INSIDE Composers & the Voice – November 4th (Pt.2)

November 13, 2013

blog-guy barashComposers & the Voice – 2013-14 Composer fellow, Guy Barash

We were all greatly anticipating the performances of our first arias. You could really feel it, the tension, this weird energy very similar to what one can sense when waiting with a bunch of musicians in a green room for a big concert to begin. This was the exciting fifth session of American Opera Project’s Composers & the Voice program, held on November 4th.

Composers who develop a dramatic work should have a good understanding of the elements that fuse into an effective drama. So at C&V we have acting and improv lessons that provide a first-hand glimpse into the dramatic process. The afternoon improv session led by Terry Greiss started with some “brain-frying games,” as he rightly calls them. (There’s one, for example, where Terry becomes “George” and the rest of us have to remember who’s who while we keep switching names and trying to confuse one another. Brain-frying indeed.)

Terry Greiss (right) leads an  improv session during the 2011-12 season of C&V

Terry Greiss (right) leads an improv session during the 2011-12 season of C&V

In this session, each of us had to give a speech, deliver an idea or a story, and sustain everyone’s engagement level. The rest of us, the audience, provided an engagement level barometer with our hands – hand is up = curious, hand falls down = not so much. From there we moved to role playing. We improvised a few scenes as a group and in pairs. In one of them we were all in a birthday party. On cue from Terry we had to separate and converge – basically to find a reason and a way to create a unique microcosm for a few short moments, then to converge back into our group cosmos. Of course we had to do this on the spot yet in a convincing, organic manner, all within the boundaries that we have set for ourselves in our birthday party story. The concept of the next scene was to give and take stage space. We split into two pairs. We agreed on a theme and the setting, and improvised two dialogues simultaneously. Each pair had to give or take the space on cue from Terry. I was so happy to reunite with my lost little brother Steven Osgood at an Italian restaurant.

After the improv session we switched to our traditional round table discussion. Each composer was assigned a character to analyze. We shared our analyses of the the emotional transformation that each of our assigned characters have gone through in every musical number in Cosi fan tutte. This soon evolved to be an insightful discussion on the expression of emotions within the context of an opera. The limited time that we had allowed us to explore only the first few musical numbers. However, the lively debate already revealed some fascinating observations on Mozart’s musical expression, and the compositional tools that he uses to highlight emotional transformation.

When time arrived to break for dinner we were already exhausted, but satisfied with all that we had accomplished. I think the improv sessions with Terry provide an invaluable insight into dramatic processes as we apply them ourselves. It is needless to say how enriching the round table discussions are – the rare intellectual exchange that we are so lucky to be part of.

Guy Barash
November 4th


INSIDE Composers & the Voice – Session 4

October 31, 2013

Untitled

 Composers & the Voice – 2013-14 Librettist Fellows, Jason Kim

American Opera Project’s Composers & the Voice program has been well under way during what’s turning out to be a chilly New York fall.

At the fourth session, held on October 28th, the group began the evening with an improv workshop led by the fantastic Terry Greiss of the Irondale Ensemble. Terry guides us in fluid, relaxed, enjoyable improv sessions, and this one was no different. Our musical brains were immediately engaged when Terry asked us to pick a song that everybody would know and then to sing the song out loud while walking around the rehearsal space. The goal: have every single person sing the same song under three minutes’ time. After some failed attempts, including a botched rendition of America the Beautiful, we were able to settle into a lovely chorus of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

In addition to being sheer fun, the improv sessions help C&V think about performance three-dimensionally. Through improv, we are able to experience what it might feel like to be a performer and to think critically about space, tension, and interconnectedness.

The second half of the evening was dedicated to discussing a handful of topics related to our opera curriculum. For the past several weeks, we have been busy analyzing two scores: Puccini’s La Boheme and Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. By mapping out each singer’s range, we are able to gather what Puccini and Mozart had in mind both musically and thematically. Why for instance does Marcello sing syllabically when Musetta sings melismatically at a very high register? In what ways does Despina’s role change when she is in disguise?

Despina’s disguise in the opera Cosi fan tutte (at 1:15:36)

Because we are writing for six different voice types – bass/baritone, baritone, tenor, mezzo, dramatic soprano, and lyric coloratura – investigating Puccini and Mozart has been tremendously clarifying in thinking about the various needs and expectations of each voice. Speaking of voice type, Steve Osgood, Artistic Director of AOP, directed us in a fun exercise: listing an array of adjectives that come to mind when thinking of each voice. Many patterns came to surface. Composers often write heroic roles for baritones while leaving the romantic parts to tenors. Coloraturas are often coquettish, young, and flighty whereas dramatic sopranos tend to play passionate, intense, powerful roles.

During the final stretch of the evening, the composers discussed their progress with the final projects. Needless to say, we have a very exciting slate shaping up for our fall 2014 concert! Hope to see you there!

Jason Kim, librettist
October 28, 2013


C&V Take Two!

September 28, 2011

Sara Cooper, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice librettist, 2011-12

 

Session number two of Composers & the Voice! Lots of fun and good energy in the room!

