AOP C&V Alums: Proving that “music career” is not an oxymoron

March 27, 2014

Perla. Vrebalov. Redler & Cooper. Karlsson.

What do these five names all have in common? (Well, besides making great names for law firms, super-spies, or swanky bars.)

Answer: They all participated in AOP’s Composers & the Voice! Our C&V artists are everywhere, utilizing the irreplaceable skills they learned during C&V’s one-year intensive in how to write for the operatic voice.

To name a few (or rather, several):

Jack Perla’s (C&V ‘07-08) new opera Jonah and the Whale premiered at LA Opera this past weekend, and this Friday Alexandra Vrebalov (C&V ’02-03) kicks off Kronos Quartet’s 40th Anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall.

C&V alums Mikael Karlsson, Sara Cooper, and Zach Redler failed to win any medals at Sochi this year and will have to be satisfied with their music prizes.

C&V alums Mikael Karlsson, Sara Cooper, and Zach Redler failed to win any medals at Sochi this year and will have to be satisfied with their music prizes.

Zach Redler and Sara Cooper were awarded the 2014 Jonathan Larson Grant while their fellow C&V ‘11-12 alum Mikael Karlsson picked up the Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond Prize from The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Rounding out C&V ’11-12 is Ronnie Reshef, who won the Yardena Alotin Composition Competition for her 2010 piece Suicide (after Grosz), and Robert Paterson, whose robot-opera The Companion is debuting at Roulette this April…not to be confused with Rachel Peters’ baguette-opera Companionship, which just finished at the Manhattan School of Music, and has a reading at the John Duffy Composers Institute this May. Ronnie and Rob also turn up at Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers festival with two C&V-developed works, also in May.

An early AOP workshop of The Summer King, held on a sidewalk in Brooklyn. Daniel Sonenberg's opera has its concert premiere in May.

An early AOP workshop of The Summer King, held on a sidewalk in Brooklyn. Daniel Sonenberg’s opera has its concert premiere in May. Indoors, even! Progress!

And in case your May isn’t busy enough, Daniel Sonenberg’s (C&V ’02-03) The Summer King gets its world premiere at Portland Ovations. In late April, Hannah Lash’s (C&V ’05-06) This Ease premieres with the LA Chamber Orchestra.

Last month, Andrew Staniland (C&V ’07-08) won the 2014 Harry Freedman Recording Award. In the past year, Gregory Spears’s (C&V ’07-08) opera Paul’s Case has had three different runs (Pittsburgh Opera, PROTOTYPE, and Urban Arias). Stefan Weisman’s (C&V ’03-04) family opera The Scarlet Ibis is slated for PROTOTYPE 2015.

The latest group of composers who will be filling up your concert calendar. Photo by Ted Gorodetzky.

The latest group of composers who will be filling up your concert calendar. Photo by Ted Gorodetzky.

From this year’s class of super-composers, Gity Razaz was awarded the 2013 Jerome Fund Prize for her concert length vocal piece Abraham in Flames/Elegies of the Earth, which will be presented by VisionIntoArt at The Stone this May. Guy Barash released his debut album Facts About Water on innova recordings. Joseph Rubinstein will have select choral pieces available through See-A-Dot Music Publishing in the coming months.

Not to mention that Jason Kim (C&V ’13-14 librettist) was hired to write for HBO’s Girls, and Daniel Felsenfeld (C&V ’06-07) has worked with everyone from writers Robert Coover, Will Eno, and Wesley Stace to hip-hoppers Jay-Z and The Roots…with those trail-blazing ladies Nora and Alice thrown in there for good measure.

This is just a fraction of our alums’ successes. And that’s not even counting the dozens of operas and concerts that our Resident Singers appear in every month! (Trust us, that would be one crazy calendar.)

This is the future of new music. You heard it here first, and here’s where you can hear it next.


