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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Everybody can (and should) write music and words

Although I love collaborating with professional writers, I also like to work with untrained folks. In Memphis I the opportunity to write songs with students, teachers, and even a group of adult offenders. This is an example from 2003, written with a group of elementary students from Orange Center Elementary

I miss my family
I miss my mother
I miss my home in Mississippi
I love my brothers
I love my sisters
I lost my home in Mississippi

Grandma's got her teeth in a jar
Uncle's looking up at the stars
Grandma's in the garden picking roses
My sister's folding up the clothes
Baby brother's saving souls
Everybody's having family dinner.

Here's an link to audio. You can feel the nostalgia, and the uprooted hurt in this.

Untrained writers take you to unexpected places. They say what they feel, and don't default to rhyme. The challenge is they don't always understand the need for tight forms, especially in songs. I need to keep a wild, untrained spot in my own writing, lest it become too predictable. 

For the writers, it's exciting and empowering. I remember the teachers I worked with at the Memphis Arts Council's summer institute. Whenever we saw each other we'd be able to sing the things we collaborated on. It was a special bond. 

I've been in Iowa a good while now and I'm starting to reach out to a group of non-professional creators to see what can be accomplished. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

And Beyond

I have been trying to learn how to play the guitar in public. It will add some nice variety to a program of originals, mostly done from the piano. Still can't play bar chords without looking at my right hand. This was from a recent evening at a wonderful little place called Byron's in a very little town called Pomeroy, Iowa.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Had a lovely couple of days watching rehearsals of both of these shows and interacting with the student singers and composers at Opera McGill. Although they don't belong together, the two operas should still make for a fun evening. Seeing BUOSO (1996) is like seeing a grown up child. It's completely familiar, it's part of you, but it's also at least a little bit distant. 

The collaborative nature of SPEED DATING TONIGHT! with the selections and assignments varying from production to production makes it seem almost like a new show every time. In this version, for example, the pathological liar is played by a female, and a couple of the shows most standard songs "I've always liked this bar," and "Do you like cats?" were both cut. 

Thanks to bearded old friend and colleague Patrick Hansen for programming the two works. Patrick actually directed the premiere at the Pittsburgh Opera Center at Duquesne. And thanks to Jonathan Patterson and Stephen Hargreaves for their parts in the directing and music directing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Alice review

Here's a link to a review of ALICE RYLEY from last week. The good news is that Savannah VOICE Festival will remount it in August during their annual festival.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Speed Dating Tonight! at Missouri State University

Talkative Girl orders her triple vodka?

Thanks to professors Ann Marie Daehn and Amy Fay Muchnick for programming SPEED DATING TONIGHT! at Missouri State University. Performances are the 6th and 8th of November in Springfield, Missouri. Looks like the bar has a nice big organ. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

An honor to do the honors

This past Saturday in Savannah, the Savannah VOICE Festival and VOICExperience presented their annual Milnes Award. The honoree was Carlisle Floyd and as a former student I was given the chance to introduce him and to present the award along with Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves. Work with Carlisle, along with training to write songs, were the two things that gave me the courage to be a composer/librettist, something I turn out to be pretty good at. 

If you're interested, you can read my remarks. It was a wonderful chance to thank a teacher in public, something we don't often get to do.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, if I were to tell you that Edgar Allen Poe or Herman Melville was here to night to receive an award, you'd be impressed. Well, unlike American literature, American opera is less than a century old and its first generation of creators are still within living memory. Here's an example. Although, there aren't many people still around who were at the 1936  premiere of Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS, last month in Amarillo, I met a couple who were at the premiere of Douglas Moore's great American opera, THE BALLAD OF BABY DOE. That was in 1956. And Although Gershwin and Moore and others like Robert Ward or Gian-Carlo Menotti are gone, Carlisle Floyd is still with us, is with us here tonight, and has even just finished a new opera.

Floyd's 1955 opera SUSANNAH is one of the first four or five full length American operas to enter the operatic repertoire. What does it mean when I say that? it means that it stands up to THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, RIGOLETTO, or CARMEN. It holds its own, alongside THE FLYING DUTCHMAN or MADAME BUTTERFLY. It is a breathtaking accomplishment. It's like being at the top of a high cliff where most of us can only stare up from the bottom and shake our heads in astonishment. And Carlisle's initial success was no mere stroke of luck. He has built a body of works that will last, works such as OF MICE AND MEN, COLD SASSY TREE, WILLIE STARK and the upcoming PRINCE OF PLAYERS which will have its premiere in Houston this Spring, sixty years after the premiere of SUSANNAH. Comparisons with Verdi are, in my opinion, inevitable.

Carlisle's work has set a high standard for those of us who would try to follow him and his advice to would-be opera composers and librettists has been outstanding. Here are just some of the tips: find the crisis and passion, map it all out carefully in a synopsis ahead of time, and my personal favorite--avoid cliches.  Ladies and gentleman, I don't know if you are aware of this but I am a student of Carlisle's. And the fact that ALICE RYLEY seems to be working as well as it does, is in no small part due to my study with him.

