My silence over the last few months is an indication of how intensively I’ve been working on developing my librettist muscle. It’s been a mind-blowingly productive and creative time; I’m just getting started!
Currently I am working with composer, Peter Michael von der Nahmer on a VideOpera (it’s exactly what it sounds like, an opera created for video) about a woman and her tortured relationship with Twitter.
We are producing this ourselves and are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise some money so we can cover the cost of production and pay our artists. If you want to learn more about this cool little project and would like to be added to our mailing list, use the link below to take you to our sign-up page. This will add you to our list so we can share campaign launch information and updates with you.
This is an inspiring project and many people are starting to get as excited about it as we are. Join the movement and follow the link below to join our mailing list!
Sign up and, please, share this with your friends and family.
So Monday night I sat amid giants & idols like Missy Mazzoli, Beth Morrison, Royce Vavrik and David Devan; producers of contemporary opera in America – women & men spearheading the future of this medium for the rest of the world to follow. If you can imagine what a flea hovering about your head must feel like as you swat it out of the way, well, I was that flea Monday night
sitting in the Peter B. Lewis Theater underdeath the Guggenheim museum – only difference was I wasn’t buzzing around anyone’s head. That would have been weird. I was a well behaved flea who didn’t get in anyone’s ointment or march defyantly around the rim of anyone’s coctkail glass. I’m taking the metaphore too far…I am not a flea, I am a human being and if there is any great difference, truly, between a flea and a human being it’s that I make meaning of things where the flea does not. In fact I am unable to not make things mean things but that’s a story for another day.
So there I was, a virtual flea, listening to giants discuss the creation of a new opera, Breaking the Waves, that premieres at Opera Philadelphia next week. I paid the equvalent of a good seat in the Family Circle at The Metropolitan Opera on a Saturday night to listen to a select number of chamber pieces – performed by the amazing lead cast & musicians – and hear the composer, librettist, conductor and director discuss their process. Why would I do such a thing? Wouldn’t the value have been in networking like crazy and leave with at least one good contact? That is what a flea would have done.
That is not why I was there. At another time I will do that, probably yes, but this was the beginning of a grand adventure that I’ve been working my way towards for the better part of five years.
Attending the Works and Process event made manifest (even for just a tiny fraction of a moment) what I have been saying I want…to be a librettist and be part of the modern opera movement. I did have one interaction with a person-of-note (nobody mentioned here thus far) that didn’t go so well. We chatted a bit and when she asked me what I was doing there I blurted out “I want to be doing what they’re doing!” pointing at the stage filled with empty chairs and music stands. She quickly ended our conversation and I sat in my seat feeling the sting of having been swatted out of the way. I deserved it. Did I show up to this most intimate of opera events unprepared? Well, yes I did. I went in there with one intention; to fully immerse myself in the Society of Amazing Peole who Produce Opera for a Living. SAPPOL – and damit that’s exactly what I did!
Back to giants and idols: Being Jewish, I have learned that idols are bad, bad things to be shunned and avoided at all cost. I can and do ascribe to the principle that bowing down to a piece of brightly painted clay begging for salvation, or a new job, is something rediculus and potentially damaging. But then I went to the dictionary to broaden my meaning of the word.
Word Origin of idol from Late Latin īdōlum, from Latin: image, from Greek eidōlon, from eidos shape, form – courtesy of dictionary.com
So breaking it down, an idol is basically a mental image or a physical shape or form worth one’s time to comment on. An idol stands out, an idol is attractive, an idol is – ultimately – unrealistic. So if I want to be doing what Royce Vavrik is doing, for example, and doing it in my own way and at my own pace then his status as an idol really morphs more into that of a model, a suggestion of what I could be some day. I admire the work he does as a librettist and I know he puts one foot in front of the other as he walks down the street. He just happens to be WAY further down the street than I am. I feel as though I keep starting even though each foray I take into the world of opera seems to bring me ever closer to the vision I have; perhaps there is nothing but starting from wherever I happen to be right now…hmmmm.
What’s my point here? So inspired as I was after Monday night I went back to investigating Master’s Degree programs in musical theatre. NYU being the logical place to look (‘cause that’s where Royce Vavrik went…probably when he was 25!) I got all excited all over again reading all about the program, how they put composition students together with playwriting students – colleges are starting to catch on about this medium called Opera – and then I read “applicants must be full-time students.” And I stopped. Here I am, 52 years old now, working a full time job ‘cause I have to, ready and so able to take this program on with more gusto and passion then I ever had as a 25 year old and I simply cannot fit my square-self into the NYU round hole: what I am is more of a hexagon, really.
