The Wild Ride of Starting to Write an Opera

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time… and the full story’s not finished yet either! But I’m at a good place right now to share my adventures with you as they’ve occurred so far.

I’ve had a couple ideas for operas sitting on the back burner for many years now (see “Kandy“, for example…), but this year I actually had the opportunity to jump start the real writing of one of those ephemeral ideas. A group at the University of Bologna in Italy was recently looking for proposals for new ideas of what an “opera” could be for today’s era, written for their small forces of six musicians and five singers. I submitted a proposal for my ideas on a modern work exploring the ramifications of everyday harassment (e.g., microaggressions, or “spirit murder”), and my proposal was accepted! With that good news I was tasked to write and submit a 20-minute excerpt of actual music and other information for putting on this production.

I haven’t heard back on the results of this Round 2 submission of music (which by now most certainly means my excerpt was not The One selected), but I’m okay with that! I’ve now got 20 minutes of wonderful new music exploring topics I’ve been fascinated about exploring for a long time, and I’ve got the groundwork already built for finishing this roughly hour-long opera! So you can bet I’m planning on completing this within the next year or so and shopping it around (if you happen to know any modern opera-groups or even a chamber group of singers who’d like to explore this in a “concert style” setting–let me know)!

Let me share a few photos and videos of this journey… Enjoy!

I decided to organize this vignette-style collection of songs in the framework of classic Greek tragedy, so this outline is what I’m working off of right now:

Creating Episode 1, “Trusty Hatpin”…

The very first bit I came up with was this little riff that would soon become “Trusty Hatpin” from Episode 1 of the opera. I absolutely fell in love with this riff!

While we’re on the topic of this song, I’ve since gone ahead and recorded it live with my friends, with a swanky performance video in progress! You can get a copy of this track in your inbox before it’s officially released by donating toward another ambitious project–check out all the info here before February 1, 2023! Otherwise it’ll be released to the public (with the completed video) by the end of February or early March.

Get the finished track before it’s released to the public! Find out how here.

Here’s our latest Teaser Video, featuring the women’s trio!

You can find lots more behind-the-scenes media from our adventures recording this awesomely fun song at the link!

Creating Episode 2: Stasimon, “I Am A Women’s Rights”…

The next song, which practically wrote itself, is a solo for Alto, based on the famous speech Sojourner Truth gave in 1851: “I Am A Women’s Rights”. It’ll be the Stasimon (or response) to the second Episode of the greater work.

I just love the attitude and message of this song!

Creating the Prologue and Parode…

The whole opera is introduced in the Prologue, an “Arioso” for bass voice with “parchment-paper piano” and double bass accompaniment, which would segue into the Parode…

Here are the lyrics from the very beginning of the Arioso…

They’re only words.
On the street, by the road,

Why do we react to them so?

But words
Can reduce a human to a thing,

And turn a brief encounter
Into a constant nightmare.

(Check out how the parchment-paper prepared piano part sounds!) –>

For the Parode, I took inspiration from “In C” by Terry Reilly, in order to create a “sonic word cloud” of the various ways that everyday harassment and microaggressions make us all feel.

Parode demo recording

Creating Episode 3: Stasimon, “Cut”…

This was actually the song that I first really imagined when originating the whole concept–a big ensemble piece, utilizing the cold and cutting feel of the opening to Vivaldi’s Winter in a work that points out the nature of microaggressions– cut upon cut… a slow painful “death by a thousand cuts”. This is work is set at the end of the penultimate Episode, the darkest and most airy moment before the dawn of the fourth Episode: Hope…

demo for “Cut”

In conclusion…

I’ve got a solid third of the music-writing done on this huge undertaking! And I look forward to building upon it until it’s complete. 🙂

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