Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Composing for Opera Bob

It started when Janet asked me to compose some humorous arias and ensembles for the opera bob performances. Comedy interests me and there is not a lot of comedy in the operatic repertoire at least not a lot of roll in the aisle kind of humor. This kind of thing, composing in another composers style and humorously, has been done before; by Anna Russell, PDQ Bach, and of course Victor Borge.

So for me I had to do something different, at least for myself.

My point was to be as authentic as possible and create the most beautiful unadorned melodies I could on which the comedy could hang. Oh yes I've already composed 3 operas and spent years studying the repertoire, going to the Met weekly for 3 -4 years and my misspent youth studying Drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse. I had just finished a serious opera The Snows of Kilimanjaro, based on the Hemingway short story after 10 years so I was in the mood for funny. Oh, my Father was a opera singer who sang on Broadway in the original Carousel and Brigadoon. I loved listening to him sing. Well I married a singer.

Theatrical music seems to be in my blood.

Most important to me is to set the words so they can be understood. The scansion exact, the syllables in the just right place. Then the styles had to be realized, and one thing I learned is that tonality needs no artifice and no decoration to make its point.

Only 2 of my 6 works made it to the final show and some cuts were needed. It is satisfying to be in the game. So we add measures here and cut there. That life in the theater. My 2 arias are Character pieces. This fits in with the Opera Bob sensibility I think. The Rossini aria was inspired by the MN Opera's La donna del lago. It was my first musical joke but shortened by Will to give you the good parts! The Puccini, well, was just because.

Of course it was a pleasure to compose for such wonderful and contrasting voices. Opera Bob's artists have a special quality.

That is: they create roles not just inhabit them.

For some of you who know my other work you might be surprised that I did this. Yet for me art must be composer directed.

Then the music will always ring true.

Dr. Phil Fried


Thursday, July 9, 2009

This little one went..."Weeeee, weeee, weeee, weeee, weee" all the way home!

That was me yesterday. Practically squealing with delight on my way home from rehearsal of our Gemma di Vergy scene. Folks, I would like to talk as one of the newer "Bob"-ettes, or "Bob"-itas, or "Bob"-arinas, and say what a great venue this group provides for young Twin Cities singers.

Most singers who decide to pursue the crazy path of becoming a professional opera singer kind of start in the same place. Bright-eyed, bushy tailed, walking into the first day at the college or conservatory with a great deal of idealism and naïveté. Some don't survive the full 4 years for one reason or another. Those who do jump into the rat race of graduate school and young artist auditions. Along the way, it is very easy to get bogged down by the social aspect of this experience. Friends going into debt to pay for lessons with one famous teacher or coach, or to buy that next great recital gown. Temp jobs that tire you out so much that it is hard to muster the energy to actually practice or advocate for yourself to put yourself out there.

For a lucky few, who get that break at stardom, it is a true test of will and genetics. There are many who have amazing talent, who realize, that, although they could probably support themselves and maybe a family on their work, the sacrifices just aren't worth it. There are some who TRULY have the drive and passion and are ready for a nomadic lifestyle, who's voices just don't shine in the right way, to the right people. For all the time, and money and sacrifice, it is a very difficult field to undertake for young people, no matter how things come out in the wash.

But, inevitably it is guaranteed that you will grow, and learn and meet some VERY interesting people and possibly travel to places you never expected to go.

What I wish for everyone, no matter where they land, is that they are able to continue to experience that joy that they felt when they had their first amazing lesson, or were brought to tears by a performance (their own or a colleagues) and don't get bogged down by the chips that often land on our shoulder when we don't get the job, or don't win that contest.

I am so very lucky that I am able to work in a town with such support for the arts and such creativity. So many artists concentrated into such a relatively small space. We are bound to make wonderful moments happen. For ourselves, for others, for the community. I can leave my exciting and totally fulfilling work at The Minnesota Opera, (which is truly amazing!) and come to a place where we can be as free as we wish, without judgement, without the pressure of expectations (whether real or imagined), or the constraints and pressures of meeting a bottom line for a large, internationally recognized, arts organization. It is a freedom that allows me to return to that place, when I was 16, and stepped onto the stage for the first time, opened my mouth, and.....just.....sang!

See you at Fringe!!! ---Angie Keeton