Virgin Mothers and Sex Robots Perform Operas at Brooklyn’s Roulette

March 20, 2014

AME.AOP.EHM-Two-Operas-700X300-dpi

American Opera Projects (AOP) in partnership with American Modern Ensemble (AME) and presented by Ear Heart Music (EHM), performs “The Wanton Sublime & The Companion”, a pair of one-act chamber operas, on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 8:00 PM, at Roulette (509 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY). Tickets: $20 general; $15 members/seniors. Roulette.org

The Wanton Sublime, from composer Tarik O’Regan, librettist Anna Rabinowitz and commissioned by AOP,  explores the human and mythic aspects of the Virgin Mary. In this one-act monodrama for mezzo-soprano and amplified chamber ensemble, Mary struggles to retain her flesh and blood identity in the face of external forces intent on symbolizing her as the ideal woman. Featuring mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn under the direction of Mallory Catlett. This 30 minute monodrama is being developed through the AOP First Chance program and was last seen at Opera New Jersey in 2012.

Says Anna Rabinowitz, “The Virgin Mary comes down to us through western cultural history as the eternal feminine, exemplar of woman as gentle and compliant. The vehicle through which she has been known may be theology, but, as the dominant female in our culture, many of the characteristics of her womanhood are today in conflict with powerful social and political issues of gender. In The Wanton Sublime, Mary is a woman who, in the face of the destiny presented to her, occupies an interior world rife with questions rather than received answers. She is troubled, anxious, ambiguous, aware of her rights or lack thereof.”

In The Companion, a futuristic one-act opera by composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote, people live with biomorphic androids that cook, clean, and make love on demand. Maya is not completely satisfied with her model so she calls in tech-support worker Dax. But can Maya handle Joe 2.0? Featuring soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, tenor Brandon Snook, and baritone Kyle Guglielmo under the direction of Walker Lewis. The 35 minute opera is the second act of an Il trittico-style evening called Three Way. Both The Companion and its preceding act Safe Word were developed during Robert Paterson’s 2011-12 fellowship in AOP’s Composers & the Voice program.

Brandon Snook performs an aria from The Companion. Composers & the Voice 2012.

Says David Cote, “The Companion is the second act of an opera triptych about sexuality and power called Three Way. Clearly The Companion is science fiction, but who doubts that society is headed this way? In the piece, I wanted to tell a funny yet strange story about obsession, detachment and projection. Technology enables Maya’s quest for perfect love, even as it reflects the absurdity of that quest back at her. Dax knows how robots work, but people are a dark mystery. Joe has amazing perceptual and cognitive powers, but he lacks emotional integration. Whether that makes him more human or less is an open question.”

These semi-staged premieres, featuring the American Modern Ensemble with Tyson Deaton, conductor, will be presented with an intermission. The author A.M. Homes, best known for her novel The End of Alice and her memoir, The Mistress’s Daughter, moderates a mid-concert discussion with fellow Yaddo artists Mallory Catlett, Walker Lewis, Tarik O’Regan, Robert Paterson, and Anna Rabinowitz, as well as David Cote.

READ THE COMPLETE PRESS RELEASE

For press inquiries: Sarah Baird Knight | sarah@dotdotdotmusic.net | t. 718/344-3690 | www.dotdotdotmusic.net


OPERAtion Brooklyn Takes a BEATing

August 24, 2012

This September, AOP (American Opera Projects) and Opera on Tap will present a new installment of their acclaimed series, “OPERAtion Brooklyn,” at the newly launched BEAT Festival. The festival, which aims to showcase Brooklyn’s most innovative and forward-thinking emerging artists in theater, dance and voice, will be held from September 12-23 with performances in venues throughout the borough. AOP and Opera on Tap will present progressive new works of opera in a casual setting on September 13th (Flatbush Reformed Church), 19th (Brooklyn Conservatory of Music), and 22nd (Irondale Center) at 7:30pm. “OPERAtion Brooklyn” will include the world premiere of Daniel Felsenfeld’s song cycle A Genuine Willingness to Help (Book 1), songs from One Ring Zero, and scenes from AOP’s series, Composers & the Voice. More information and tickets can be found at www.beatbrooklyn.com/opera/. The concerts will also be featured as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Events.