And so, this realization brings me back to the idea I launched at the beginning of this year – to make my own course of study and stick to that course building my vision block by block by block.
The Mott Academy of Writing Librettos fall semester has officially started!
Ps. When I make it across the pond one of these days to visit family in Chichester I will make a point of dropping in on a coffee house near Dorset named Amid Giants & Idols.
Assignment #6 – Write a scene with 2 people in a room. Happening offstage––outside of the room––is a major moment in history.
Setting – Dressing room of team Peru at Estadio National in Lima, Peru May 24, 1964
Baritone: Hector Chumpitaz (aka: El Capitan de America) – Legendary Peruvian footballer in the prime of his career having just joined the national team
Tenor: Angel Eduardo Pazos – Uruguayan referee & alcoholic who’s been dry for two years
Set up/opening orchestration: Peru is hosting Argentina in an important soccer match, one that Peru is watching to win with great anticipation. In the last two minutes of play referee, Angel Pazos, disallows a Peruvian goal that would have equalized the game. The ref’s actions cause two Peru fans to invade the pitch in an attempt to harm the ref. Police intercept and begin violently beating the pitch invaders, setting dogs on them in front of 53,000 rabid fans causing further reaction from the crowd. Leading in to this scene, police have just release fifteen canisters of tear gas into the seething body of predominantly Peruvian soccer fans. Terrifying panic ensues in the stadium.
Archival images of the Lima event as well as other national soccer stadium tragedies are splashed all around the theatre, audio of panicked crowds intermingle with the orchestration. The audience should be feeling the pressure of panic all around them. The orchestration quiets slowly as the sound of cleated boots walking heavily down an empty hallway in the sports complex rises over the panicked sounds. We hear a door being opened and the lights come up on the team dressing room. Hector stands in the doorway, holding onto the handle in an attempt to steady himself.
though they didn’t let their dogs loose*
they did let them tear his clothes off*
tear his clothes off
tear his flesh off just a bit
and the other one
the other one
beaten by many men with batons
blood on the pitch
blood on the bitch who bit his arm
tore his favorite jersey clean off his body
the people were disturbed*
by the way in which they took the Pitch Invaders away*
dragging them like cadavers
in front of fifty three thousand people
This is why the crowd began to get very upset*
Audio rises over Hector’s voice of a new level of terror and panic echoing off the walls of the stadium. Hector is sitting now at his locker having taken off his shirt. He studies the dramatic red stripe that cuts across the chest of his new Peru kit. Angel enters holding a cup of water.
How about that?! Eh?
How about that?!
Those Pitch Invaders nearly got me
Did you see that
they nearly crushed me for that call?
What a bunch of crazy dicks
short on knowledge
never went to college
drunk on any cheap swill they can find
I don’t mind
it’s all part of the game
glad the police came down hard
to keep the yard from brimming over
Angel walks over to a radio on the wall and turns it on – music of 1964 Peru floats out over the air. As he turns on the radio his hand hits a hip-flask full of whisky that someone had stashed for later. He takes the bottle down and looks at it sitting there in his hand.
Are you ok, Hector?
Hector The police
How about that?! Eh?
How about that?!
The music stops abruptly and a reporter gives the breaking news about the riot at the stadium.
Newscaster Ladies and gentlemen, this is breaking news about a riot that has broken out at Estadio National. Police are trying to contain the unruly mob with tear gas. Please avoid the area around Estadio National for the foreseeable future. Repeat, a riot has broken out at Estadio National. Please avoid the area.
Gun fire outside on the pitch is heard from the dressing room – men are screaming. Angel goes to put the bottle back where he found it but the disturbance scares him and he decides to keep hold of the bottle for now.
The world is broken
there is nothing to be spoken for
There is something terribly wrong here
which I am not able to fix
What’s going on, Eh?
Gun fire on the pitch?!
Son-of-a-bitch I have to get home
to see that my daughter is safe
She loves this game as much as I
though I forbid her from attending
this is no
place for good girls to be banging about
Don’t go out there!
Hector, that’s touching
I’ll be safe now
everyone has already forgotten about my call
that got them on their feet in a squall
Don’t you listen?!
Can you not hear the sound of people dying out there?
Our Peruvian people
I dread to see the sights that await us
when we emerge from this cave of cowards
Cave of cowards?! Speak for yourself El Capitan de America
Where is everyone then? Who else is in here but us, Angel?!
They all must have found a way out, somehow.
Maybe they are all dead
Maybe I should kill myself
Don’t be such a Shakespearian actor
There are other factors at work here
and I’m sure no one is dead!
