A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella now available at Albany Records

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The dragon is almost slain...

My opera with Ellen Frankel, SLAYING THE DRAGON, is 90% complete, at least according to the spreadsheet I am keeping on it. Center City Opera has taken great care of us, with a full music reading scheduled for January and a staged, off-book presentation in February. At least for me, operas get easier to complete as they move along. You already know your characters and you are filling in the large mural in the last few spots. The last challenging spot was a bit of "hate rock," something that sounds genuine and completely out of context. Hopefully it will not sound like a composer wrote it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

SILENT NIGHT at Minnesota Opera

Minnesota Opera has much to be proud of about for its premiere production of SILENT NIGHT which plays November 12, 15 ,17, 19, and 20 at the Ordway Theatre in downtown St. Paul. I attended their final dress on November 10th. Given the complexity and size of the production it went so smoothly that it seemed like it could have been opening night.

SILENT NIGHT is about the World War I Christmas truce of 1914, when the opposing sides briefly put their guns down and shared the holiday together. It is the last gasp of fin-de-siecle gallantry before the horrors of mechanized modern war bring humanity to a much crueler plane. It is a story that deserves to be better known and is ripe for opera.

Everything works in this production. The set--sort of LES MIS on steroids--uses a turntable to switch efficiently between the French, German, and English (Scottish) sides.  The no mans land in between is atop the turntable. The cast was uniformly compelling, and the orchestra played beautifully. Indeed, the orchestral interludes--of the opening battles of 1914 and the administering of last rites--were some of the high points of the show. Kevin Puts' magnificent music has the ability to move from prickly modern to beautiful tonal clouds that put me in mind of Ravel. Music and singing play a key role in bringing the sides together to celebrate Christmas and the emotional climax of the opera for me was the moment when a singer from the German side and a Scottish bagpiper come together for a musical entente that brings everyone out of the trenches. (I hope the bagpiper gets a bow!) Sometimes I wished Puts had paid a little less respect to librettist Mark Campbell's fine text and let the characters sing, but  Puts is young and talented and will learn to bend the text to the musical will.

One of the things I was dreading was the monochrome effect of operas that have one voice gender--Britten's all male BILLY BUDD comes most to mind. The effect can be of too much chocolate or too much heat in a curry. Fortunately, the character of Anna Sorensen, a Norwegian opera singer is threaded throughout the piece. She reminded me of a much more sober and thoughtful version of Marie in DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT. Her high notes provide a welcome balance to the otherwise all male cast--the olive in the martini.

The libretto is based on the screenplay for the recent French film, Joyeux Noel. I could have wished for some more operatic pathos than it provided at the end but that probably is just from having seen too much Puccini. I was reminded of this when my favorite character in the opera, Ponchel, the French lieutenant's aide-de-camp, was mistakenly shot. He is shot, he sings, and dies. In the next opera of their season, WERTHER, the title character sings for a whole act before he dies from his self inflicted gunshot. If you have a chance, go see BOTH of them.

photo of dress rehearsal by Michael Daniel

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Carlisle Floyd

Florida State University celebrated Carlisle Floyd's 85th year with a concert of his works performed by faculty, students, and guest artists. George Darden, a former student of Mo. Floyd's tore up the piano in a wide range of excerpts, including pieces from most of Floyd's operas. I went down to see the concert with Craig Bohmler, an amazing composer and pianist who is a fellow student of Floyd. Craig studied both piano and composition with Carlisle.

I spent '80-'81 working with Floyd while at the Houston Opera Studio. At the time, I found it very trying. What he demanded was that one should find the most interesting part of a story, and not be afraid to manipulate it so that it is continually compelling. Otherwise, it should be abandoned. We spent most of the year creating synopses and adaptations of stories, abandoning one after another, so I wrote very little music that year. Although it took awhile to come to grips with this cycle of create/abandon/move on, in the end it turned me into a theatre composer.

Carlisle has a new project up his sleeve, which is great to see. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A little excerpt beautifully sung by Center City Opera artist in residence Paul Corujo and pianist David Hsu from the first music workshop of our new opera, SLAYING THE DRAGON. From near the end of the show, when Rabbi Nathan Goodman tries to convince a skeptical crowd that Jerry, the Klan man, has truly renounced his path and deserves a fair hearing from the crowd. The setting is a Martin Luther King Day celebration at his synagogue. The musical references to the Berg Violin Concerto are intentional.

