Willful suspension

There’s a Copland quote floating out there somewhere (maybe in Music and Imagination) wherein he spoke about his reluctance to expose himself to live performances of dramatic works as he would always get drawn in to the point of embarrassment, that the action onstage would completely encompass him to the point of forgetting that it was a dramatization, and that he strived to gain that same engagement musically, both in his own music and in his experience of others’.

I’m pretty good with words, I think.  My writing has always been solid and I like to think I have a decent command of the language.  I credit this to the Pesci Wit – everybody in my family is loud and talks quickly, so you had to be pretty deft to get a word in.  We also do tons of word play – rhymes, free association, jokes, and an increasingly creative, and ever-developing, repertoire of profanity.

However, writing words for singing is a horse of a different color, and is something that I haven’t done in a real long time, since my writing was centered on the solo, singer-songwriter, guitar-playing-in-a-coffee-house kind.  There, cleverness and off-the-wall imagery seasoned with mid-twenties pretentiousness and pseudo depth, was stirred well and served on a plate of semi-Bohemian self-deprecation, garnished with thinking about sex all the time.  Although that all could easily be adapted into an operatic setting, it doesn’t, for me.  There are places my multi-layered musical training mesh well (jazz and rock and funk and classical and show tunes and sacred music and opera and cartoon music…) but also places where I simply have lost the taste of the combination.  There’s also a feeling (however prudish or self-flagellatory) that I should stop dabbling in experiments – I can hear when I’m faking it, so I don’t have any excuses to let that slide anymore.

All that being said, I have written words for singing – all of my performed operatic works have been set to librettos by my own hand, under the skillful editing of the good doctor.  These have all been adaptations of literature into a colloquial sung dialogue that I’m particularly dedicated to, for better or for worse (opera in a contemporary American English dialect).

A few weeks ago, I came across a TV mini-series that took me in so completely, I was POSITIVE that I would adapt it for my first full length opera.  It had everything I was looking for – great characters with depth, lots of back story, unrequited love, intrigue, death – the whole sandwich AND the bag of chips.  Plus, it was modern.  Again, this is important to me, specifically, the – dare I say – contemporary expression of base, primal human emotions (whether that will date such expression to obscurity remains to be seen).  Also, it had a touch of the surreal – unimaginable, potentially absurd, circumstances that have become commonplace in the world of that particular drama.

As I have with a number of projects – including the last opera – I was immediately filled with a full steam ahead mentality, which (as was the case with the last opera) could paint me into a particularly tight corner, from which I had to figure my way out. Not that this is a bad thing, from a learning perspective, but it was a curveball with the last show.  There wasn’t enough text; there wasn’t enough dramatic flow, and a lot that had been described succinctly to provide background in the story, I was having trouble making the case operatically without it seeming forced and awkward.

So now, I’m all cautious. I still feel strongly about the piece (whether or not I will get the rights is a question for later, and if the answer is ‘no,’ then…), having been sucked in in the way Copland described.  At the end of the day, it’s just a story.


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