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. 

MMN

OnSiteOpera: thoughts toward a paradigm shift

I had the pleasure of seeing On Site Opera’s Pygmalion at the Trimco Mannequin Showroom on West 25th St. I was sitting among – I would estimate – 75 people for the show that ran under an hour. In my short opera life I have only experienced grand opera in its fullest measure at The Met. I like that too but this was a vibe I could not have anticipated. I can only describe it as…well…personal.

I was an arms reach away from the performers – I could see the sweat on their faces – I could watch them working as they sang and drew bow over string – I observed their bodes rise and fall with breath – heard the clear, pure tones emerging instantaneously from their mouths and instruments washing over me in their freshly made sound waves. It was, ok I’ll admit, not breathtaking but it was sweet and charming and delightful and completely engaging.

I am used to and expect high theatrics from the Met. I go to get sucked into their vortex of awesomeness which sometimes is there and sometimes is not. I am not complaining about the Met. I love the Met & I want it to survive. I am also thrilled to discover an alternative to opera that allows me to be a participant, a witness, an up close and personal element to the performance. As the artists move, I move and I want more.
MMN

Where Opera Lives

There’s a profound line between thinking about doing something and actually doing it. There’s an even greater gap between doing something for the first time and actually “getting” what you are doing. It was a hell of a process simply going from the idea of attending the opera to physically putting my butt in the chair for our inaugural season subscription at the Met. Everything I went through to get to that point; the flurry of excitement, the phone calls, the planning, the fretting could not prepare me for the watershed, “Ah ha!” realization about the world that was waiting for me in Don Giovanni.

Imagine, if you will, Mozart’s overture beginning with the amazing chord that strikes fear into any listening heart. Now imagine this Opera Abecedarian – green as a length of sod freshly rolled out at the Bryant Park lawn with little signs stating “please stay off while the new grass is establishing roots” – sitting there ready to be opera’ed.

I was holding a great deal of reservation about my subscription. Had I been rash and impulsive? Was I taking my family on a crazy cultural ride to nowhere? I was excited and yet, truly feared boredom. Casting aside my doubt I surrendered to the music. As Act 1 progressed it was going well. I understood the story. The Don was pretty hot with his shirt falling off his shoulder; who cares that he was trying to rape that woman*, the music was pretty. So maybe this opera thing was going to work out. It would make a nice occasional family event – something I could post on Facebook. I felt smug as the story progressed through the Catalogue Aria and into the choral section with the vivid pastoral setting with a lot of business going on. Then everyone cleared the stage and Ramon Vargas, as Don Ottavio, was alone in the spotlight performing Dala Sua Pace. The world slowed down as I fell into empathy for this silly, somber man expressing love for the distant Donna Anna.

What stops my world from spinning; what slaps me hard across the face in the midst of this aria is the sudden and complete understanding that opera lives in the spaces between our relationship with other people and things. Opera gives voice and depth to the commentary we all have running through our head and in doing so, SHUTS THE COMMENTARY UP!
It’s Zen! It’s here and now, man! One pure thought can endure and unfold profoundly before hundreds of people if handled with care by the librettist, composer, orchestra and vocalist all working in concert. Fuckin’ Awesome!

I felt that I was being gifted with another human’s experience, multi-dimensionally. I could see and hear and practically touch the living desire of Don Ottavio and I experienced the depth of his pain and longing. I could taste it, I could feel it in my gut. We went way past empathy to psychic, full body link. Any bullshit chatter I had going on in my head was silent and I’m sure I sat there slack-jawed hanging on Vargas’ every note. This was the magic of opera. It shut me up when I wasn’t even saying anything.

Zen is hard. It’s not every time attending the opera that I get it. There’s still struggle. Preparation is key for I believe it is incumbent upon the audience to bring as much to the evening (or matinee) as the artists are expected to bring. What we bring is our understanding, our money and our listening. What we offer is our willingness to let go of what we understand. We give ourselves generously to the company so they may bring us to a place we cannot take ourselves to. They feed us their world and we love them for it.

Opera lives in the space between our relationships with other people and things.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

MMN

*I abhor even the idea of anyone sexually overpowering another. Rape is not something I take lightly.