Ellen Frankel's paraphrase of the MLK words are: 
Darkness cannot banish darkness,
Hatred cannot banish hate,
Vengeance cannot cancel vengeance,
Only love avails.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Workshop progress

It's been an extremely productive few days in Philly. Because the singers at Crnter City Opera are so used to workshops and readings, they aren't afraid to make helpful suggestions.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Slaying the Dragon workshop in Philadelphia

Today, Center City Opera began rehearsing for its reading of SLAYING THE DRAGON. Over half the music has been drafted. They will present one reading in Philadelphia, and another down in nearby Wilmington. A fully staged workshop takes place in February and the premiere in June. In this show, it seems that the "good guys" have been written first. This coalition of characters--the Rabbi and his wife, the Episcopal Priest, the Asian leader, the African American Reverend, the holocaust survivor--have had to be made into a believable group who are far from monolithic in their attitudes. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Excerpt from Psyche and Eros

This is an excerpt from PSYCHE AND EROS written by Margaret Wolfson and myself and performed by us with the Marisa Polesky on violin. The piece is rather like a sort of PETER AND THE WOLF on steroids and not strictly a piece for kids. The original version was premiered by Barbara Day Turner at San Jose Chamber Orchestra, BB--before blogs.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Congrats to Robert Ward

This year the National Endowment for the arts opera honorees include composer Robert Ward. They will be honored at a free concert and ceremony in Washington in October. Although Bob is primarily known for his adaptation of THE CRUCIBLE, he has written several other operas, and lots of instrumental music. Some of those operas-- MINUTES TIL MIDNIGHT--were not so successful, but others, such as ABELARD AND HELOISE, deserve another look. Although well into his nineties, he is still composing, though not so much opera any more. The other honorees include Speight Jenkins, Rise Stevens, and John Conklin.

I studied with Bob and consider him to be my principal composition teacher. The opera I'm writing now, SLAYING THE DRAGON, is kind of my Robert Ward opera. His operas have heroic characters who try to do the right thing, even when society is not looking kindly at them. Bob's musical style was tonal back when tonal wasn't cool and he kept to that style as serialism gave way to minimalism gave way to whatever it is we call what we do now. Bob's most important advice was that if I couldn't play and sing something I had written,  it might not be truly honest writing. He was also a great example of a warm and mentoring colleague, something that I have tried (not always successfully) to emulate. And he's a great example of remaining engaged in one's work as long as one can. I plan to be there cheering for him when the NEA acknowledges him on October 27th.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Evolution of an Aria (long)

One of the reasons I started this blog was to document the process of composition so that it might be useful to composers and librettists starting out on their journey. In the eight months that Ellen Frankel and I have been working on our opera, there have been eight versions of the libretto created. In the fifth scene, some of the supporting characters who have been harassed by the Klan Grand Dragon, Jerry, have gathered together with Nathan, the Rabbi and male lead of the opera. They all must decide if they should cancel their Martin Luther King Day Commemoration event because of Jerry’s threats. They are split on it. Nathan answers that they must go ahead with the ceremony, but it has taken us awhile to get to the best way for Nathan to convince the others. If you're not interested in process, take a brief look at versions 4,5,6 vs version 7.2. (Thanks to Ellen for helping to compile this)

The Evolution of an Aria
Nathan’s aria in Scene V, “Slaying the Dragon”

Version 3 stub

Nathan (aria):

We must slay the dragon--
The three-headed hydra
Of silence, indifference, and fear.

Version 4, 5 and 6

Nathan (aria):

We must slay the dragon--
The three-headed hydra
Of silence, indifference, and fear.

Where can we find this odious beast?

Don’t look in the dragon’s lair,
Far beyond the margins of town,
A place of ghosts and haunted dreams,
Nor root in the underworld,
Where monsters fete their evil deeds.

No, this dragon strolls our thoroughfares,
Tips its hat at passersby,
Kisses babies, donates alms, keeps us safe at home,
Soothes our fears with lullabies
Which numb us into sleep.

Nathan: We must gather to honor King’s legacy.  It’s good for the community.

Emails between Michael Ching and Ellen Frankel (June 2, 2011):

MC: Ellen--Could we talk about this lyric? I think we need to clarify what we're trying to get at here.

