I keep mentioning that I'm working on a new opera, but I never get a chance to mention any specifics. To catch you up: I wrote my first opera, showed it around, and nobody had the interest or resources to produce my little epic. I was just too ambitious and, even though I consider it to be one of the best things I've ever written, it will probably never be heard. Such is life.
So for my second opera, I decided to make everything as different as possible. It will be short (75 to 90 minutes, no intermission), it will be economical (four singers, an orchestra of three), and it will be portable (no set). My goal is college productions, the Cincy Fringe Festival, and/or a tour of local schools.
My manner of writing this opera is also completely different. For opera #1, I wrote a play and set it to music. It's a continuous score with recurring motifs in the tradition of Debussy. Opera #2 is a number opera – a series of individual songs connected by talking and melodrama, more like "The Magic Flute." "Postcards From Morocco" is a big structural influence as well, since it features the characters singing a series of songs to the audience. So instead of working out all the text first, I'm taking it one song at a time. Here's my process:
1. After doing all my research, I figured out what needs to be said and who needs to say it. Then I wrote out a paragraph or two in their voice, outlining what I want each character to say and what I want each song to accomplish.
2. Next, I'll write a piece of music that captures the emotion of what the character is saying.
3. Finally, I'll rephrase the paragraph into verse to fit the rhythms of the music. Often, I'll need to adjust the music a little to fit the words. It's a tailoring process.
So there's a lot of back-and forth. I've also been careful with the tone of each piece, making sure that it leads into the next piece without an abrupt jump in style. After years of composing, I've come to realize that my best energy comes at the beginning of a project. So I've decided to write this opera backwards. I wrote the introduction music first and then the finale and have been working my way backwards, song by song, with very little skipping.
I'm about two-thirds done and I have three arias and two choruses to complete. Then I can focus on the book (the talking parts), adjust the lyrics and music, and finish by writing the underscores that connect many of the songs.