Opera on Tap will present works for voice and chamber ensemble by resident Brooklyn composers Daniel Felsenfeld and the Brooklyn indie outfit One Ring Zero. The works will be conducted by Yoon Jae Lee, with Mila Henry on piano, and performances by sopranos Marcy Richardson, Delea Shand, and mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Butcher. The program will include a world premiere of Felsenfeld’s song cycle A Genuine Willingness to Help (Book I). Part of the composer’s “Author Project,” the work is comprised of songs set to varied and expressive texts by some of New York’s best young writers, including Jonathan Lethem, Fiona Maazel, and Rick Moody. Felsenfeld’s song cycle Raw Footage: Composer’s Cut (text from Robert Coover’s novel Lucky Pierre) will also be performed. In addition, the program will include four songs drawn from One Ring Zero’s album As Smart As We Are (The Author Project). These “mysterious pop songs,” arranged for piano and chamber ensemble by Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, have been called “both haunting and entertaining” by The New Yorker and feature texts by Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and David Wondrich.

One Ring Zero

AOP will present two scenes rooted in contemporary conflicts – “Stop and Frisk” by composer Sidney Marquez Boquiren and librettist Daniel Neer and “Male Identity” by composer Zach Redler and librettist Sara Cooper – featuring performances by tenor Brandon Snook (Cincinnati Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Sarasota Opera) and baritone Jorell Williams (New York City Center Encores!, Caramoor International Music Festival, Ravinia Festival). Supporting on piano will be music directors Jeanne-Minette Cilliers and Mila Henry, with stage direction by Noah Himmelstein.

Image

Zach Redler and Sara Cooper at a Composers & the Voice workshop.

With their 30th birthdays on the horizon, three friends worry what kind of men they are becoming after three decades of pop culture consumption and father figure issues in the humorous “Male Identity.” In “Stop and Frisk, Joe and Sean, best friends and successful urban professionals, meet for an awkward lunch in the park and discuss the racial aftermath of Sean’s recent brush with police in a ‘Stop and Frisk’ search and investigation. “Stop and Frisk” is part of the opera-in-development Triptych in Grant Park.

The scenes were written as part of AOP’s free fellowship program Composers & the Voice (C&V) that provides composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with a group of singers on writing for the voice and the opera stage. In addition to the AOP training, distinguished composers Stephen Schwartz and Kaija Saariaho served as mentors to Zach & Sara and Sidney, respectively, in their official capacity as AOP Composer Chairs providing opportunities for discussion and one-on-one feedback.

Hailed as “a vital series” by TimeOut NY, “OPERAtion Brooklyn” is the partnership between Opera on Tap and American Opera Projects, two of Brooklyn’s most acclaimed producers of indie opera. The series aims to present the most daring of contemporary opera and song in a relaxed setting that encourages drinks and discussion as part of the new classical experience. Previously presented under the title Opera Grows in Brooklyn, the series premiered in March 2009 at Galapagos Art Space. The most recent collaboration, “Curioser & Curioser: An Opera-Burlesque Circus in Wonderland,” brought together the worlds of classical music and burlesque for a night of music and entertainment inspired by the tales of Alice in Wonderland. (www.operationbrooklyn.com)

The BEAT Festival aims to fill a void in Brooklyn’s performing arts community with a yearly fall festival showcasing the greatest works of Brooklyn’s finest performing artists. For its inaugural year, the BEAT festival has hand-picked the most innovative, forward-thinking of Brooklyn’s emerging artists including Lemon Andersen, Elevator Repair Service, Theater Group Dzieci, Creative Outlet Dance Theatre, Marshall Davis Jr., Ishmael “Ish” Islam, and many more all-star artists. “BEAT creates a platform to celebrate what is already here: extraordinary world-class performers who stand as the greatest innovators of the performing arts,” says festival artistic director Stephen Shelley. From September 12-23, artists will perform in venues throughout the borough.

For all BEAT performances, there will be general admission tickets available for $20, as well as tickets at the door that will be sold for a suggested donation of $20. For complete information and tickets visit www.beatbrooklyn.com .


Contemporary Composers Showcase Six Scenes From New Operas

August 20, 2012

A dominatrix dungeon, a Nazi concentration camp, and the end of space and time are just three of the places audiences will find themselves at when AOP (American Opera Projects) presents Six Scenes, concert readings from operas-in-development created during AOP’s Composers & the Voice (C&V) program. Performances will be held on Friday, September 7 and Sunday, September 9, 2012 at 7:30PM, at South Oxford Space in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, home of AOP. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for students/seniors.

