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.

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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.

Texts:
· 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. 

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