform our third pieces. Again, we were not quite a full house, but those who were there did benefit greatly from the extra time. First came Rob’s “Soprano’s Lament” for Amy. This song, which features a lot of patter and what Amy called “chewy words,” mainly in one particular place in her range, led to a very productive discussion about stepwise vs. leap motion up to climactic high notes and optimal ways to navigate back and forth across the passaggio. Rob was open to experimenting with some changes as Amy got to try out what felt best. After that, Brandon sang my cabaret standard-ish “Baby in a Jar” (lyrics by Robert Maddock). Everyone offered up a variety of suggestions for interpretation, and after incorporating a few things I had not previously considered, the result was better than I ever imagined. Next came Sidney and Daniel’s clever interpolation of Walt Whitman’s text into another narrative. It is a terrific study of what can be done while the singer stays on only one or two notes for long stretches. Justin’s stalwart and fiery execution is proof that what looks like a lot of one thing on the page can take on all sorts of colors. The incredibly athletic piano part helps the cause too—Go Mila! Finally, Jorell sang Sara’s and Zach’s latest monodrama, “Shush, Love.” (It was Morbid Lullaby Night at C&V!) Sara, Zach and I hail from MuSiCal ThEaTrE lAnD, among other places. Every time they present I am pleasantly shocked at how they careen wildly from tropes of contemporary musical theatre sound to something altogether different; this new piece was certainly no exception. It seems to be a trademark that gets more refined every time, which is especially fun because their characters are always so blissfully sick.

We are poised to take over the opera world in 2012. Thanks as always to all the performers, coaches, and teachers. Next session: more Improv with Terry and Acting with Kathleen.

C&V Mentor Meeting: Lunch with Daron Hagen

January 11, 2012

Ronnie Reshef, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2011-2012

A few weeks ago, Steve Osgood, Charles Jarden and I met Daron Hagen, my C&V mentor, for lunch. We met at Henry’s, where Daron dines often, and despite his enthusiastic recommendation on the cheeseburger, I decided to go for the pasta primavera. Unfortunately, I did not foresee the trouble I will run into later, trying to eat long spaghetti and maintain my table manners. I think that eventually I might have lost a few points in the table manners section, but at least I enjoyed a great dish of pasta primavera and a wonderful conversation with three fascinating opera men.

And now for the more interesting part of the meeting: Daron Hagen. I first met Daron almost a year ago, when he was on a judging panel of a competition I participated in, with my 2009 one-act opera “Requiem for the Living.” I only got to the third place in that competition, but the benefit of the judges’ comments was worth much more than receiving any prize. I think that I will always remember Daron as the first one who stated to me clearly that opera should aim to touch at people’s hearts. Daron’s concept, as I understand it, is that opera must always be accessible and communicative, the story must move the audience, and that the music’s role in making this happen is huge. For me, I guess it means less thinking while composing, and more following the heart. Sounds easy? Well, it’s not. But this is not the place for that discussion.

Opera for the People!

Back to Daron: in one of our chats back in that opera competition, we discussed the opera world today, and Daron said that opera should not be the aristocratic genre that it is mostly today, but the opposite: the genre of the people. I couldn’t agree more: the tuxedos, shiny evening dresses, splendid halls and crazy pricesare taking the opera away from the people,where it belongs and where it was born. When opera was born, it was meant to be entertainment for the people, who will laugh, have fun, and even eat and drink during the performance – not as it is today, that people have to sit squeezed in fancy clothes and forced to be silent for four hours. These discussions with Daron lived in my mind for long after the competition was over, and have had a great effect on my operatic and vocal writing since then.

Having Daron as my C&V mentor was great news for me – I know that we see eye to eye about many things (might be more accurate to say that I see many things the way he does…), so I knew we would be a good match. In addition to this, Daron is an amazingly busy composer. Only this past year he had two full productions of two of his seven operas. Daron has written twelve concerti, four symphonies, over 150 art songs and song cycles, and over forty chamber works. Just what I’d like to be in twenty years! Or, on a more serious note – I sure have a lot to learn from him about the business of being a composer, the practical aspects of it, and the politics involved.