Six emerging composers and one librettist were chosen in 2011 by AOP to spend a year writing for the operatic voice. The Six Scenes program for voice(s) and piano, represents compositions created during the free fellowship — “The Waiting Woman” by Ronnie Reshef, “Stop and Frisk” by Sidney Marquez Boquiren, “Companionship” by Rachel Peters, “Safe Word” by Robert Paterson, “Decoration” by Mikael Karlsson, and “Male Identity” by Zach Redler and Sara Cooper. The composers will discuss with the audience what it takes to create new operas that range from topical subjects like repercussions from a stop-and-frisk incident to the dark humor of an emotionally delicate woman’s relationship to her sentient baking dough.

Bass-baritone Justin Hopkins performs at C&V First Glimpse in May

 

Members of the AOP Resident Ensemble of Singers for the 11-12 season will perform the scenes: sopranos Amy Shoremount-Obra (Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera), mezzo-sopranos Rebecca Ringle (Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Washington National Opera) and Rosalie Sullivan (Carnegie Hall, SF Opera Merola program), tenor Brandon Snook (Cincinnati Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Sarasota Opera), baritone Jorell Williams (New York City Center Encores!, Caramoor International Music Festival, Ravinia Festival), and bass Justin Hopkins (Fort Worth Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia). Supporting on piano will be Composers & the Voice Music Directors Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, Mila Henry and Kelly Horsted.

Selected scenes from this concert will perform later in September as part of the inaugural BEAT (Brooklyn Emerging Artists in Theater) Festival and in March 2013 at the Manhattan School of Music as part of the New American Opera Previews: From Page to Stage.

Purchase tickets to Six Scenes


A Composer’s Response: “Baby in a Jar”

July 6, 2012

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a few weeks since the Composers and the Voice First Glimpse concert!  And much to my surprise, people are still talking about “Baby in a Jar”, a song of mine that was featured on that concert. I’m told some people found it offensive and inappropriate and object to its inclusion in the program. Since I’m really interested in this process, and I’m mostly hearing this secondhand, I thought it best to address any concerns in a forum where I get to speak to and hear from everyone directly.

From the start, AOP has been open to all C&V composers and librettists bringing in any material they were inspired to write and/or set to music. I saw this as an opportunity to initiate collaboration with lyricist Robert Maddock, a dear friend and graduate school classmate of mine. We had always wanted to work together but never got a chance, and we figured that a single song would be a good litmus test. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that Robert’s point of view is well off the beaten path, though he still adheres tightly to the principles of songwriting craft to drive the images of his strange scenarios home. He does challenge his audiences, and I am drawn toward writers who do that, so it seemed like a natural fit. Here is what Robert said about his idea for the song:

“It is a morbid lyric, but I hope it’s funny and heartfelt too. And I hope people will give it a chance. I was thinking it might be interesting if the song were in a show about ruffians in a saloon type of setting and at night the bartender take this big ugly jar out from under the bar (after closing hours) and sings this as a sort of unexpected, genuine lullaby.”  

Now, the context in which he imagined it has since fallen away for the purpose of the concert, and the song is not part of a larger work, but it was a vivid image and an important catalyst for musical ideas. From that description I’d originally conceived it as a song for bass-baritone Justin, but then it turned out to be more fitting for tenor Brandon. In its musical construction and setting, it operates as a rather traditional lullaby. I thought Mika [Mikael Karlsson] introduced the song very well on the night of the concert—he stated that we simply had to accept the unusual and inconvenient fact that the subject of the lullaby was not alive.

With Robert’s kind permission, I am reprinting the lyrics here so you can see them at face value absent of music.

The baby I adopted doesn’t move.
He won’t be playing peek-a-boo with me,
But why should I complain or disapprove
Of what I got and what was meant to be?
He doesn’t make a sound, but that’s alright.
He’s not a fussy infant in the least.
He never wakes up crying in the night
And that’s because my baby is deceased.

