Host: Jennifer Peterson (@gaspsiagore)

Many of us are passionate about all types of opera. From 1597 to present, the art form is thriving. As a conductor & producer, the acts of putting things together, connecting, and helping musicians thrive are my biggest passions.

I have many missions, as does every musician and music lover I know. I hope musochat can continue to enrich our community. On the mission to encourage more good new opera, I want to be sure everyone feels welcome to take part in this week’s musochat.

“Opera” literally means “work,” and American musical performance practice and style have expanded the medium vastly. Our conversation can apply to on- off- under- above- around- anti- broadway/popular/art musics, whether drinks are served or not.

ALSO: all are welcome to ask questions as we go, I will include the most pertinent ones later on in tonight’s musochat.

  • Which are you: composer, librettist, singer, instrumentalist, music critic, conductor, director, other collaborator, heckler? Which are you: professional, student, amateur, observer? (Q1.1 & Q1.2)
  • COMPOSERS, tell us: “I will never write an opera because…” or “I’ve written ten” (provide links!) or anything in between… (Q2.1)
  • SINGERS, what might be your dream role, and what makes an opera role something you would give anything to sing/portray? (Q2.2)
  • LIBRETTISTS, what draws you to opera, and does the idea of such a complex collaboration inspire you or fill you with dread? (Q2.3)
  • INSTRUMENTALISTS, do you think of opera as a good gig or the worst tedium, love or hate, adventure or torture? (Q2.4)
  • OTHER WRITERS and COLLABORATORS, what is important to you about new opera? (Q2.5)
  • OBSERVERS, what intrigues you about new opera, does your mind go first to the music, singing, story/narrative/drama, visual? (Q2.6)
  • Do/would you enjoy attending a new opera or would you feel safer going to La Bohème or Carmen? (Q3)
  • Do you feel like you can tell if a new opera will have staying power? Will it draw audiences in 200 years? Is this important? (Q4)
  • COMPOSERS, how is interacting with singers different from interacting with instrumentalists? Do you know the questions to ask? Do voices mystify you, or do you sing yourself or know lots of good singers? Do you find singers are speaking a different musical language than what you were taught in school? What are some tricks or pieces of advice you would like to share to help more quality new opera be created? (Q5.1.1, Q5.1.2, Q5.1.3, Q5.1.4)
  • SINGERS, do composers sometimes write things you can’t do, and then you do them? Any good examples? Have you ever told a composer, “no, I can’t do that”? Have you ever wanted to tell them that? Have you ever tried to tell a composer how your voice works and doesn’t work? Do some composers make you sound better than others? Do you think the audience noticed the difference? Have you ever discussed character/drama/interpretation with composers? Do you speak the same language? Please share with us any wisdom or pieces of advice you have found help composers create better opera. (Q5.2.1, Q5.2.2, Q5.2.3, Q5.2.4, Q5.2.5, Q5.2.6)
  • LIBRETTISTS, are there generally many surprises when you first hear your words sung? Do you find it daunting, the levels of interpretation to which your words are subjected in new opera? Do you feel like you have significantly less control when writing for opera than for another medium? Do you find there are severe limitations imposed in libretto-writing, or more freedom than in other art forms? Please share what kinds of personal gains you receive from such a complex challenge. (Q5.3.1, Q5.3.2, Q5.3.3, Q5.3.4, Q5.3.5)
  • INSTRUMENTALISTS and OTHERS, what are some of your biggest criticisms or complaints of recent new opera you have observed? What areas would you suggest composers/librettists might address more in the creative process? (Q5.4.1, Q5.4.2)
  • COMPOSERS, does familiarity of traditional opera help you at all with your creative process? What style do you find most accessible, baroque, classical, 19th or 20th century? Italian, English, other? What types of opera do you find the most accessible? relevant? What are your feelings on accessibility and relevance? or your main reasons for writing for larger audience? Do you think much about the legacy your works will leave, or are you working more for a current purpose? (Q6.1.1, Q6.1.2, Q6.1.3, Q6.1.4, Q6.1.5)
  • LIBRETTISTS, feel free to answer the 6.1 questions, or give us your personal outlook on tradition and/or future legacy. (Q6.2)
  • SINGERS, what are some important qualities of vocal writing dead composers understood well about you? When you look at any piece of vocal music, do you first notice the vocal writing or something textual or dramatic? What are some of your personal and/or selfish reasons for wanting new opera to thrive? (Q6.3.1, Q6.3.2, Q6.3.3)
  • INSTRUMENTALISTS, what are some positive and/or negative experiences you may have had relating to opera? Do you think new opera can be a way to generate interest for new music in general, or is it the opposite? (Q6.4.1 and Q6.4.2)
  • OBSERVERS (& CRITICS…), are you more likely to attend an old opera or a new opera, and why? When considering attending an old opera, do you question its relevance, or entertainment potential, or what? What kinds of things would make you more likely to attend a new opera? (Q6.5.1, Q6.5.2, Q6.5.3)
  • CONDUCTORS, STAGE DIRECTORS, PRODUCERS, do you have the same criteria for assessing and evaluating old opera as new opera? Are there some common downfalls you have observed in new opera, that old opera got right? Name some of your favorite things living composers/librettists might learn from dead ones. (Q6.6.1, Q6.6.2, Q6.6.3)
  • Do you perceive opera to be an expanding art form, or one that risks not be a thing of the future? (Q7)
  • Experienced opera COMPOSERS, tell us about some of the biggest pitfalls of tackling the large-scale. Words of wisdom? (Q8)
  • LIBRETTISTS, would you naturally feel more drawn to something like a full-length grand opera, or a small chamber piece? (Q9)
  • Some composers have written operas because they had to. Some write them only if commissioned. How to know which turn out best? (Q10)
  • PRODUCERS (& CONDUCTOR/DIRECTORS), are you more likely to consider a small-scale chamber opera than a full-length grand opera? (Q11)
  • Do we want full-length grand operas? Has scale changed, in general, to something more similar to 17-18th century expectations? (Q12)
  • Big questions like what the word “opera” means to general public. Can we open it up to something universally entertaining? The same applies to “classical” music. I’d personally love for “music” to be embraced universally, as it does in actuality. Please discuss if you feel so inclined. (Q13.1, Q13.2, Q13.3)
  • COMPOSERS and LIBRETTISTS, how important is dramaturgical cohesion? language/style? communication of ideas? (Q14)
  • SINGERS, talk about character. Are you more drawn to a specific character, or are you equally at home being a general voice? (Q15)
  • Opera composers have received inspiration from all types of sources. Tell us about some of your favorite examples. (Q16)
  • When the creators are involved in the workshop process, anything can happen. In what ways might we improve this process? (Q17)
  • Do you prefer to work alone or in collaboration with others, if given a choice? Does this affect your involvement in opera? (Q18)

