Tag: librettist

Notes on the Fly

So by now you know that I want to write librettos and I’ve been working at it on my own, in concentrated style, for a bit now. Last night I came to realize that I’m approaching the “horse” – as it were – from the wrong end (aka: ass backwards.) I am not surprised because that is how I seem to approach everything in life that is important to me.

Sitting in a Master Class with David Henry Hwang, author of many notable works of opera & theatre including M Butterfly, I was surprised to learn that he has never approached a composer with an idea for an opera. He has always been the one approached because he believes, and rightly so, that the composer is the one who truly drives an operatic piece. When he has an idea of his own he turns it into a play. 

This had a double effect on me: a) I was depressed and b) relieved. 

Depressed because I am brimming with ideas that I can totally visualize being sung on a stage and relieved at understanding the way I was going about being a librettist could be accomplished in a different way. 

One does not simply 

walk up to a composer, hand her a script and say – compose something to this. Most people who have spent a lifetime honing their compositional skills would be justified in telling me to fuck off.

I get it now. In the dance of making this most complex of collaborative art forms come alive it has to start with an idea. A core idea. The librettist constructs good literary bones upon which, if inspired, a composer can take and make her own. 

What I create is not mine to keep. What I create I create to give away to lift the creative wings of another. What I create lives on by the grace of others and along the way I relinquish control. It’s just like having a child: and it hurts just as much to let it go.

Writing librettos and working with composers is what I truly want to do with the rest of my life. So my course correct will be this: write plays. Fulfill on the visions I have and make them into something that can come alive on a stage for actors to work with. For purely operatic ideas all I need do at this point is write narrative, to compose my own poetry, to let the Fantazmagorium of wacky passionate ideas rolling around in my beating heart flow out on the page and trust. I must trust the ground I’ve laid out already and the new ground I’m building will bring me face to face with the right people at the right time. I must trust. I must trust, I must write and trust, I must write and trust and share my work. 

Progress occurs when preparation meets opportunity

Time to get back to work – thanks for reading. 

Apart The Other or Dia & Ali Meet But Don’t Quite Connect

Happy Street in Somewhere Wonderful, America

Everything is shiny and bright – the sounds are perky and optimistic – the images are iconic, glamorous and captivating all along Happy Street

A woman in her 30’s, Dia, enters – well dressed with a slight flair for the dramatic. The year is 1994. Dia is at the peak of her awesomeness walking down Happy Street on a faire spring day in Somewhere Wonderful, America.


Dia – short for Diane or dialysis (also Greek for apart, through, across) Soprano

Ali – short for Alison or alien (also Greek for other) Mezzo Soprano

Choir of The Underserved – Mixed Choir of Women, Men & Children



This must be success

All of this for me

The silver sidewalk

The singing salted Pretzel man

The perfect way my pumps pound as I go purposefully ahead

Life is easy

Life’s so good

The sun on my back

The bounce in my step

No worries but to make my appointment on time

I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine

Isn’t everything divine?



Work and haul and push and pray

We strive to make it day by day

Under a growing cloud of doubt

We hold our tongue we do not shout


Working poor – the underserved

We are not proud we are not heard


Work so hard can’t catch a break

They tell us “All we do is take”

They try to rule us all with fear

And kill off all that we hold dear


Working poor – the underserved

We are not proud we are not heard

Working hard the under-seen

Won’t be long before we scream


A large woman emerges from the choir and approaches Dia



Excuse me – Can I ask you a question



(Flippantly as she walks past Ali) No you cannot


Ali stands momentarily rebuffed and then joins the Choir of the Underserved again


The timbre changes on Happy Street in Somewhere Wonderful, America. The year morphs into 2001 and the polish comes off the dazzling façade. The sounds are slightly flat, the images are tinged with cautious notes, the sky (a 911 blue) looks somewhat sinister, the light that once warmed Dia’s back is somehow colder.


DIA (pushing a stroller)

Let me see where I can go

So I can look like I’m in the know

It’s hard to keep up the game

With so much pressure to have a name in the world

My grandmother – my grandmother

She was an elegant lady of her day

The Greatest Generation

Social register – Women’s rights

Fantastic hats with feathers in them

She’s the one I emulate

The lady I want to be

It’s harder than I thought it was

I don’t understand, really



Excuse me, can I ask you a question?


I don’t have time – I’m late

I’m late, for a thing, ya know

Excuse me


Ali watches Dia bustle past her and turn the corner. She addresses the audience directly



She’s thinking “There must be something wrong here”

Like I’m a problem that needs fixing

Lazy freeloader – welfare mom

That’s all she sees when she walks past me on Happy Street


Broke but not broken

Broke but not broken

The system’s not made for us

The rich folk always making a fuss

Broke but not broken

Broke but not broken

See me for who I really am

I come from a good family of people

People who love me



Self reliant

Something gets broke we fix it

Self reliant

Somebody falls gather them up in a bundle of life

Until they can breathe on their own again

Self reliant

The system’s not made for us

The system’s not made for us

The system’s not made for us!


We walk for the lame

We drive for the carless

We wait for the brother whose still in jail


We sing for the bird that’s lost its song

We spring for the winter that lasts too long

We cling to each other in times of fear

And pray to a God who never seems near

But we keep praying – ‘cause – ya never know when

That God might just show up and make everything work again

Self reliant

The system’s not made for us


The timbre changes on Happy Street in Somewhere Wonderful, America once again. The year morphs into 2016 and the façade is removed exposing the rawness of the performance space. The sounds are sharp, the images are stark, the sky is flat and white. Ali sits on a box next to a tree growing out of the sidewalk. Dia walks by holding her hand to her jaw. She is sporting a hat with a big flower on the side, which contrasts sharply with the dark mood she appears to be in



Excuse me. Can I axe you a question?!



You always try and stop me at the worst times!

I cannot talk to you right now



But you don’t even know what my question is



I…look…I’m sorry. I have a terrible…


Aside to the audience: I’m not telling her my problems

My tooth hurts, yes, but I don’t have to explain myself to her


We all have places to be you know

We all have things to do


Aside to the audience: I really need to get to the dentist, excuse me


Audio of a dentist’s drill incorporates with the music of Ali’s She Don’t Even Know aria



She don’t even know my question

She so damn busy all the time

Bound up in her little world of lattes and opera

She don’t see who I really am

She won’t see who I really am

I am a woman who makes hats for a living

I am a woman whose daughter is pregnant with twins

I am a woman with a son stationed in Iraq

Who the fuck is she?!


Dia walks out moaning slightly and holding an ice bag to her cheek



I wonder what her question was

Such a bitch I was I know

But my aching tooth, oh my aching tooth

I’ll stop and talk with her now

I don’t know why I’ve been so cold

Although she has been very bold and tried to ask me several times about…something

I don’t know what

It always felt wrong

She did not belong in my world

My perfect little world – so stupid

I could not see for all the glitter that was in front of me

Perhaps I can start with an apology


Dia notices that Ali is no longer sitting where she was. Dia looks around but Ali is not there.



She is gone

I am an idiot



Ali – the other

Dia – apart from it all


[librettist’s note] I actually have no idea how to end this at the moment…

*Thank you to Mia Birdsong for the inspiration and some of her words taken from her TEDTalk “The Story We Tell About Poverty Isn’t True” May 2015


©Marianna Mott Newirth 2016

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.



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


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.