Breaking News: there is a report coming in from Estadio National of thirty, no, no, excuse me fifty, fifty people dead at Estadio National! This is a horrible…wait, wait, another report…a hundred…an estimated one hundred people have been crushed to death in a stampede at Estadio National. This is terrible ladies and gentlemen, terrible
Ahhh, this is too much
There is nothing to do
no story I can tell to make the people laugh
no soccer ball to kick to make the people cheer and be happy about the day again
There is nothing I can do
There is nothing I can do
Mama, I am so sorry
There is nothing I can do to fix this
When I was three I wanted to be a footballer
I wanted to spend my life on the pitch
honing my foot work
practicing my kicks
Football was my life, my love, my path out of misery
My papa would be proud of me
if I was to be a footballer
Never was I good enough
Close but not quite good enough
so I took the only path that was by me
to be a referee – still I would stay close to the game
but it is not the same
Not the same in any way at all
Never am I happier then when I’m on the pitch
except, perhaps, for when I used to be able to drink a fifth
but that joy was fleeting
As the ball is in play and you chip it across the sky to land in the hands of the keeper
my heart wants to burst with love
The beauty of the rhythm of the game of my life keeps me alive and well and sober
My one regret is when the ball lands in the net
I see the glee on the striker’s face
perceive the pain of the keepers miss
and yet I am not part of that moment
I must endure while the world stops
to celebrate or lament the goal
I am not a part of it – I am separate – other – hated
or worse, ignored completely
A loud crash comes from outside
I am leaving the game, Angel.
El Capitan? No, no, you cannot do this
This I can do!
This you must not do! Peru, Peru needs you now more than ever
Football is dead to me just like those hundred people lying dead in our stadium
Breaking News: ladies and gentlemen, it grieves me mightily to tell you that Peruvian police have confirmed three hundred fifty eight deaths by internal hemorrhaging or asphyxiation in a terrible tragedy at Estadio National in Lima. There is rioting in the streets outside the stadium still – I beg of you to steer clear of Estadio National until order has been restored.
Three hundred fifty eight – gone
because of one lousy call I made
My call – my call made this happen
My call for footboll, the game I love
has brought death and destruction
to the world
The worst stadium disaster in history
is because of me
We don’t know what would have happened*
If the police had removed the Pitch Invaders*
in a peaceful fashion*
But I guess we can’t think about that now*
We have to face what’s out there
Angel Eduardo Pazos, you made the call you made
that is your job
I watched Kilo Lobaton rise his foot*
to block the ball*
and saw it rebound into the goal*
it was a foul*
in my humble opinion
though my opinion does not matter
El Capitain de America your words are sweet and powerful
I am the one on the wrong side of history
You, you are the one who matters now
You must help to heal Peru
You leave the game you kill a whole nation
Do not do that to your country!
Do not do that to your country!
Do not do that to your country!
I beg you – for love of the game
do not leave us now, dear Hector
Angel weeps at Hector’s feet as Hector sets his jaw and rises to put his jersey back on. He walks out of the dressing room leaving Angel alone with the bottle of whisky. Once alone Angel opens the bottle and greedily, tragically chugs the liqueur down.
If Lucretia Mott was alive today she’d be very cross with me. She’d be standing firm, eyeing me straight on whilst giving me a strong piece of her mind…something about perseverance, commitment, honesty to my own self. Truth! Truth to one’s own God-given Inner Light and how I have been squandering my energies. I’ve been dark. For a month this blog has been dark. Nothing posted, no excuses, no explanations…just…nothing. Yeah, sometimes nothing happens.If you are reading this then I commend you whole-heartedly and promise to post things worthy of your exquisite time in the days ahead. Thank you for giving me a bit of space to process here.
I live one foot in the digital world and the other in the analog world. I keep a paper date-book and on the cover of my paper-date book – which, yes, adds weight to my bag – are three quotes:
· First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do – Epictetus
· Nothing can be created out of nothing – Lucretia Mott
· We can know only that we know nothing. That is…human wisdom – Tolstoy
Epictetus, Lucretia Mott and Tolstoy; that is quite a literary cocktail. I may add
· We chase the melodies that seem to find us /until they’re finished songs and start to play – Lin-Manuel Miranda (from his moving acceptance sonnet from last night’s Tony Awards)
The lesson here is to take life, whatever comes at you, and make art! I started this blog as a way to gather my thoughts about opera (a new art form to me at the time.) Now I am taking it as a tool to push myself to learn, grow and produce librettos. I fell off. Today I get back on and I have a few revisions to make to my syllabus.
