What is your opera about and what is your ritual?
My opera is about morning coffee...and what happens when the ritual of morning coffee gets taken way too far.
Is this your first opera? Do you have experience writing for opera singers?
This is my second opera. My first, Cake, was written back in '08-'09 and premiered by Remarkable Theater Brigade in NYC. I've done several other pieces for voice including a large song cycle- Dance of Disillusionment and Despair- and some smaller "songs." You can check out my website to see and hear all the works. But it's not my first rodeo.
How has writing your second opera compared to your first?
It was easier and faster. I've grown much more comfortable writing for voice in the almost 4 years after writing my first opera. Things like range, agility, and tone colour are much more engrained in my mind now.
My first opera, I spent about 4 months writing a single 6 minute aria. It turned out to be a great experience. I worked closely with my composition professor and a vocal teacher at Brooklyn College. But, 4 months to write 6 minutes? I obviously had a lot to learn, as I revised, revised, revised. In fact, I have to revise that opera again for a performance next fall. It's a bit painful to look at.
This time around, I felt much more comfortable with the voices. I "banged" this puppy out in about 2 months, including writing the libretto. I heard the lines from the beginning, knew I what I wanted melodies based on, and just ran with it. It's not any "easier" than my first opera, but it's definitely constructed much better.
You volunteered to serve as conductor for this project. How has that experience been?
First off, my arm hurts. Conducting for the 2+ hour rehearsals is a lot of waving it around. Should have spent some time lifting weights and toning before rehearsals started.
The hardest part has been rehearsals. I haven't done a huge amount of conducting in quite some time. I originally trained in music ed, and did a fair bit of conducting in undergrad, but nothing even close to running long rehearsals of multiple pieces. the mental focus needed, the constant scrutiny in listening...it's incredibly difficult. I think I've gotten a lot better at running rehearsals, choosing what to hammer on and run, and ways to get the sound out of the group as rehearsals have gone. My respect for professional conductors has grown exponentially. I had wanted to go that route at one point in my life, but after this engagement, I'm not positive I have the mental fortitude to take a full time gig doing nothing but new music. My brain would explode...and arm would fall off.
Who wrote your libretto and how did you pick it out?
I wrote my libretto. I had a librettist lined up, my brother, but the stars didn't align, time became an issue, and so I threw something together based on his ideas. My brother came up with the idea of morning coffee as soon as I told him about the theme for the evening. He wanted to take a normal, every day idea and blow it up to operatic proportions. Unfortunately, he got a new job and didn't have time to work on the libretto, so I put it together, with his blessing.
You've recently been awarded a Fulbright. What will you be doing and where will you be going?
I will be interviewing death metal bands in and around Stockholm, Sweden. The interviews will focus on the bands use of folk elements and mythology. Death metal bands have very serious agendas, specifically about immigration and religion, and they use their music as a way of espousing their political ideals, often times hidden within folk tales and obscure cultural references. My goal is to learn about how they take these folk tales and mythologies and twist them to their own end. It may end up being simple, it may end up being deep. Who knows!
What have you learned during this process?
The metronome is your best friend...and that my arms have become a lot weaker since the last time I conducted regularly.
What are you hoping to get from this project?
I hope to get a dramatic performance from the entire group, and give Kansas City something to talk about. It's an exciting time for new opera in Kansas City with tons of premieres popping up in 2013. I would love for this project, and all the other premieres, to catapult Kansas City into the front of new opera. It's a form that needs more attention from the new music crowd. I love Mozart as much as the next classical guy (hey, he has trombones in the pit. It's a gig!), but it's time living composers started cementing new traditions for this dramatic form. And this night full of exciting new works can really do that.