Gregory Spears‘ opera Paul’s Case received high praise for its recent sold-out NYC premiere at PROTOtype Festival. Press called it a “masterpiece…tempting to call it ‘the best new opera I’ve heard in years'” (NY Observer) and “a taut, splendid operatic adaptation” (NY Times). Spears’ vocal writing was lauded as “ravishing” and “especially admirable” and librettist Kathryn Walat’s adaptation of the original Willa Cather short story “finely made” (New York Classical Review). Jonathan Blalock, who reprised his role from the opera’s premiere at UrbanArias last April, had “even more theatrical and vocal authority as Paul” (Wall Street Journal). AOP began development of the opera during the 2008-09 season of Composers & the Voice. A new production of the opera will appear at Pittsburgh Opera in February.
For us, the C&V composers, each night of performances is an exciting event. Not just because of the anticipation of hearing our own work, but because we know our fellow composers and performers will give us exciting performances that we can use to further understand the possibilities of writing for the voices. The workshop on December 16th was one of those nights, featuring six different arias, each with it’s own unique text, character and technical challenges.
The first aria was Bedroom, by Guy Barash. Baritone Jorell Williams performed the complex score admirably well, with a great deal of accuracy and virtuosity. The leaps into the very bottom of the vocal range, along with restless rhythm, present a restless image of a man who is brought to the brink of madness when he is locked out of his house.
Bass-Baritone Matthew Burns sang my piece. The text for the aria “I don’t mind” is a personal view of a pedestrian of the gentrification of a neighbourhood in NYC, taken from the book Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton. Matthew captured the irony of the text in his offbeat, informal performance.
The third piece of the evening was Jeremy Gill’s lyrical rendering of the poem Darest Thou O Soul by Walt Whitman. Jeremy’s neo-romantic score was sung by Soprano Deborah Lifton, who gave a splendid performance that brought out the beauty of the text with a clear and beautiful tone.
After a short break the evening continued with Andreia Pinto-Correia’s This Time. Andreia’s aria is a study of the character of Alia, one of the characters in her opera project. Mezzo-Soprano Rachel Calloway sang the aria with a beautiful, majestic tone. The next piece was Gity Razaz’s Kale Chips. This light-hearted piece utilizes text from a cooking blog, which comically praises the wonders of Kale Chips. Both Gity’s text and mine are in the category of “Found Text”, taken from everyday sources that are not poetic or dramatic, such as newspapers, interviews or assembly instructions. Bass-Baritone, Matthew Burns, sang this song as well.
The final aria of the evening was by our composer-librettist team, Joseph Rubinstein and Jason Kim. Soprano Deborah Lifton sang the aria, A Letter to my Stepson in his Time of Grief. The text is adapted from Racine’s play Phedre, “A letter to my stepson in his time of grief”, in Jason’s words, portrays a woman who confesses her love for her stepson after discovering that her husband has died. Joe’s music compliments the text with a virtuosic vocal line, and steady chords in the piano, that are well fitting for the text and it’s epic proportions.
The singers were accompanied by our wonderful pianists: Mila Henry for A Letter to my Stepson in his Time of Grief, Kelly Horsted for Bedroom, Darest Thou O Soul and Study on Alia, and Charity Wicks for I Don’t Mind and Kale Chips.
As always, we had an evening of exciting new vocal works in the C&V workshop, and I am already waiting in anticipation to hear the pieces in our next workshop on January 13th 2014.
Composers & the Voice – 2013-14
I admit it: I was pretty skeptical of the idea of a bunch of composers doing improvisational acting work. My skepticism sprang in part from the fact that, were I asked to list the 10 things in life I would least like to do, making stuff up while trying to act in front of a bunch of people I barely knew and on whom I wanted to make a good impression would certainly make the cut…
But Terry Greiss won me over, as did Steve Osgood, who was good enough to “play along” in all of our sessions—when we, the participants, were pushed to try something new, it was comforting and inspiring to have Steve, a fellow musician (read: not an actor), trying right along with us.
Throughout our improv sessions, Terry was a great coach and cheerleader—he was very good at communicating why we were doing such and so and how it might be useful, and superb at celebrating our successes, which did occur!
I have always felt that it is essential for composers to be performers of some kind—singers, conductors, instrumentalists, whatever—and that such “hands on” experiences can only enhance the music we compose. Terry showed me that it is as important for the aspiring opera composer to have some experience on the stage, moving about in a defined space, inventing situations and then living in them, and following the course of dramatic actions to their logical conclusions. He underscored the dramatic nature of opera—something I will continue to dwell on as my own operatic creations unfold.
– Jeremy Gill
It was with great sadness that we finished our final workshop with improvisation teacher Terry Greiss. Throughout these sessions we not only strengthened our relationship as a group but also learned a great deal about ourselves. As I immerse myself in the writing of my opera, I catch myself taking into account matters that never would have occurred to me prior to participating in these workshops. I am now aware of a new sensibility regarding staging, engagement of my characters and story with my future audience, and the interdependence between roles and their dramatic development. I am really looking forward to our next chapter with acting coach Patrick Diamond!
– Andreia Pinto Correia
Having just finished up the improv training portion of Composers & the Voice, the thing that has stuck most in my mind has been Terry’s repeated advice to “say yes.” In the context of improv, “saying yes” means being open to the unexpected places to which a scene or a character might take you. It means relinquishing your will to control a scenario, and asks you to embrace the realities of the scene at hand. The more you are able to say “yes,” the more convincing a scene will be. In the past few weeks, I have found that being open in the way Terry has encouraged is valuable advice for writing music as well. Composing music is a balancing act in which spontaneity must exist side by side with carefully considered choices. I sometimes find that a piece that I am writing is going in a direction that I did not expect, and I react by trying to bend the piece back towards what I originally had in mind. While this approach can have its uses, I have been thinking a lot recently about letting go and letting the piece itself take over. This increased sense of openess has already led me in some exciting new musical directions.
– Joseph Rubinstein