Around the corner from our apartment is a British man who runs a private copy shop. I passed him on the street recently, and he told me my print job was done and I could pick it up after the holiday weekend. After our encounter, he thought about how it was possible for someone to exist as a composer, and asked as much of me when I arrived at his shop a few days later. This is a good question.
So I talked to him a little bit about The Hustle, the projects I’m developing, the operas I’m pushing, and to whom I am directing all this effort, because the only essential factor is making and maintaining relationships. One has to take up as much space as possible, I said. In my case, that means doing so in a country where the native language is not my mother tongue.
The first rule of approaching German opera houses is that if you do not do so auf Deutsch, they will not respond to you. They may not respond to you anyway, but if you make a first contact in English, its a guarantee.
My wife’s German is very good. A German father, two summers of language school, and years of freelance work in Germany laid a foundation so strong, that native speakers need about ten minutes to realize that she’s a foreigner. Pregnancy and postpartum bureaucracy (because there is, even for citizens) shook my wife’s confidence in her knowledge of the language. You don’t really need words like placenta in common parlance, so there was a ton of new vocabulary we had to learn quickly.
Music and the theater is no different. Working on stage for two years in Karlsruhe, I learned much of the pertinent vocabulary for theater living – stage, casting, rehearsal, performance, revival, audition, warm-ups, entrance, plus all the names of the instruments, voice types, areas of the theater, and tech responsibilities and major backstage players – conductor, director, prompter, stage manager, costume, sets, lighting, props, makeup, etc.
Talking about being a composer, however, let alone pitching new works – let alone pitching operas – requires a completely new vernacular. There is a difference between a piano/vocal score (Klavierauszug) and a full score (Partitur – which is also the word you use for an individual orchestra player’s part), which is not to be confused with Partien, which is a “role,” although you could also use the word Rolle, except when talking about principal vs. secondary roles (Hauptpartien/Nebenpartien), and there we go again. Now try to get your pitches – which you’ve already whittled down to 50 English words – into a format that makes sense. Then practice your pronunciation.
My current tack is approaching, through mutual contact, heads of Kinderoper programs. This is a blanket term that doesn’t exactly mean “Children’s Opera” exclusively, but when it does, it means “opera performed for children,” and rarely, if ever, “opera performed by children.” Opera and musical theater (which doesn’t mean Broadway) for teens or young adult audiences, and chamber opera for adults can – but not always – be included under this umbrella. Last year the local company did Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia as part of it’s Kinderoper offerings. It’s a chamber opera, and is NOT FOR KIDS.
So I have a wonderful friend and stage buddy from Karlsruhe who helps me with my translations so that the first email is coherent and auf Deutsch, as previously described. She’s German, a native speaker, fluent in English, and a huge help, but there’s still much that can get lost in Google translation, if I’m not careful.
Also important is spelling, as I found out when one errant ‘f’ turned Kinderoper into Kinderopfer, which means “child sacrifice.” It was corrected before the email was sent, but how’s about that for a plot twist!