Welcome to my Opera

April 16th, 2009

Yes, I am writing one, music, lyrics, the whole shebang! I questioned whether it was fruitful to even mention it, let alone mention it in an online blog…you can talk away your art a lot, but as I have a good amount of the work under my belt or outlined I thought the process itself might be interesting and give insight into the anatomy a little, as it were. This is the point of a lot of my blogs. Whether you like the results or not you get a window into one artist’s (my) process. First just to whet your appetite here is a sample. It’s from the opera’s bellydance suite (don’t you think every opera should have a bellydance suite?!).  Belly dance Suite (mp3). I won’t reveal much, or anything about the plot, but HOW it came to me and comes to me might be helpful. I have a very good friend, Iyrish Heather Collins, who is always full of good, juicy. brilliant ideas for her songs and stories. How do you get your ideas?, I asked her one day, and she told me that she merely talks to the characters, asks them questions. I remember hearing an interview with August Wilson once where he said very much the same thing, and I’ve done this in short stories. So I took out my tarot cards and picked one that spoke to me. It depicts a man and a woman and the woman is blindfolding the man as he sits. Behind them is snow. I started asking questions, drew more cards and began taking dictation as if it were an interview. Besides hearing the answers to my questions I could also hear what the characters were thinking and so I would put their subconscious thoughts in brackets. Pretty soon I had three characters talking at once. It looked something like this:

YOUR WERE TELLING ME ABOUT YOUR PARENTS? They were the best I mean I never knew them. I remember them though. They say we were left here but I know the truth that we were stolen. My mother sewed and she cooked and she loved papa. Papa was a strong man and didn’t talk much, he didn’t need to. He wasn’t like the rough men here he was smart, he wore glasses. Our truck was in an earthquake or a fire and we all got separated and then there was no truck. Woodruff agreed. He’s dead too. We liked him all right. He never shaved Break her in two. I’m the wind I’m the storm I’m the breaker I’m the wave, I’m the instrument I’ve given myself over to that  along time ago. But I want the knives. I want to control the knives. That’s my next step. To do that. Why? I don’t worry about why, you townies you worry about why’s and why’s and why’s and you why yourself to death. I’m not concerned with why. I act.  You’ve asked too many questions I’m not going to just tell you all of my secrets. I don’t mind it but I know it’s wrong. Anyway though I get mine anyway and she doesn’t know about it. But I never…just kisses just kisses I never go further, not much. In these towns and I visit the women after the show they see me they want to touch me

And so I was off! The characters took on a life of their own, and similiarly they take on their own musical personalities. At least half of art, once you’ve developed your skill set, is to get out of the way. And make lots of drafts. My proccess is this: I sit down, let the characters talk, then shape their words musically by recording ideas. Some notation happens but at this stage it’s more important to just get the ideas down. And of course, being a person who does other things besides sit around listening to tarot cards my life seeps in too. Here is a sound sample of the process. You’ll hear me talking to myself and sketching out ideas. This is a scene where the two main characters, a brother and sister in a carnival act meet the belly dancer, Katrina. I had just gotten back from Greece when I worked on this part so you’ll hear that their recitative (the part on an opera that is sort of a dialogue) is in the form of Remebetika music, or at least references it.

First Meeting Draft (mp3)

This is of course very rough…that’s the idea. But then these bits and pieces will be edited, notated and fit together, lots cut, things moved around, and hopefully in the end you’ll have something that sounds like an opera! Let’s hope so because it’s been slated to be produced by the wonderful Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, here in Portland in May 2010.