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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
…we got way more out of seeing a production that cost hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars less to produce than what the Met probably paid to mount “Barber”.
The spectacle isn’t always the thing – it’s the connection that is the thing that will make opera work for me – every time.
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.
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.
*I abhor even the idea of anyone sexually overpowering another. Rape is not something I take lightly.
I am three and a half years old, in opera years; a veritable toddler.
Knowing what I know of actual three and a half year old’s, having raised two of them, I know that toddlers are cute, innocent, reckless, manipulative and at certain times of the day impossible to handle (nothing that a bowl of Cheerio’s and a glass of wine can’t handle.) Mostly a toddler is capable of starry-eyed wonder and this best describes me when I attend an opera. I sit there up in the Family Circle of the Metropolitan Opera with my body squeezed into a seat I swear was designed for steerage on a United Airlines flight from Newark to Cleveland and I wait for my lollypop like a good girl. Even when I get bored and restless (and I do, yes, I do) I leave the opera house anticipating my next return. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a toddler or a puppy ‘cause puppies put up with a lot more discomfort than any toddler I’ve ever known. So, I sit, as I should, and try not to whine waiting to lap up the delicious mixture of music, song, story and sight about to be offered to me and I like it. I really like it. Even if I don’t always understand it, I like it. I want more and I rarely criticize the hand that feeds me because I have an enormous amount of respect for the hand!
I’m committed to learning opera and knowing the people who make opera happen. Public radio station, WQXR, launched Operavore right as I was getting into the art form and I reference the news and information on opera every day. I read and click and read some more. Fred Plotkin is like Uncle Opera to me now and Margaret Juntwait is my regularly scheduled Saturday afternoon play date. During the week I absorb the Operavore web log articles and then get to the dreaded comments section…I really should know better than to read them. I can’t believe the nasty, hateful, divisive comments many people post about something they love so much. It’s as if their opinions are more precious than the art. The snarky remarks about this performer or that director or the whole “opera’s dead” thing designed to write off an entire industry is, in my humble opinion, dog poop. Sure, you can say; “Well she doesn’t know anything. She didn’t even see Luciano Pavarotti in the Park!” (Actually, I did, before there was grass on the great lawn) but that’s for another time. I understand opera is filled with divas, but the audience need not be one of them.
My point is…I wish everyone would stuff their opinions in their back pocket and beaded hand bags and simply experience the opera in the here and now. Just once I wish everyone arrived as if it was their first time; a house full of opera virgins all dressed up and eagerly anticipating that initial taste of passion and abandon. Imagine what the performers would do if they knew everyone paying to be there was hanging on their every note in starry-eyed wonder. The pressure would still be on and I believe would drive an artist on to new heights: the pressure to provide the very foundation of love for this art form. Can we organize that – just for one time?
Yeah, I didn’t think so. So just do me this one favor then, stop hating on the people who produce opera. Honor them, support them, give constructive criticism (by all means) and give them the means to keep creating. Quit griping at the wind and polluting the sweet air for those of us who are currently breathing it in. I’m enjoying myself over here and you don’t want to make a toddler cry (or a puppy whimper.) Teach me, guide me, help open my ears and heart to the depths of the possibilities waiting for me in any given opera. Every time I attend the opera there’s a chance for transformation. Every recording I listen to and every libretto I study furthers my love and understanding of this complex and holographic expression of the human experience. Share with me your stories; the moments of awe and life altering arias that took your breath away and returned you to your seat a different person. Remember the glories of the past and look to the future for fresh stories to share. As a new comer to opera – that is the audience I want to be sitting in.