EF: What I'm trying to get at with this lyric is that the "dragon" of the opera's title points not only to the Grand Dragon of the KKK and other obvious monsters that live in "lairs at the margins" of civilization but also to the more benign dragons which inhabit our neighborhoods and daily lives--people like Bud Connor and the Klansmen who wear hoods but also cheer their kids at football games and bake brownies at home.  

If the metaphors drown the message, I can simplify, either by cutting the number of lines or by making the message more explicit.  What precisely bothers you about it?

MC: Well this opening:

We must slay the dragon, The three-headed hydra--Our silence, denial, and fear.

The last line, "Our silence, denial, and fear" makes me think that the dragon is the GOOD GUYS’ unwillingness to stand up for what they believe. 

If I understand your intention as expressed in the e-mail, one head of the hydra is the fire spewi­ng Jerry Kriegs, another head is apparently friendly, but really is not. And the third?

I like your sentiment, but it strikes me as two arias here, and we should do only one:

One is we should slay the monster (or dragon) of our unwillingness to act. The other is we should slay the dragon of prejudice and intolerance in both its overt and covert forms.

You are suggesting that Nathan is about to sing about the second one, but it seems to me that it's really the first one that he's talking about here to motivate the particular crowd he's talking to. I'm wondering if that is the case, whether we should address it in some way other than "slaying a dragon." 

EF: As usual, you are right on the money in spotting a problem, in this case, two different messages.  And you're right that the primary message in this aria should focus on the indifference of the "silent majority" who allows intolerance to flourish--by keeping silent.

Emails between Michael Ching and Ellen Frankel (June 22, 2011):

MC: Ellen--I'm sorry to keep bringing us back to the drawing board on Nathan's text but I still don't think it's right. The focus of the aria, the hook, needs to be what he says in your text, right before the "aria"--"We must not let hate win!" That's what the song should be about. 

Fear feeds the dragon of hate and cancelling the rally lets the forces of hate grow stronger. "Silence, denial, and fear"  feed the dragon too, but the dragon itself is not "silence, denial and fear" is it? It is hate. So it's almost like "We mustn't feed the dragon of hate" (not that you'd put it that way).

Also, I think Nathan needs a few words of sympathy at the beginning. He's behaving like a man, launching into a lofty speech about a dragon, and not saying "I'm sorry this happened" to any of them. 

EF: I couldn't be happier that you keep coming back to the drawing board about this piece! Second-best will simply not do.  Clearly my metaphor is standing in the way of the message (or as the lit crit folks say--ask your wife--the vehicle is getting in the way of the tenor (and I don't mean singing voice).  Let me meditate on the meaning of this scene more deeply so that I can move the narrative and emotional arcs forward effectively and give you the lyrical launch pad that you need for the music.

Never regret pushing me to higher and more valid focus.

Version 7.1

Like a cancer in our blood,
Breeds on dirty, little lies--
It’s not my place to say,”
I haven’t heard all the views”--
And so we temporize.

Like a cancer in your blood--
Breeds on dirty, little fears.
Clouds your eyes,
Clogs your ears
So you can’t hear your neighbor’s cries.
Silence like a cancer
Eats at your heart
And hollows your soul--
Till you burn it out,
Burn it out,
Burn it out,
And shout the truth!

We must honor Doctor King's legacy tomorrow. For the good of the community.

Emails between Michael Ching and Ellen Frankel (August 11, 2011):

MC: Ellen--A suggestion for Nathan's aria in Scene V. It might be good if it was a little longer and here's a suggestion about how to make it so: Instead of focusing on a single word "Silence," perhaps we could add "Inaction" and "fear" (We kind of had something a bit like that when we were still fussing with the dragon idea)


Inaction-- (or perhaps being passive) (not sure)


And then he could sum it up--

We must not be silent, we must speak out!
We must not be passive, we must act
We must not be afraid, we must be brave

We must go ahead with the King program...

EF: Ah, so the three-headed hydra has reared her ugly head again...!

I went through the libretto and realized that there are several sets of three's:

Scene 1: "Honor, happiness, and life" vs. "Dishonor, disgrace and death"
Scene 2: (In "God, hear our prayer")--"hate, fear, and revenge" vs. "love, truth, and grace"
Scene 4: 
     "He has stolen my peace!" 
     "Will I ever know peace?" 
     "He has robbed us of peace!"
Scene 9: 
     Darkness cannot banish darkness
     Hatred cannot banish hate
     Vengeance cannot cancel vengeance

So there seems to be a motif of triplets, a sense that both good and bad things come in three's.  Maybe that's why the mythological figure of the hydra popped into my head.  (Maybe that's where the trinity comes from--who knows?)  Three has always been a magical number in all cultures.