A practical aspect, for example, which we discussed in the lunch at Henry’s, was the size of orchestra I should employ for the opera I am working on now. So many non-artistic considerations: size of halls, instrumentation of other operatic works which my piece is likely to be programmed with, orchestra policies regarding employing only some of their musicians – I was happy to have this kind of advice from an experienced composer.

I can keep writing here forever about Daron, myself, and Opera. But maybe I shouldn’t – this might be a good point to stop and save some ideas for later.

Thanks AOP for lending me Daron for a year, and thanks Daron – I am looking forward to working with you soon – this time over a cheeseburger!

Success Montage

January 11, 2012

Rebecca Ringle, Guest Blogger
Composers & the Voice
Resident Singer, 2011-12

Several weeks ago, I walked six blocks through the sunny Upper West Side Autumn to sit down with Ronnie and talk about themes and logistics for my third C&V piece. I’d performed the first piece by Mika and received the music for the second (Rachel’s) the previous Monday evening and now Ronnie was about to start writing my third piece. She and I split a slice of pound cake and I gave her my wish list: feminine characters who are also powerful, vocal lines that start low and arch high.  Ronnie took it all in and offered back lots of brightly-colored thoughts. I felt happy that she left saying “Ok, I have a bunch of ideas now.”

A month earlier, Rachel and I had had a similar conversation over tortilla soup and beer in Brooklyn and I knew Mariah Carey’s walking past during our meal was a good omen. It was. Pronoun is a fun, extroverted, beautiful piece about a special bride.

Mika‘s and my conversation had started earlier in some kind of artistic virtual love-fest when we discovered each others’ tumblr blogs (His. Mine.) back in September while he was writing for me. The whole interaction would have made a hilarious/nauseating puff piece on how the online music community works. We both posted about how much we liked the other’s work. It’s all great for the ego, but there’s more than that taking place. I learned a lot about him that helped in preparing his piece, Internal.

Part of my job is to help conductors and directors come up with good ideas they may not have had. I’ve never had the chance to do this for composers who are writing music with me in mind. I’m eating it up.

Singers choose our rep based not only on interest but on the confidence that we can handle a piece’s vocal problems. In auditions for example, you only perform music that make you sound fabulous. With a 400 year-broad vocal repertoire, there’s no huge need to bother with music that doesn’t feel tailor-made for your voice and personality. On the night of our first workshop performance, I had come back from one such out-of-town audition. I arrived at Penn Station at 6:30 PM, rushed to Brooklyn and performed Mika’s month-old piece. In the context of the Composers and the Voice seminar, I get to say, “You know, I love this phrase that ends on a high B-flat, but I’d also love a measure right here to breathe out and then get a good breath tuck.” We make the piece a bit easier to sing and we make my performance sound more like what Mika wants to hear. We worked on some phrases for color and tried to find what would sound best for a spot marked “Angrily.” Did that mean more spoken or more consonants? When we go through this process, Steven will prod the singer and the composer, asking quiet, open questions like some Socrates with glasses. He’s quite good at simplifying things. “What would that phrase sound like if you just sang it forte?”

The other day Mika and I had a broad-ranging talk on the overemphasis on talent and back-story that plagues lots of cultural writing. He said “Music isn’t magic. Being a good musician is just about wanting to be in this process of trial and error 8 hours a day.” I agreed with him. In movies about sports, war, makeovers, or performance you’ll get a Success Montage. Early in Act III, the director puts on pounding music and chop-edits through months of work, negotiations and false starts in 40 seconds. Classic that come straight to mind: Rocky’s training, long sections of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (Don’t hate.), and Save the Last Dance (Again, don’t hate… get into Juilliard dancing ballet and hip-hop!). It makes for fun, tightly constructed movies and ridiculous real-life expectations. Most of the good artists and performers I know feel lucky to be stuck in that montage and even when they come up for air and acclaim, they go right back down into muddy work. We’re having a great time in this part of our movie. I hope it lasts a while.

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