Category: Uncategorized

Amid Giants & Idols

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! 

MMN

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.

I’ve been dark

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


Let the writing begin again. 
MMN

The End – An Opera in One Beat

Special Thanks to Chris for writing this piece and making it widely available on Free Music Archive as well as YouTube

Scene: a cozy, darkened bedroom in the middle of the day. Sounds of the city float in through the opened window. A woman, Amy, lies in a hospice bed. Her husband, Sam, is bedside. It is the appointed hour of her death.

AMY

Are you there?

SAM

Yes I’m right here

AMY

Are you there?

SAM

Yes I’m right here

AMY

Where are we, Sam?

SAM

Home

AMY

One more hour, maybe

Take my hand

SAM

Yes

AMY

Don’t be frightened

I remember running in the park with you

You held my hand I wanted to let go

To run free

And you had to let me go

You are ever right here with me

Even in the tightest spots

Time to run

SAM

No

Are you there?

Are you, Amy

Please be there

Please be, Amy

AMY

Sam, let me go – now

Let me go

SAM

Amy

———————————

This libretto comes out of my studying theatrical beats this week, as in, moments that make up a play. I wanted to try making a one-beat opera. Lacking any sort of focus I went to my playlist and found Cylinder Six. It gave me a perfect structure to build this monumental moment between two people. I didn’t expect to end up in tears by the time I’d finished. Read the libretto, listen to Chris’ piece then put the two together. Tell me if any of it worked for you.

Thanks for reading!

© Marianna Mott Newirth

Meta Micro Opera

 

A middle aged woman sits at a table with a journal open in front of her and a pencil in her hand. A light on the table illuminates the pages in a glow of warmth which washes up onto the woman’s face as she stares down at a blank page.

 

WOMAN

Here I am

It’s four AM

The house is quiet for now

 

I left my bed

So warm and cozy

The dogs won’t leave their lair to join me

In my cold endeavor

At my little desk

In the dark of night

Before the dawn’s floundering light

 

To be a writer is to be alone

A single entity who can dive into limitless waters of thought

Who can swim to the very bottom of the pond of possibility

And dredge up a moment’s consideration

For compilation in a composition yet to be named

 

No, there is more to this than meets the eye

I do not rise in the death of night

Out of some sense of obligation

 

I rise because I have no choice

My characters call to me

They disturb me from my sweet slumbering

Yearning for resolution of the situation I wrote them them into the night before

 

They all want to know – what happens next!

So here I am

It’s four AM

The house is quiet for now

 

And I – I cannot think of a thing to write

MMN

Micro Opera: The Maestro and his Muse

Two character scene:

First character wants a tangible object from the second character while the second character wants something intangible from the first character. Neither character can get what they want, at least not easily.

 

 

Maestro

Look at what time it is
Nearly midnight
Calliope!

 

Calliope

Time – such a silly little human construct
Was I not made for greater things than this?
You washed your hair
How did you know I like lavender

 

Maestro

It was the shampoo in the shower
Shall we get started

Maestro strikes a chord on his piano and straightens the blank sheet music in front of him

 

Calliope

Nice piano – Your pencil’s not sharp

 

Maestro takes a small hand-held plastic pencil sharpener and sharpens his pencil

 

Calliope

Where are we tonight?

 

Maestro

Amsterdam

 

Maestro

I prefer Florence
Jacopo Peri would hold me on his lap as he worked, you know
I would turn pages for him

 

Maestro

A page-turner is not what I’m looking for
Let’s get to work

 

Calliope

I enjoyed twirling his moustache until it stuck straight out

Why do men shave these days?

 

Maestro

I’m getting to work
Will you come?

 

Calliope

If you fondle me right, I just might

 

Maestro
I’m working now
Something new, if you like
It struck me crossing Waterlooplein square

 

Calliope

So you want to play then?

 

Maestro

I like to play

 

Calliope

As do I

 

Maestro

What you have in mind will keep me from my work
We have an understanding, you and I

 

Calliope

Ah my composer, you think you know me so well

 

Maestro

After sixty-years I’ve picked up a thing or two about you

 

Calliope

Sixty years – You’re a child compared to the giants I’ve worked with

 

Maestro

There’s a reason you are here and it’s not to distract me

 

Calliope

What are you doing in this time-riddled, shit-hole of a culture anyway

 

Maestro

This is the only time I have been given (yelling)

 

Calliope.

