Sunday, October 25, 2009

Working with living composers

So it's going to be a moderately quiet for posts here, I'm expecting. We are full into rehearsals for "And The Rat Laughed," with Opera York with only one day off this week on the schedule. Combine that with it being the last week before most of my family makes the move to Winnipeg and there's a pretty good chance that anything not moving or performance related will fall by the wayside.

That said, this rehearsal process is fascinating. I've not had, nor do many who don't work with Tapestry New Opera Works, the chance to work on an opera with a living composer who is present for the rehearsals. Add to that a layer of complexity in that it's not a workshop production but the first non-original production (the first without the original cast from Israel,) of the work and you have some interesting things going on.

The first thing is that it's nerve wracking. Both the composer Ella Milch-Sheriff and the librettist/author of the novel, Nava Semel, have been in the rehearsals since day one on Friday and there is no one who knows the work better than they do. It's just not possible (nor should it be!) The work is a product of their hearts and it's easy to see that it's not like working with a conductor who loves Mozart - it goes way beyond that. That means that every time that you miss a note or flub a word, it's not just a professional misstep; It's like mispronouncing a friend's child's name. It's a level of stress that just takes things up a notch.

But it's also a wonderful resource. There's much talk in academia about the "Golden Age" of opera where the singers got the details of how to perform the masterworks that make up today's cannon directly from the hand of god, or, in this case, Wagner, for instance. Imagine the questions any singer today would have for Puccini, Rossini, or Verdi. That is the feeling that we are getting here: that we might never be in a better position to learn how to perfectly perform any given opera as we are right now with this work.

Very fortunately, both Ella and Nava are being wonderfully generous with their time and insight. Ella is holding multiple coachings whenever anyone has the time (the music is, well, not easy, but it is beautiful and powerful,) and Nava is constantly giving us background, textual, and subtext assistance including a fantastic discussion during rehearsal today about where this story fits within the world and culture of the characters. For a work with such heavy and serious subject matter it adds significant weight to what we are doing and is an indescribable treasure to have those mechanisms to work with.

Singers often have concerns about working with rarely performed or new works. It is an awful lot of effort to learn a new role and some think that to put that time into a work that you will do only once falls low on the cost/benefit analysis graph. I've never agreed - if by chance those works are performed again, you're a natural choice to participate. And some of my most fun and rewarding work has been with Opera In Concert and their "Rareties in Performance." Rest assured it is doubly so, fun and rewarding, when working with a living, breathing writing team who are not just willing, but want to help the singers all that they can.

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