Reaching the home stretch of questions. But does anyone out there have questions they think would apply to our conversation? @ me.

  • COMPOSERS/LIBRETTISTS, do you have plots or musical ideas that’d make a perfect opera but are afraid it will never happen? Have you written operas that have not yet been produced? (Q19.1 and Q19.2)
  • SINGERS, have you workshopped operas that have not yet been produced? (Q19.3)
  • PRODUCERS etc., have you commissioned or initiated new opera productions that never came to fruition? (Q19.4)
  • Since there are infinite variables in any given opera production, what would be your first two or three priorities? (Q20)

A couple of questions from others...

  • Q99.1 from @BaronAsInRed
    What pitfalls should new opera avoid in order to be truly “fresh” and “new?”
  • Q99.2 from @davemacdo
    What is “opera” today? (We’d love everyone’s personal definition of the word/genre.)
  • Q99.3 from @Lisa Neher
    Where are people making new operas happen – any cities in the US in particular?
  • Q99.4 from @sandramogensen
    I’d be super interested in making a list of new opera stand-alone arias suitable for auditions. Ideas?

Thank you for participating in our live #newopera #musochat. Now go make lots of awe-inspring music please.

You can read the full discussion on Storify.

Photo: “The Atlanta Opera Lucia di Lammermoor finale” by TheAtlantaOperaOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.