Temper

 

Maestro

I get angry when people waste my time

 

Calliope

Oh, is that it? You’re comparing me to people now?

 

Maestro

Let’s get to work

 

Calliope

Just imagine me lying naked in your bed
wrapped in your sheets
ripe for the plucking

 

Maestro

I want to write
I need insight
Your help would be appreciated

 

Calliope

You arrogant bastard
You must work for my attention
I’m not some easy thing you can get at any opening night party

 

Maestro

I don’t do that…

 

Calliope

I know, my darling, I know.

 

Maestro

Did I call you or did you grace me with your presence? I can’t remember now. How have we ever managed to work together
I can’t remember

Calliope

Tell me now – what do you feel?

 

Maestro

My feelings border on hatred

 

Calliope

Do you hate when you make love

 

Maestro

Of course not

 

Calliope

Do you hate when you compose

 

Maestro

I cannot hate when I compose
Hate is a mear mask people hide behind

 

Calliope

What are you holding on to then?

 

Maestro

I’m holding
I’m holding on
I’m holding on to
I’m holding onto the one who bears witness to my work

 

Calliope

And who, pray tell, is that?

 

Maestro

It is Phil
The Phil who washes his hair with lavender soap
The Phil who sets a watch and calls you at midnight
The Phil sitting here arguing with his muse
He is insufficient to the task
He will never get this done

 

Calliope

And besides he’s really no fun

 

Maestro

He does the best he can in a mad world

 

Calliope

Take him off the shelf where you keep him
Smash his ceramic face upon the floor
Have sex with me

 

Maestro

You’re my muse not my lover

 

Calliope

Our session is over

 

Maestro

No, it is not.
You don’t want corporeal sex, Calliope
I am old and counting every heartbeat
You want a sacrifice

The Greek choir slowly enters singing

You’re the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne
A goddess of music, song and dance
You want the “I” that is watching me talk to you*
The witness has to go* – I relinquish him to you
the one always peering over my shoulder|
commenting on every thing I do
Have your way with him
Slit his throat for all I care
Take it – this power for me to see myself – take it, Calliope
Take it and suck away at his delicious banality

A Greek choir   walks around the two – conveying the thoughts of the maestro as he separates his daily-self from his artist-self and sets to compose in earnest. The choir echoes the mans constant comment…the incessantly nagging voice in his head droning on and on about nothing of consequence. They keep this up while the Maestro and Calliope sing their duet and the Maestro takes his place at the piano while Calliope takes her place on the floor eating away at a puppet that resembles the Maestro. In the end her face and dress is covered in a sticky, grotesque mass of humanity. Her glee cannot be contained.

 

Greek Choir

I am sitting on a music bench
There is music on the stand in front of me
I am trying to write an opera
The piano has white and black keys
My nose has an itch
It might snow tomorrow
Calliope has beautiful breasts
Did I remember to plug my phone in?
Is this an A or an A flat?
What should I have for breakfast
Should I just stop now and go to sleep
How far is the taxi stand from the airport terminal
Will someone be there to pick me up tomorrow
I hope Paris will be a safe place to be
Did I pack an extra pair of underwear
The back of my head is itchy

 

Calliope

Imagination is now open to you at every single moment of time*
Give me the guy who pays taxes and takes out the garbage
The guy who watches and has to remark on every little thing
Give him to me – I’ll get him done
While you swim in the spontaneous unfolding of life*

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

One foot in the world of clarity and power*
Don’t think about now it doesn’t matter

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

Nothings routine
Nothings repeated

The sounds of Amsterdam at 3am overtake the music and drown out everything while the light tightens on the Maestro’s face as he composes, unaware of anything else going on around him. The the light clicks to black.

The End

________________________________________________________________

*Much of the inspiration for this piece came from Philip Glass’ memoir Words Without Music a gift that my husband gave to me for Hanukkah. I gobbled the book up in short order. There are a few lines marked with the * that are taken directly out of his book.

Glass, Philip: Words Without Music Liveright Publishing Company a Division of WW Norton & Co 2015 Pages 382 & 383

The picture of Philip Glass was taken by Anne Leibovitz
The picture of Calliope was taken by some guy who posted it on Google reference has been lost

If you have an issue with my using these images send me a message and I’ll take them down. I’m not making any money with this stuff right now – I’m just keeping one foot in the world of clarity and power and the other in the every day banality of daily life.

 

MMN