It is my pleasure, honor, and sheer delight, along with Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves to bestow the Milnes Award for 2015 to composer Carlisle Floyd."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Orlando Montoya's Savannah podcast about ALICE RYLEY

I am a big fan of podcasts and regularly download Freakanomics Radio and This American Life. While in Savannah for the August workshop of ALICE RYLEY, I got a chance to record a podcast interview with Orlando Montoya who does a regular podcast about Savannah. He did a great job making me sound articulate.

One of my favorite points in the podcast was being able to emphasize that opera is an entertainment medium as well as an art form. We take ourselves way too seriously and need to concentrate on things that work as live lyric theater. I also finally say in public what I've thought for years, that the MET HD is a mixed blessing for regional opera. You can also hear where I've borrowed a phrase of Gershwin in the new opera.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Meanwhile, over at Schmopera

A little guest blog over at Schmopera about the healthy input I have received about ALICE RYLEY from singers and singer/producers at Savannah Voice Festival.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Pictures from the workshop of ALICE RYLEY in Tarpon Springs

George Konstantinidis took some great photos of the presentation of ALICE RYLEY in Tarpon Springs. A polished workshop is about the audience reaction and it was gratifying to see the piece was engaging, gripping even, all the way through. 

William Wise (Cody Austin) lords it over his two indentured servants Alice Ryley (Ashley Dannewitz) and Richard White (James Wright). White is about to strangle him...

Alice (Jessica Ann Best) looks back in horror at what has happened. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

ALICE staged workshop at Tarpon Arts August 22, 2015

We do a staged workshop of ALICE RYLEY at Tarpon Arts Heritage Museum on Saturday, August 22, 2015. The preview of ALICE in Savannah was restricted by the lovely and historic confines of the Green-Meldrim house. In Tarpon, we have a more theatrical space and can truly see the piece on its feet. 

There are still minor but useful tweaks. For example "They say that Baine needs men to drain the swamp to the west" was changed to "Our neighbor Baine needs men to drain the swamp to the west" for the sake of instant comprehension. We are getting to run the show with supertitles too which I think is an absolutely necessity for new opera.

The show is also benefiting from ample rehearsal time--the cast and company can focus on it. I am still getting a constant kick out of the fact that Sherrill Milnes is actually in my show as the (speaking) tour guide.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

ALICE RYLEY staged workshops

My new one act opera, ALICE RYLEY, a Savannah Ghost Story, is getting two staged workshops this month. The first is at Savannah Voice Festival on August 14th. The second is in Florida in Tarpon Springs on August 22nd. The staged workshop even includes a little orchestration. All this is moving toward the premiere at the end of October.

Cast includes the two Alices from the New York workshop, Jessica Ann Best and Ashley Dannewitz. The other performers include Jim Wright as Richard White, Cody Austin in the multiple tenor roles, and Ann Louise Glasser as Mary. You can find your bios here on the SVF website. And there's a surprise appearance.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Nickel City Opera MARRIAGE OF FIGARO June 2015

So, over my objection, Nickel City Opera's founder Valerian Ruminski wanted me to conduct our recent June 2015 MARRIAGE OF FIGARO and also play the recitatives. Although I have done it before, I've always thought it to be a bit of hot-dogging and generally avoided doing both at once. Because of the extremely cramped pit, it turned out to be both a practical and artistically interesting decision. Although it's not quite clear whether Mozart used a harpsichord or a fortepiano, it is clear that he conducted his operas from the keyboard and used the instrument during the musical numbers to help set the tempi. As is mentioned in this article by John Drummond, one of the unexpected advantages was it increased the cohesion between the musical numbers and their recitatives. The small pit at the Riviera Theater made large conducting gestures unnecessary, so it became very tempting and fun to play along, which seemed to have a good effect. It felt a little like how I remember Count Basie playing along very sparsely with his orchestra and giving very few cues.You can see in this photo of dress rehearsal that the pit is so small that the winds are actually outside of the pit and face the stage. It was the first time that it felt like an advantage.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's MARRIAGE OF FIGARO time in Buffalo

Nickel City Opera's production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO opens this weekend, June 26 and 28, 2015. It's great to see so many old friends in the cast, crew, chorus, and orchestra. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

We gathered at the Opera America center last month to do a read-through of ALICE RYLEY, my new project set in Savannah when the colony was first being established. Sherrill Milnes (right) will have a speaking part in the opera and his wife Maria Zouves will direct. One of the changes during the workshop is that he was intended to play the part of a tourist. His speaking voice, though, is too authoritative and we have to make him a tour guide instead.

There is a brief excerpt here sung by Ashley Dannewitz. I'll talk about it more in a later post.


SPEED DATING TONIGHT! plays this weekend and next month at West Liberty University and BUOSO'S GHOST plays at Texas State University, where they did SPEED DATING TONIGHT! this fall.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

SDT! at Tri-Cities Opera

This weekend, SPEED DATING TONIGHT! plays at Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton. Here's a piece about it in the Press & Sun Bulletin. It is fun to see it on a season of traditional opera. Taking advantage of the flexibility of internet marketing, they have designed several different versions of their poster, featuring different daters. I've posted a couple of them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Speed Dating in Indianapolis

Speed Dating Tonight! plays next week at Intimate Opera of Indianapolis. They are doing the show on Valentine's weekend and there is a dinner option. 

More Midsummer...

This is from the Recorded A Cappella Review Board. The writer, Kyle Yampiro, is interested in in a cappella and opera too.