So, yes, I've written an opera. I've written symphonies, ballet scores, concertos, chamber music, and countless pieces for string orchestra, but there's one challenge for composers above all others and I thought it was time to take it on.
The first and most time-consuming task was to write the libretto - probably the most important aspect of an opera. Operas are about music, but it must have a compelling story and interesting characters. Good music can't save a bad story. I decided to write the libretto myself rather than finding someone else for purely selfish reasons. I've seen it happen before; if the libretto is good, people will focus on that and not the music. An opera is a lot of work and I want to get credit for my efforts and my vision.
I started the whole project with a concept and then organized my characters. I don't want to go into the plot details, but the libretto is based on real historical people in a purely ficticious situation. So once I decided on the concept, I had to ask myself questions: Who is involved in this story? What motivates them? How would they react and interact with each other? What do they want from each other? After that was decided, the plot fell into place.
Next, I created an outline of events and wrote the first draft of, what I felt, was a pretty good play. Dialogue was the tricky part. I wanted each character to have a unique speech pattern, like real people do. Since the main character was very quotable, I assembled as many direct quotes as I could and replaced the dialogue in my draft with her quotes. Of course, I had to take a lot out of context, but I got a good feel for her vocabulary and speech rhythms and filled in the rest of the dialogue with words to match her speech pattern. Other characters weren't nearly as quotable, so I found modern celebrities whose personalities and backgrounds matched and used their quotes as the basis for my dialogue. In total, about a third of my libretto consists of direct quotes.
Five or six drafts later, I had my completed libretto which, printed out in single-spaced screenplay format, came to 60 pages. As I set the words to music I would delete or change lines here and there and the finished text now takes up about 54 pages.
The whole writing process, from developing the concept to research to writing and editing the libretto took about a year.