OK, enough with the anthropology lesson...

I'm going to see if I can foreshadow the signature song sung by Nathan in Scene 9, based on the words of Martin Luther King, by figuring out what human habits, when left unattended and unconscious, eventually blossom into full-fledged intolerance such as expressed by the KKK.  I think you're onto these when you mention "silence, inaction, and fear" as creating the social climate that allows intolerance to flourish.  Let me see what I can come up with.

MC: Well, I wasn't so concerned about a triad. Silence just didn't seem to cover it alone. But regardless, not bringing a god-damned dragon into it seemed to make it clearer!  ;) MC

EF: Do I detect an intolerance toward dragons...?

Version 7.2

Nathan (aria):

Like a cancer in our blood,
Breeds on dirty, little lies--
It’s not my place to say,”
I haven’t heard all the views”--
And so we temporize.
Like a wasting in our bones,
Reduces us in size,
It makes us small and mean,
Conveniently unseen
When we turn away our eyes.
Like a blockage in our heart,
Takes us by surprise--
Though the signs have all been there
As we shrink from every scare,
And hide in sheep’s disguise.
We must not be silent, we must speak out! We must act!
We must not be passive!
We must not fear but be strong! Be strong!

We must honor Doctor King's legacy tomorrow. For the good of the community.

MC: Nathan's lyric is working great. It's funny how when things line up they fit like a hand in a glove.

Monday, August 22, 2011

David Olney at Byron's in Pomeroy, Iowa

Last night I drove 90 miles up to a little dot on the map,  Pomeroy, Iowa, to hear an old friend, David Olney. Olney has made a career of combining blues rock and a variety of other styles with a wide range of subjects and points of view, including Van Gogh, Jesse James, and baseball players.

There was much to learn from his performance which was structured very much like a classical two act numbers opera. As he got into his second set, he started to run the songs together to build to his finish. He interspersed narration like recitative--sometimes serious and sometimes funny--to introduce his songs. His fellow performer, Sergio Webb, provided a wide variety of guitar styles and rousing solos. David is a master at holding the attention of a barroom concert, where most are listening, but some are not. He isn't afraid to throw in a daringly slow and contemplative song about Van Gogh in the midst of songs about love gone wrong, or men gone bad.

Byron's Bar has a great vibe. There is the usual Iowa and Iowa State memorabilia, and pictures of previous acts--and an extensive Grateful Dead shrine--but also a tie dye backdrop and a Buddha in the upstage corner of the little stage. Byron himself presides over a doorprize giveaway that included plungers, jump ropes, and koozies.

The room was full to capacity and everyone clearly enjoyed David and Sergio. I'll be back in Pomeroy again someday.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Psyche and Eros in West Memphis

This past week, Margaret Wolfson and I gave two performances of PSYCHE AND EROS at DeltaARTS' Lincoln Center Institute. Memphis Symphony Assistant Principal violinist Marisa Polesky played with a great blend of fire and spot on accuracy. The Institute format allowed us to give two performances for the group of 40 teacher-participants. Follow up performances will be in November. Fortunately, we were also able to make a high quality archival recording with Shelby Johnson engineering. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A cappella recording almost done

This weekend, Deltacappella, fabulous recording engineer Tony Huerta, and maestro Curt Tucker will finish up recording MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella, in Memphis. It's a time consuming process, recording a cappella, and I owe so much to all of these folks for their continued support and enthusiasm. Curt noticed that the a cappella parts come back into focus very quickly for the group--learning an a part takes a long time, but the retention is strong.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

O beautiful for pilgrim feet?

Most great contemporary songs have figured out that second and third verses are really important. But with old hymns and songs, they can become incomprehensible. Ellen Frankel and I are working on a kind of ecumenical hymn to be inserted in our opera, SLAYING THE DRAGON. We are working to make sure that the second and third verses do not degenerate. Take for example the second verse of this famous song which I was reminded of because my daughter is singing it in her children's choir.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law! 