Baby in a jar,
Cute as a pickle, he’s my marinated star.
No need for nannies even if they’re up to par
When your baby is a baby in a jar.

I set him in the middle of my desk,
A scientific oddity on view,
But everybody says that it’s grotesque
‘Cos babies aren’t supposed to come in blue.
Suspended in a cradle made of glass,
He never yawns or kicks his little foot.
And through the years he’ll never give you sass
In virtue of the fact that he’s kaput.

Baby in a jar,
Right here beside me and yet heaven must be far.
Too late to bring him back by learning CPR
When your baby is a baby in a jar.

He’s never cooed.
He’s never cried.
His blanket is formaldehyde
And he holds his breath within a crooked frown.   He may be pale.
He may be thin.
But keep the lid on what he’s in
Or you might turn his limbo upside down.

Baby in a jar,
Maybe this lullaby has gone a bit too far.
Maybe it’s morbid and contorted and bizarre
When your baby is a baby in a jar.

I understand that the image of a dead baby in a jar of formaldehyde is a potentially provocative one. I was not drawn to  making a statement on either side of any particular political debate, and it is not an allegory. It is entirely possible that people feel triggered by their own life experiences and/or feelings about topics such as abortion or stem cell research, but the song doesn’t push the listener in those explicit directions. Perhaps it is the marriage of the startling image with soft, gentle music, but that is what seemed genuine to the character’s feelings about his subject. Writing for character is one of the most important things that I, as theatrical composer, strive for.

When I received Robert’s lyrics and before I began any work on the music, I  presented them to Maestro Steve. Neither he nor anyone one on the C&V faculty attempted to stop me from proceeding. ,. The song was actually not even one of my first choices to put on the program, but in the estimation of those entrusted to evaluate it, it was a successful example of the points of the assignment we had to write for the tenor voice.. I am proud and honored to have been chosen by AOP to participate in this program specifically because they are interested in exploring a wide range of topics without fear, and they give their writers a tremendous amount of freedom that pays off in the work they are allowed to create.

Frankly, I am flattered by the attention given to this song—it is a testament to the power and ability of composers to elevate words to another level. I appreciate all of the reactions so far—both positive and negative—and I invite you to respond to me, either here or at my personal email address, which is singinganagram [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thank you for your time,

Rachel Peters


C&V goes public with First Glimpse Concert – May 20,21

May 22, 2012

Before hearing a note of their music, an eager collection of family, friends, and lovers of new music got their first glimpse of the night’s featured six composers  (and one librettist) milling about The Great Room with barely contained anticipation/nerves. In just a few moments, the culmination of over 75 workshop hours that began last September would be in front of the public in the WWII-era wood-paneled recital hall in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

The seven artists – Sidney Marquez Boquiren, Mikael Karlsson, Robert Paterson, Rachel Peters, Ronnie Reshef, Zach Redler and Sara Cooper – were chosen last summer by American Opera Projects to become the sixth group of fellows in the Brooklyn opera company’s training program Composers & the Voice. Under the tutelage of C&V artistic director Steven Osgood and a trio of music directors, the team of emerging artists spent hours every month writing for a group of six opera singers that represented the full range of voice types. Each private meeting consisted of putting those compositions in front of their peers and analyzing the mechanics of vocal music – from dramatic tension, to physical limitations, to the use of rhythm in comedy.

C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood

On May 20 and 21, the C&V fellows returned to the room that invited so much experimentation but this time the doors were wide open to the public. Close friends, unknown peers, curious musicphiles, a collection of previous C&V composers, and some boldfaced names from the opera world were in attendance for Composers & the Voice: First Glimpse, the debut concert of a selection of songs written in the workshops.

After a brief introduction from Osgood, the night began with two songs by Robert Paterson from an opera-in-development called The Companion (with libretto by David Cote) set in a future where humans and androids develop relationships with varying degrees of success. Soprano Andrea Arias Martin brought out the desperation of a woman seeking greater emotional responses from her android lover in the first song “Talk To Me” (Jeanne-Minette Cilliers on piano), followed by tenor Brandon Snook‘s eerie and poignant song “What Did I Do Today?” (Mila Henry, accompaniment) by the android who eagerly does everything a perfect boyfriend should, but with a literal disconnect.

