Weekly Reading Assignment : The origins of opera

2016-03-16 21.32.18
It is worth keeping in mind that ancient Greek drama is less like modern plays and more like opera.

The Cambridge book on Opera, chapter 2 covered the first operatic forms. Greek drama. It has been thirty years since I studied any Greek drama and I had to research the origins of strophe and antistophe, ‘cause I couldn’t remember what they meant. Strophe – to turn. Antistrophe – to turn back again as in a reply to stroph. I won’t get all up in this with you as I’m pretty sure if you’re actually reading this you DON’T want me getting all up in this. The operative thing here is that diving into the structure of Greek drama brought me to an unexpected place – PROSODY!

And where has the study of prosody lead me? To the basics of literary structure, of course. And then, just as quickly, to poetry. No surprise, really. My little web log entry tonight is actually a long-winded excuse to inform you (dear reader) that I abandoned my reading of chapter 2 and took a wild ride into the study of iambs and their many cousins: anapest, dactyl, trochee and others. I studied all this in college circa 1982 but today it lives for me as something completely new. Here’s what I did with what I learned.


Iambic dimeter – 2 iambs per line

There is a way

That I can write

Could be by day

Perhaps at night

2016-02-16 11.53.58

There is one thing

That I must do

Put pen to pad

How ever bad

And write anew


Iambic trimester – 3 iambs per line

They’re working on the street

Jack-hammers on concrete

Ringing through the night

Who cares what time it is


Iambic tetrameter – 4 iambs per line


She stooped to pick the basket up

Filled with fresh washed cloths, it was

The weight of it surprised her some

As she carried it across the floor


Quite the shock for her to see

Two ears emerge amid the wash

Black and pink those ears appeared

In contrast to her nice black pants

Now covered in fur from waist to hem


2015-03-28 14.17.24
paw on thumb over book

The feline gave a quizzical look

Stretched its paw across her bra

To roll its head in its comfy bed

And reach its arm to touch her hand

As if to say “It’s all okay;

I’ll help you with the wash today.”



Iambic pentameter – 5 iambs per line

These walls contain so many stories told

Of love and life of a family growing old

Where once the toddlers played amid their toys

Two men now occupy the space of boys


This home is all that they have ever known

Of school and friends and kissing in the dark

We gave them all that they would need to live

And pushed to make the best of what we had

2015-04-10 18.00.50

Today we must stand back and let them go

Into a world that we cannot control

2015-08-23 15.52.09

Micro Opera #1: Tumbling Grumbleweed


SLOTH Stirgill7DeadlySins
SLOTH by Carlton Scott Sturgill

Characters: Carl & Jeremy – a gay couple in their late 20’s. Both are baritones

Carl sits on the couch in his living room looking at his smart phone. He makes the occasional, swipe casually with his finger, slouches further down and puts a leg up on the coffee table. His boyfriend, Jeremy, comes in the room. 




I don’t know

It’s all bull shit


from bulls


What’s bull shit?


Every God Damned thing. Trump, Fox News, Pokemon is 25 years old!


Well, Mr. Grumbleweed…


I hate it when you call me that, Jeremy


I only call it when that’s what your being. Now remember, Beth and Ben are here for dinner at eight


Can’t wait – Beth and Ben – sounds like a sitcom


Don’t let the fact that I do everything around here keep you from vacuuming this room


I won’t


We should get a zoomba someday


Only if it comes with a cat attachment

Jeremy exits into the kitchen


I don’t wanna

Can’t make me

Nah, nope, no

Won’t do it

My but is stuck to the couch

my eyeballs glued to the phone

I could get up and do some shit but

I don’t wanna


Grumblweed Choir

I don’t wanna

Can’t make me

Nah, nope, no

make your boyfriend crazy

Carl, ya know, you’re such a slug

won’t even move if you get mugged




My limbs are heavy – too heavy to lift

I am suspended in misery

I just want to sit

Is that ok?

To sit and not be lectured?


Requirements of society

Piety and obedience to an entity stuck in Orthodoxy

Explain that one to me Rabbi!

Why should I obey you?!

I see a wall

A wall one hundred feet tall

Made of glass brick

I see the other side thick with potential

The possibility of possibility

The known unknowns

The dream of a someday

Hard and clear and cold this wall of glass

a hundred feet tall

which keeps me from reaching my fulfillment

reaching my fulfillment


I am meant to fill something

Meant for something…I don’t know…terrific

I do not know

Am I meant for greatness?

Is it meant for me?

I am great – my parents always said

My parents always said I was the best

What ever it was they always said I was the best

What can I be – should be – could be…would be…could be

Oh, I don’t know.


Oh Carl – poor Carl – Sad Carl


Are you done with your pitty party?

I didn’t fall in love with you because you were a tumbling grumblweed – you know

I love you

I love you

you find your way out of the tumbleweeds

you emerge from darkness into light

you give me hope for tomorrow


There’s not much light from here Jeremy


You are my light, Carl


Not right now

This is not the Utopia we were promised


That promise was a lie

It should die and we should be free to build a world of our own imagination


We’re too old


What do you want, Carl?!


I want everyone to shut the fuck up


And then what?


So then I can think


And when you can think – what then?


Then I would be able to see

Able to see that we are not what we thought we would be together

Jeremy – It’s not working

I think I should leave tonight


But our dinner with Beth and Ben


You’ll have to do the vacuuming yourself – I’m not good husband material, Jeremy.


Carl! You can’t just leave like that!


Carl puts on his coat, grabs his phone and walks out the door

 The End


So…What Have You Done Lately?

The dreaded question every artists hates. I’m actually going to share something I did last year, a thing that really kicked my whole MAWL adventure into gear. Right as I was starting radiation treatment for breast cancer* I put myself into an artists beit midrash at my shul, Town & Village Synagogue @afinekehilla  I figured it was best to put my mind into something creative. Our rabbinic intern, Bronwen Mullen, put together a great program and we had about 15 people participate from all around the Jewish community. Our focus of study was Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers. Right away I connected to the idea of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next. Then I boiled it down to its elements; the Alef, Bet. What I came out with was this written piece.


Bronewn, rabbinical student with a degree in music composition, took what I wrote and scored it. BLEW MY MIND. In a flash we were putting out a call to musicians and singers. Within a month we were in rehearsals with 6 artists bringing to life an idea I had one night while walking home. Here is the final result. It’s an 8 minute piece. A bit rough around the edges but if you stick with it you’ll get the idea of the piece.



As gritty as this clip may be it was a miracle and one that opened up a world of possibility. It was a flash collaboration among an amazing group of talented men and women.

So this is what I’ve done lately. It took me nearly a year to get up the guts to post it.


Post Script:

*so yeah, I dropped the C word. Just so you can move on from it – as I have – I had it. They took it out, zapped me repeatedly with radiation & and put me on meds for 10 years. End of story. Really just an annoying reference point on my life’s map. But one that is an indelible mark, no doubt. Hope it never comes back!


MAWL – Mott Academy of Writing Librettos

Got that old urge to head back to school!

It’s been a decade since earning an MA in Media Studies where I wrote my thesis on Women and the Medium of Money. True, I am a Financial Analyst today and perhaps that thesis was prophetic but my life has taken on a different focus now: opera.

The first time I took my seat in the Family Circle at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010 was for Don Giovanni. It was Ottavio’s aria, “dalla sua pace la mia dipende” that opened up the depths of possibility to me. See Where Opera Lives for details on that ahah! moment.

I knew – sitting there slack-jawed in the dark – I had to write librettos and I didn’t even know a counter tenor from a treble clef at the time. So I set to learn and this web log is one of those tools I first created to express this need. Well it’s been a few years and the time has come to ratchet up the process.

Fist I explored MFA programs at Hunter, The New School & NYU. There were playwriting programs and creative writing programs but no libretto writing programs. I’m a 52 year old woman; I don’t have time to fuck around any more. So in my particular DIY fashion, I sat down and have fashioned my own course of study and here’s my curriculum for the next year.


The Mott Academy of Writing Librettos

Year 1: Learn the dramaturgy of playwriting & opera. Understand what makes a play work and, specifically, what makes an opera work.

· The Poetics by Aristotle
· The Playwright’s Guidebook by Stuart Spencer
· Opera (the Cambridge Introductions to Music)
· The Cambridge Companion to Opera Studies

Daily Assignment: write every morning – it does not have to be good, it just has to be something you write down, typically 2 pages long. The objective is to establish the habit of writing…every…day. This work is for your eyes only. Don’t share it with anyone. This assignment is to start immediately.

Weekly Writing Assignment: write a micro opera – 3 to 5 pages – every week. Use the assignments provided in Stuart Spencer’s book to help guide you. Your Micro Opera (MO) must be uploaded every Sunday night before midnight onto Opera Abecedarian (yup, onto ‘yr blog!) Your first MO must be uploaded by March 13th and every Sunday night thereafter. It may suck at first – but it will get better.

Weekly Reading Assignment: Read a chapter in two of the four text books cited above. You decide what books to read. Take notes, record observations during your daily assignment if you want something to write about in the morning. This reading is to be finished by every Wednesday night. Thursday you begin reading two new chapters.

Quarterly Read (QR): Choose a libretto to read. It can be from any era and genre you like. First time around read it straight – with no music – and make your notes. Next read it through while listening to the score. It is best, at first, to pick librettos of operas you do not know as a familiar score will influence your straight reading of a text. This is to be an intensive two-to-three-hour exercise scheduled every 3 months. Make a setting where you will be able to read through the libretto and write down observations without any interruption. Take a break then listen to the score while reading along with the libretto. Post your QR on ‘yr blog. You must do this once a quarter. When you do it is entirely up to you. QR’s will start 2Q16.

· What was the difference in your experience of the story from the straight read to the scored read?
· What questions did you have about the libretto during the straight read and how did the scored read answer or complicate your questions? Why?
· How did the libretto stand on its own?
· How did the libretto support the score?
· How did the score support the libretto?

I think that is enough for one year. Keep your word, do the assignments and challenge yourself.

Opera Under Construction 

So I met with composer/rabbinical student, Bronwen Mullin, last month and we spent a fantastic evening fleshing out the eight minute piece we created together this spring entitled Transformation II. (Video and audio will follow this posting later this week.) 

There are few words one can use to sufficiently describe a collaborative conversation: flexible, intuitive, trusting (that’s a big one) and, well, fun! 

Yeah, we had tons of fun making up scenarios and back stories and character traits. Then the fun continued with identifying themes and formulating a path to walk upon. It was like stepping out over a ledge and, together, building the ground in front of us so we could walk out over the edge again; step by step walking out into the, largely, unknown realm of storytelling and discovering ourselves in the process. 

It’s not magical, it’s grinding work. The magic will come, I assume, after all the gestation, labor and delivery is done and we are holding a babe in our arms. Only then for a moment will the magic sparkle. Because then it will be time to gird our loins for putting an opera into production; a different beast, entirely. 

When I begin doubting all I need to do is turn to maestro Protopapas’ posting – 8 Reasons Why Kostis Protopapas Programs American Operas – and I remind myself that now is the perfect time and I’m in the perfect place. I pick up my pen and return to writing.