When was the last time you thought about a pilgrim's foot? How is something stern and impassioned at the same time? You picture a bunch of pilgrims doing some kind of stomping dance. And "Confirm thy soul in self-control?" Does that mean "Let's be repressed, it's for the best?" And the first four lines are such a long thought that they are incomprehensible when sung. 

By contrast, check out the words to Amazing Grace. Those lyrics make sense and tell a story.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A bit of Psyche and Eros

Pasha, the violinist referred to in the last post, posted this little bit of video from the Psyche and Eros performance on facebook. You can link to it even if you aren't a facebook type. Try it here.

The music describes Aphrodite's anger as she flies off in her chariot.

More video is coming from Abu Dhabi after they finish their festival.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Have violin, will travel

 Margaret Wolfson and I got to work with two local musicians in Abu Dhabi. The remarkable violinist was Pasha Cazan, who played our PSYCHE AND EROS with a passion and conviction well beyond her years. She is one of a number of musicians who make their way mostly by playing for hotels, corporate events, weddings and parties in Abu Dhabi and neighboring Dubai, with an occasional more serious gig from time to time. The Abu Dhabi/Dubai scene not only takes solid musicianship, but a willingness to work in a variety of styles--from East to Middle East to West. It also takes marketing flair and some snazzy electric violins.

Although conservatory trained in her native Moldova, Pasha didn't want to be straight-jacketed in an orchestra and instead moved to the UAE to seek her fortune. It would seem that there is definitely a need for adventurous, entrepreneurial musicians there and those who are willing to adapt to the stylistic diversity and various performing conditions can be well rewarded for their efforts. Wow!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chamber Music and Zaha Hadid

 Last night the Abu Dhabi Festival hosted the first of a series of performances at a wonderful portable theatre designed by Zaha Hadid. The concert featured classical chamber music by Carnegie Hall's Ensemble ACJW with a young soprano from the Emirates, Sara Al-Qaiwani. The theatre was set up on the grounds of the lavish and traditional Emirates Palace Hotel.

We were hoping to actually perform at this theater, but because of its intimacy Margaret and I we were moved to a different venue.

The portable theater plays off the acoustics of its surroundings. It doesn't look like it's made an appearance in the United States yet.

 The setting was a remarkable accomplishment. A musical performance is very influenced by its surroundings and the wispy theater created an intimacy--almost feeling like you were hearing music in a tent.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Abu Dhabi festival

Here's a little more context for what's going on with Abu Dhabi.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

With Margaret Wolfson in Abu Dhabi

About ten years ago, storyteller Margaret Wolfson and I wrote PSYCHE AND EROS for the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. This ambitious forty minute piece had a great premiere but unfortunately has languished on the shelf since then. Fortunately, we have gotten a chance to do it again, in a smaller version for Storyteller, Violin and Piano, which will premiere on the 25th at the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival. Stay tuned for posts from Abu Dhabi!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Slaying the Dragon

A new project, SLAYING THE DRAGON, saw the first light of day last week at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia. Center City Opera's Andrew Kurtz had the inspiration to create an opera based on the true story of a rabbi and his wife who befriend and change the path of a Grand Dragon of the KKK.

It was a very intense day starting with a reading of Ellen Frankel's libretto under the supervision of dramaturg Albert Innaurato. That evening, the libretto, with many last minute revisions, was presented to a small audience along with a couple of minutes of music.

Ellen did an amazing job of writing on the spot while absorbing the suggestions!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In the studio

Before they left town, the MIDSUMMER cast began the process of making a recording of the show. Pictured here are Jennifer Goode Cooper (Titania), Curt Tucker (Conductor), Tony Huerta (Engineer), and Toney Walsh (Peter Quince). They are at the famous Ardent Studio in Memphis. Amazingly, they will record the lead vocals first and then go back into the studio to lay the a cappella tracks underneath.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Feedback on Dream

I stuck my e-mail address in my program bio for DREAM and asked for feedback. My favorite one so far has been from a high school student, Eric. Here's some of it:

"I had never been to an opera before, but I knew that I enjoyed the energy of a cappella groups (I had heard DeltaCappella before) and the catchiness of musical theatre. I feel that your opera brought out the best of all three worlds and combined it with wonderful staging and acting to create an enjoyable experience. I thought that Playhouse on the Square was the perfect place to perform your work because it created an intimate setting that a cappella groups thrive on. In particular, I liked it when characters emerged from the "voicestra pit."