Soprano Andrea Arias Martin

The second set of songs began with more music by Robert Paterson, this time the results of a workshop challenge where the composers were told to set to music “found text” – scraps of writings one happens upon in our day to day world. In “CAPTCHA” (Cilliers, piano), bass-baritone Justin Hopkins brought unexpected emotion to the random words and gibberish that serve as annoying gatekeepers on the internet. Expected emotion accompanied the next song, Ronnie Reshef‘s “Transport” (Kelly Horsted, piano). Martin sang the harrowing plea of a woman on a train to a concentration camp in a work from a Holocaust opera Reshef is developing.  Hopkins returned to the stage as a soldier suffering through flashbacks (that reference a certain famous Fort Greene poet) in composer Sidney Marquez Boquiren‘s “Sunday, Early Evening.” To convey the shell-shock in the soldier’s head, Mila Henry skillfully pounded the 88 keys like a seal on crack.

A trio of songs from Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson began with baritone Jorell Williams singing “Basho Tastes the Shriveled Mushroom” (Horsted, piano; Rob Stephenson, librettist), a meditation on the meditative master of haikus – Matsuo Basho. The video game soundtrack composer continued to show his incredible musical diversity with “Entropy” (Hopkins/Cilliers/Karlsson and David Floden, librettists) and “What for She” (Horsted/Karlsson and David Floden, librettists), the latter sung by soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra. Both songs are from Decoration, his opera-in-development about “lying, pointlessness, and diapers.”

Justin Hopkins

After intermission, the audience was treated to a bonus song – a extemporaneous aria consisting of the names of donors to a recent Kickstarter campaign for C&V. The reward for these donors was hilariously “written” and performed by the entertainment machine that is Jorell Williams. (If the name wasn’t already taken, we are sure that a one-man show of Jorell would be called Showboat.)

The next set featured songs performed by each of the women, beginning appropriately with Rachel Peters“How to Be a Woman: Postscript,” based on the witty modern feminist manual by Caitlin Moran. Andrea Arias Martin sang the frustrated requests of a contemporary woman with a careful balance of strength and poignancy with Kelly Horsted returning on piano. “Riverview Amusement Park” (Shoremount-Obra/Horsted) and “The View from the Lunch Counter” (Ringle/Cilliers) both presented bittersweet memories of childhood by Sidney Marquez Boquiren and librettist Daniel Neer from their opera-in-development Route 321.

In the next set, C&V’s first composer-librettist team of Zach Redler and Sara Cooper presented two songs from an opera they are working on called Windows. The first, “She Frowns” (Ringle/Cilliers) met one of the workshop challenges to create a song using only four lines of text. “Magnanimous” gave Andrea more than four lines, and more than a handful of four-letter words, to deliver the most sexual song of the evening (and a deft comic flair), supported by Jeanne-Minette.

Tenor Brandon Snook

Certainly the most controversial and polarizing song of the evening was “Baby in a Jar” by Rachel Peters wherein Brandon Snook sang to the nominal subject in a dark comic lullaby (Cilliers/Robert Maddock, librettist). The final three songs presaged the mundane suffering awaiting many audience members on their subway journeys home. “You” (Hopkins/Cilliers) and “He” (Snook/Horsted) from Ronnie Reshef’s Subway Songs, presented two parts of a love triangle – a pining ex-lover and a jealous husband, respectively – sharing the same subway car. The evening finished with Jorell effortlessly portraying the simmering annoyance and volatility of the standard NYC traveler in Rachel Peters’ “A Commuter’s Request” (Mila Henry, piano).

For the past several years the First Glimpse concert has been the highlight of our Spring season bringing a burst of refreshing air onto the new music scene and this year’s class of emerging artists did not disappoint.

First Glimpse 2012 artists

What did you think of this year’s First Glimpse concert? Let us know in the comment section below!

In the coming week we will update this post with videos of the songs mentioned so be sure to come back! More photos from the evening can be seen here on our Flickr page.


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.


%d bloggers like this: