Thursday, December 23, 2010

Replicating acts, the libretto's DNA

Inspirations, characterization, replication... Apparently we're on this "ation" kick with the blog, which has been on a vacation. So, in the meantime, here's a clue for unraveling the overall structure of the Building a Better Joshua libretto:

I've modeled the story after a DNA strand undergoing a process of replication into two new, identical strands. The first act might seem simple and straight-forward on the surface, but as much as possible while maintaining relatively simple poetic forms, I've tried to create a double-helix effect of a story going backwards in the background as much as it's going forward in the foreground, and at times, vice versa. The double-helix structure also plays a critical role in one of the final duets of the opera, as the process of DNA replication gets turned on its head.

Don't worry, it's actually probably less confusing on stage than I've just made it sound. In the first act, these two strands wrap around each other: the forward progressing story, that of Chloe and Joshua and their descent into domestic chaos through cloning, has as a counterpoint a backwards moving strand of Dr. Liri reminiscing through flashback a dark personal past as a cosmetic cloning specialist. The two stories interact with each other, as Liri uses the Chloe and Joshua case as a cautionary tale to her students.

Monday, November 8, 2010


A couple of weeks ago I had the hardest time figuring out musically what to do with the cloned characters. Obviously there should be a distinction between the clones (the Joshuas and the resident doctors) and the main characters (Dr. Liri, Chloe, the original Joshua) or else the opera will fail. I also need to distinguish (musically) between the vain characters (Chloe and Joshua) and the modest characters (actually, I think Dr. Liri is the only one).

Gone are the days of merely adding a triangle and snare drum or writing a gamelan accompaniment. Maybe adding a celesta would work?

It looks like I will be adding electronics. I had originally planned on adding electronics to my chamber ensemble (harpsichord and string quartet) when the clones started appearing onstage. At this rate, it looks like I will have to mic all my singers and process their voices.

I hope they won't be offended.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Okay, so I haven't been blogging about the opera because I got carried away with the Midwest Composers Symposium, but now that the event is over, I can tell you I started my opera! And I know what my characters's voice types are and the instruments I'm using.

I was so excited! The beginning starts with the resident doctor opera chorus singing about their mentor.

And, I was totally hearing the beginning in G minor.

Do you know what else is in G minor?

Oh, and the kicker:

I suppose if my opera starts sounding like David Bowie's "Heroes" album, you'll know why.

Monday, September 27, 2010

fear no danger to ensue

repeated by Chorus

Fear no danger to ensue,
The Hero loves as well as you,
Ever gentle, ever smiling,
And the cares of life beguiling,
Cupid strew your path with flowers
Gather'd from Elysian bowers.


I have decided not to sing through the recitatives. I wasn't sure if my blundering through them would help me musically or amuse the listener. Speaking of amusing the listener, here's this week's recording.

I don't have much to say about this week's contribution, so enjoy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the inadequacies of an umbilical cord

She is beyond peer, for her kind,
the last great naveled mind
Yet we wonder, what if this great lady
had been reborn with a more perfect body,
one without umbilical flaws,
one without Eve's curse,
tainting and twisting its course?

I've been trying to figure out why writing for this blog has been so difficult for me. After all, I started blogging about politics, baseball and other things a long time ago, so all of this should pretty much be old hat.

However, I was realizing that one of the reasons is that my blogging style is a lot sloppier than my professional writing style, and while I can be at peace with that while writing about hobbies, this particular blog is cutting dangerously close to the arena in which I'm trying (somewhat unsuccessfully thus far) to make a living. My mind takes this information, blows it up, and the next thing I know, my entire future is riding on my next post for a blog that only a few friends are going to be reading at this point in time.

Crazy, right?

Friday, September 10, 2010

ah belinda

Ah! Belinda, I am press'd
With torment not to be confess'd,
Peace and I are strangers grown.
I languish till my grief is known,
Yet would not have it guess'd.

A theory professor of mine and his wife named one of their cats "Dido" because the cat would not stop lamenting. It's true; Dido is most famous for her lamenting over a ground bass. In fact, when I have to teach the chapter on continuous variations, both laments are covered. (Once one of my theory students and I performed an impromptu performance of this tune. He sang countertenor; I accompanied him. It's a shame no one recorded him, for I would have used that recording! I should have him sing in my opera...)

Here I noticed Purcell combines the second half of the first line ("I am press'd") with the second line after having Dido drastically sigh. The other lines have their own phrases; some languish more than others.

I had a hard time singing this one. Some of the rhythmic melismas, like the ones found on "prest with torment," were awkward to sing. I also had issues with aligning the syllabic and melodic stresses in the music. For example, the word "torment" has its stress on the first syllable, which Purcell places on the downbeat. He also places the second weaker syllable on the second half of the second beat, and this can be stressed accidentally as well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

shake the cloud from off your brow

Shake the cloud from off your brow,
Fate your wishes does allow;
Empire growing, pleasures flowing,
Fortune smiles and so should you.

Banish sorrow, banish care,
Grief should ne'er approach the fair.

The piano-vocal score I borrowed from the library conveniently has notes to the singer that have been erased, but I can still see them. For example, there are notes on when to breathe. I should have taken them. Of course, when do you have time to breathe if this song is going at a brisk tempo? (I may have been rushing...)

Also, the score points out (obviously) that Purcell uses text painting on the word "shake" and mirrors it again on the word "flowing." My question is, why does Purcell reverse the dotted-eighth sixteenth rhythm for the very first "shake?" Does this perk the listener's ears? Or, does this even matter because the singer should be embellishing the melody anyway?

I particularly like the choral writing. The chorus's line is homophonic at first, but when they repeat their line, the alto and bass lines are delayed a bit, thus causing the fricatives to pop.