One of the stereotypes that I held about opera in general before going to your show was that I would be unable to understand the words if it was in English (or the plot if it was in Italian, French, German etc.) I had no trouble understanding the words and the dialog felt natural and never seemed contrived. I liked how you were able to bring out the comedic elements in Shakespeare's play through clever staging and through the music. My personal favorite characters were Lysander (for his fantastic acting and great solos) and Puck (for his general mischief). I liked how you ended the opera with the main melody again after Puck gave his famous last monologue.

The melodies were fantastic and catchy especially the opening/main melody! I feel that you really did combine "very accessible melodies" with "serious music." My friend and I agreed that Helena's main, recurring melody had the catchiness of a pop song melody. "

The sweetest music to my ears is his comment about being able to understand the words!.

Lucia review

A nice review of Hawaii Opera's LUCIA.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

From the a cappella world

Check out the Mouth Off Podcast this week which features an interview with TeKay, our second tenor and Flute/Thisbe. Mouth Off is a major voice in the a cappella world.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lucia set is tried and true

Back in the early 1980s, I was on the staff of Greater Miami Opera, now called Florida Grand Opera. We did Lucia on this very set, designed by Robert O'Hearn. Obviously the set has been touched up and refurbished, but it still works very well.

Bloody good

Here's Lucia, Nancy Allen Lundy, covered with Arturo's blood.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Lord T and Eloise

For something a bit different, check out Lord T. and Eloise. Click on the song Ch-Ching which I cowrote with them. Talented musicians and cultural commentators.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lucia in Honolulu

Lucia rehearsals in Honolulu, here with Nancy Allen Lundy (Lucia) and Valerian Ruminski (Raimondo).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A few more MIDSUMMER reviews

Thanks to Chris Blank for a nice review of DREAM in the COMMERCIAL APPEAL. Although opera folks would sometimes complain about him, I always thought his reviews were honest and fair, and now that I'm not running Opera Memphis, I can admit that he was occasionally right about a lousy show! Chris now has a group called the performance club. Operating out of WKNO, the group attends various arts events in the Memphis area and then has discussions about them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Midsummer Review

I don't think the Wall Street Journal keeps these things so you can link to them forever, but here's a really nice review. Having gone on to Hawaii and LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, it was a little surreal tracking the actual paper down. When I picked it up, the guy at the Borders behind the counter shouted at me "You have to buy the paper, you can't just look at it!"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Preview article, Memphis Commercial Appeal

A piece written by Christopher Blank for the Go Memphis section of the COMMERCIAL APPEAL.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Live Lunch Broadcast Today on WKNO-FM

Today on WKNO at Noon Central time there will be a preview "Live Lunch" about MIDSUMMER.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rehearsal Clip from Act III scene ii of DREAM

A clip from a rehearsal of Act III scene ii in which the lovers, Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander quarrel. Oberon chastises Puck for having confused his instructions. Scene has Laura Stracko, Emily Bodkin, Robert Legge, and John Dooley in it as the lovers, and Kyle Huey and Jeremiah Johnson as Puck and Oberon. Directed by Gary John LaRosa.

It's always challenging but important to create ensembles in opera...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A cappella lessons

When we first set about creating an a cappella opera, one of the concerns was that the voicestra would tire out. I may be speaking too soon, but this has turned out not to be the case. We have had two very long work throughs (four hours each) and the group is still going strong. So it appears that as long as the registers are reasonable for the voice types, an a cappella group has a lot of stamina.

The way the piece was written, I put lots of breaks in it--places for people to rest out. Sometimes, I have alternated sections--sopranos for a bar, then echoed by mezzos, for example. This actually creates learning confusion. With a cappella it appears that "the more the merrier" is the best policy. If everyone is singing frequently, it enhances the intonation and everything sounds more assured.

Live and learn. And edit. Edit!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back at rehearsal

After several snow delays, it is good to be able to be back watching rehearsal. Director Gary John LaRosa has been wonderfully collaborative with the cast and also very detailed in getting the text to work just right. For example, he made the useful suggestion that we change lanthorn to the modern lantern.

We had our first rehearsal with both the cast and voice orchestra present (except for getting ready for the preview). Although it might have been a bit scary in a handful of spots, it is clear that the opera acappella concept is going to work well, even spectacularly in some spots.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


A nice blog post from Chris Davis at Memphis Flyer about last night's preview of DREAM in Memphis.