We started out with two hours of improv with now-familiar face Terry Greiss. Terry led us in a number of very interesting exercises, my personal favorite of which was involved building ourselves into a machine. The way this was worked was this: One person would get an idea for a machine. He or she then stood and made a full-body gesture and a noise, acting as a distinct part of this machine. One by one, the rest of the class added on with their own gestures and noises until the machine had been built. Everyone had a different idea of what the machine was and what their part in it would be; the whole thing was fascinating.

We also began scenework in a similar game. This time, however, there was no repetitive gesture or noise; Terry asked us to find an action and play it as realistically as possible. In this way, we are beginning to recognize the active dramatization of character.

Terry got a little trippy this session. He asked us to put our hands a little apart, palms facing together, and try to understand the space in between. For many of us, that space became very physical. Terry then had us combine our individual spaces with other individual spaces until the whole class was holding one space. A few people ventured inside the space. Ronnie was surprised and amazed to find that she actually felt the space.

Mika raised a great discussion: How does improv relate to us as composers and librettists? Terry explained the importance of openness and vulnerability in art, and how understanding physicality can greatly enhance our ability to realize character.

After a short break, Steve had a little Q&A for us about the program in general—very helpful!

We then dove into our very first acting class with Kathleen Amshoff. Kathleen got to know us a little (have any of us acted? It turns out most of us have some performance experience, and Rachel has a degree in theater, and Daniel is actually a professional actor and singer!) and then we began doing some very intense exercises in partnering. Kathleen had us make eye contact with a partner for an uncomfortably long period of time, after which we closed our eyes and she asked us details about our partner’s physical appearance.

With the same partner, we were then asked to make eye contact and, alternating, very calmly tell the other person how we felt (ie, “I feel hungry.”). It was surprisingly difficult to come up with feelings to feel, or at least to say out loud.

Kathleen then had us line up across from a different partner and, again making eye contact, step forward or backwards as it felt right. Zach and Steve looked, in Kathleen’s words, “like [they] were playing chess.” Sidney and I felt like we were doing a tango. Ronnie and Rachel had a more emotional connection, feeling rejected when the other stepped back, and Daniel and Mika found themselves looking for patterns. All in all a fascinating experiment.

Excellent session! Only two weeks till the next!!


Composers and the Voice 2011/12 – Workshop Day 1

September 16, 2011

And they’re off!  Monday, September 12 was the first day of the Composers & the Voice 2011/12 Workshop Series, and it was a long invigorating day.  More on that below.  This blog post, and the ones that will follow more or less every 2 weeks, are intended to serve two purposes.  First, they will provide an ongoing forum for discussion and reflection by the 8 Composer and Librettist Fellows, as well as the Artistic Team— a place where ideas and questions that came up during the workshop session can be investigated further.  Second, these blog postings will provide the greater AOP family, and new opera enthusiasts everywhere, a glimpse into our workshop room.

The workshop day began at 3:00 with a quick orientation session, but then dove right into the fray with the first of our 9 Improvisation and Theater Games sessions, led by Terry Greiss of the Irondale Ensemble.  I first met Terry 23 years ago (yikes!) when I began a semester-long internship with Irondale– the final part of my undergrad degree at Drew University.  I ended up working with Irondale for close to 5 years, and so much of what I learned through my immersion in the company’s use of improv and theater games as tools for generating theatrical material, as well as building strong cooperative teams, continues to have a profound influence on my day to day work today.

In Monday’s 2-hour session Terry led us through the following games:

Terry Greiss

Instructor Terry Greiss leads an improv session while composer Sidney Marquez Boquiren and C&V Artistic Director Steven Osgood listen.

Zip Zap Zop

Mind Twist

Chair Tumble

One Word Story

One Word Fairy Tale

String of Pearls

Upside Down Drawing

One Word Letters/Scenes

Tell Me about the Time

My advice to the Composer/Librettist Fellows going into this course of Improv study was to dive in, play the games, and not to worry about how this all relates to the writing process.  It was great fun to sink into the high-energy full body challenge of Zip Zap Zop, and Mind Twist.  I found Chair Tumble to be an intriguing look at how difficult it is to TRULY risk falling down.  One Word Story, One Word Fairy Tales, and String of Pearls had our group of 10, who had just met an hour earlier, building stories together with the freedom to respond intuitively.  I think I was messing with the CD player when Terry was giving instructions to Upside Down Drawing.  While everyone else copied surprisingly skilled portraits of Igor Stravinsky, I was having a blast more or less coloring mine in.  Ah well….  One Word Letters/Scenes and Tell Me about the Time got us all out of our heads, and investigating a greater freedom of telling a story.

Soprano Andrea Arias-Martin sings

Soprano Andrea Arias-Martin sings for the 2011-12 composers & librettists.

After the dinner break we were joined by the Music Directors and Singers who we will be working with throughout the season.  Each of the singers had about 25 minutes to sing and dissect three arias that they feel are perfectly suited to their particular voice.  I love this session, and the look it gives into how each singer approaches singing, how difficult it can be to express in words this most elusive of physical acts, and how wonderfully these particular singers can articulate the process.  It is the crash-course part of Composers & the Voice, after which things relax a little as each composer gets to write for the singers one by one.  Once 10:00 rolled around, it was time for a glass or two of Riesling.

Next Session– September 26.  Just composers and librettists.  Improv 2, and Acting 1.


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