We’re now four weeks away from the premiere of Rites of Being and it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. For a project this large, it’s been so essential to have great collaborators. I feel bad for all the singer jokes I made in college because Anna, Emily, Jessica, Nathan, and Stacey have been fantastic to work with and their professionalism has been downright inspiring. In rehearsals I am reminded of how much more difficult they have it than the instrumentalists. We get to simply sit and read our music while they must memorize everything and act while performing. It’s really impressive.
That being said the composers and players in the pit have done and continue to do an amazing amount of work to put the music together. Alison Heryer and Lisa Cordes have also helped to keep me sane with their vision, experience, and strong organizational skills.
My ritual is "weddings" and my opera is called Fair Looks and True Obedience, otherwise known as the Kardashian opera. It takes place the hour before a fictional wedding between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
I have never written an opera before and have absolutely no experience working with opera singers. I've had to do a lot of score study just to figure out what an opera is supposed to look like on a page. Luckily I've had the support of fellow composers Brad Wick and John Chittum who have been incredibly generous in guiding me through the dark arts of score preparation.
What composers have inspired your work for this project?
I love the minimalist operas of Philip Glass and John Adams and have studied their works extensively in preparation for this project. I also have to say that I have a soft spot for Wagner. I caught one of the movie theatre Met performances of Tristan and Isolde a few years back and fully expected to be bored since the work is so long. But, I absolutely loved it and I still can't get over how much audacity that man had to write music like that. The orchestra is huge, the concept is huge, the execution is huge. A century later and it's still stunning.
Who wrote your libretto and how did you pick it out?
I originally didn't know what I wanted to write about but I had a vague notion that I wanted to use the Kardashians as my characters. I spent a few weeks trying to get people to talk me out of this but I kept getting positive response so I decided to transcribe an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians to use as the libretto. But, it quickly became apparent that wasn't going to work. Way too many scene changes and other problems like that. I flirted briefly with writing it myself but quickly realized that wasn't going to work either.
So I reached out to writer and my fellow Artist Inc. alum, Jennifer Coates. She didn't hate the idea and we worked together over a few weeks to put together the libretto. I knew that I didn't want to satirize the Kardashians and wanted to portray them in a serious way. She's been great to work with and it really helped that she has singing experience and can read music.
What were your expectations going into this project? Have they been met?
I expected that it would be complicated to put together and that has certainly proven to be true. This is the biggest project I've been a part of and my first time to function as a producer. I don't have any real theatre experience so I didn't really know what to expect in that sense.
What I didn't expect was how expensive it would be to make the parts and scores. I had to drop $35 at Kinkos before each rehearsal.
What have you learned during this process?
The biggest revelation for me was in the actual writing of the music. I've written some music with words before, but this was the first time that the words were a script with a plot that had to be moved along by the music itself. This had a profound effect on how I thought about the music as I wrote it and the kind of music I ultimately produced.
This is also by far the longer composition I've ever done and it's been satisfying to have a piece of music that is over 100 pages long
This project has been a logical next step for Black House as we look to do larger and more ambitious projects. I think that I, like most of the composers involved, hope to one day be able to expand this work into an evening length work and have that produced in a real theatre.