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No Horn Helmets

My summer project (besides daily playground-sprinkler-time with The Toddler) was to make the hypothetical Opera into something a little less hypothetical. For well over a year now my (brilliant) writing partner and I have consulted lawyers, brainstormed structures, and generally schemed our takeover of The Opera House. Then, while Gary wrote up a rough draft of the libretto, I tried to get a handle on the general sound of the piece. But after (lots of) pages of sketches I still wasn’t convinced of committing to my harmonic language, and more than that – I felt that I hadn’t really begun, that I was just pushing papers around, and didn’t actually know how to begin.

During this I was often reminded of writing the string quartet. Similarly, it was my idea (mostly), and I was over-the-moon excited to do it, but when it came to composing the thing I found myself terrified–simply overwhelmed with the Bigness of writing for String Quartet. I mean, after Mr. Beethoven did it so well, and all.

This is a similar deal, only multiply the terror (and size of the problem) several times over. I mean, it’s an opera, for goodness sake. I understand people take that kind of thing kind of seriously. OK, I take that kind of thing seriously, and I’ll admit to exploiting every opportunity to scoff at the occasional unworthy schlub who thinks s/he has the goods to do what Mozart and Britten and [insert your own favorite here] did (without being brilliant at it right away). So who the heck do I think I am?

But then Gary came back from two weeks in Yaddo with a terrific new draft, and it turns out that you just kind of start. One line at a time. And now and I find myself almost happy (that’s good – that’s progress) with my sketch of our lead’s opening aria, and I might even have a plan for the rest of the scene…

Away we go.

But I love opera too much to say that I’m not still terrified.

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  1. Jason Hoogerhyde

    I remember Hugo Weisgall telling us in a Composer’s Forum at BU that you should never write an opera unless you know there’s a performance guaranteed at the end of the process. Is your collaboration part of a commission with a performance ‘scheduled’? Or are you just writing it for the love of the medium?

    I guess I followed Weisgall’s advice and waited until getting the call last year. My university commissioned me to write an opera (a singspiel, actually), and I’ve just completed it. The Color of Dissonance is based on the correspondence between Schoenberg and Kandinsky, comparing their thoughts on revolutionizing their respective arts. The premiere is in April.

    Like you, I’m terrified. I wasn’t during the writing process (since it’s such a solitary, isolated activity), but now that production meetings are underway, and rehearsals are a few months away from beginning, the nerves are really kicking in!

    As for living up to some historical standard, at some point you just have to come to terms with the fact that you can only write your own music and that’s good enough.

    Enjoy the process!


    Posted on 06-Sep-08 at 3:16 PM | Permalink
  2. Newman

    Ooh. Good title, Jason!

    It’s funny you mention that — because I had been trying to remember who had said that. Because I think of it ALL the time (no lie), as I wonder why I’m doing this. It was Weisgall, huh? Yup. Totally remember that now.

    You are a superstar (of course!) for that commission. And you are correct to assume that we don’t have one. Our plan is to finish a vocal score for only a small amount of representative scenes, maybe 20-30 minutes, and then workshop them (we have a lead on this, but nothing definite), before continuing. There are a couple of other intriguing conversations we’ve had as well about productions, but that would be getting ahead of the ball…

    At this point, then, it’s for the love. ;-)

    Congrats on the opera! Dude, can I come to your univ. so we can hang out again? Make it happen! ;-) -JN

    Posted on 08-Sep-08 at 9:14 PM | Permalink

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