It is still imperative that I write every day. It’s not so important that I post something every week simply because “every week” becomes about just posting shit and not about producing something worth reading. I don’t want to waste your time. The new requirement is that I post something I’ll be happy about you reading. Hopefully that will make you happy too.
I’ve got three stories in development
The Light Within – on the life and times of Lucretia Mott: Quaker pacifist, warrior against slavery, poverty, war and the oppression of women, not to mention her own inner daemons – based on the book “Valiant Friend” by Margaret Hope Bacon
Goatscape – a fairy-tail about a police officer, a homeless vet, a hospital janitor and a goat on-the-lam in Bed-Stuy in the middle of the night
Soferet – a drama about a woman becoming a Jewish scribe in the early 1980’s and the effect she has on the Orthodox community she must count on to help her in her journey
Once – long ago – I was a bookbinder. I made books for a living. It wasn’t much of a living so I moved on to other more profitable pursuits but the art of book-making has never left me. I make books, I can’t stop myself from doing so. Since I don’t have a bindery any more I do scrappy little projects that keep my hands and my heart at peace. As I was thinking about writing librettos I realized that a component of these works are the source elements I use to create the story. Naturally I look to making a book.
Here are two books I’ve made specifically for the early stages of writing – brainstorming, character development etc. It all goes down in these lo-fi memory storage units and they are part of my story. So I may not have been writing but I have been creating and here is the beginning of these two tales
She reaches out her arms in front and spins around as though someone has just hit her
She falls to the floor
Music crashes in evoking an overbearing presence filled with malice. The woman sits in the center of the light protecting herself. The music subsides.
She is alone
Sometimes these things happen
and the end result is that we just remember who we are
more than ever before
A choir of men & women dressed in Quaker garb step into the light
Choir of Quakers
Men and women must seek the light
the great heresy is to await
In a kind of indifference
for the Light to come to us
There is so much that distracts us
from love and connections
Choir of Quakers
God is the Light, the Truth that stirs within
Years of negativity and dislike
built brick upon brick upon brick
Such that we cannot see over to the other side of the other side
Choir of Quakers
Walk worthy unto that which ye are called
Practice abstinence from that which intoxicates
How increasingly incumbent is it upon you
to carry out your principles
so that you be not found in the background
of the great reformation that is taking place
in human society today
Last night someone looked at me and said
“Oh honey, you’ve gained weight”
And when I mentioned that to someone else they said
“Well, you have, ya know”
I know that shouldn’t bother me but today it does
Choir of Quakers
Orthodoxy and bigotry shut men and women from the Light
Prune rote-creed and superstition from your mind
Let in the Light
The clear, stark, uncompromising Nantucket Light
I always struggle with my body
the discrepancy between what I see
and what others see
I think its time to assert myself
against comments like that
Let in the Light
The clear, stark, uncompromising Nantucket light
Where there is no room for prejudice to grow
Or oppression to flourish
Do not comment on someone’s body
shape or size
unless you are fucking asked about it
Woman is claiming for herself stronger and more profitable food
There is today a more extended recognition of her rights
her important duties
her responsibilities in life
Your opinion on my body is unwarranted
and I didn’t ask
so don’t comment
Launch forth, as men do, amid real, independent, stormy life
This is a cultural issue
that it’s been OK to objectify women’s bodies
It is interwoven throughout our country
and we may well acknowledge that we are all
All verily guilty concerning our sisters and our brothers
I think it shows a remarkable lack of tact
What the fuck is wrong with people?!
Inquire for thyself and acknowledge the Light that resides within
I need not set aside a special time for worship
I worship always seeking the divine will
and practicing holy obedience
I appreciate the wise laws of nature
and the divine spark in man and in woman
Breath in – breath out
you can’t change people
Only your response to them
Because the Light is one in all
it binds us together
In the bonds of love
Free discussion is never to be feared
except by such as prefer darkness to light
The spotlight has expanded during this interlude and now floods the stage in brightness
The woman changed her clothing from the party girl out on the town look into simple Quaker garb. She now stands with the choir undistinguished from the rest
Librettist’s note: This weeks Micro Opera is a curious mixture of words from a Lucretia Mott address and a dialogue I watched unfold on FaceBook. Somehow I found them to be related. This is raw, I didn’t take enough time but I had to post something because I played hooky last week. It was Passover, I was tired and full and buzzing from many glasses of wine. But this also points to my ongoing process of “turning over, and turning over” the words of my ancestor in the hopes of finding new meaning for our society today. There must be a connection. I continue to dig. I’m 20 minutes past my posting deadline. Time to get this sucker up there.