Tuesday, August 21, 2007

4 Composers, 4 Librettists, 10 Days, No Sleep

Right now I'm right in the middle of the 2007 Tapestry Composer/Librettist Laboratory held at Rosedale United Church in the Rosedale neighborhood of Toronto. New opera is a constantly expanding art form and the Liblab is the prime seeding ground of many new operas that are being created in Canada.

The Process

Four composers and four librettists collaborate over the course of a week and a half to create a total of 16 operatic scenes from scratch. Initially, the writers are given either a scenario or carte blanche to write a short scene with the composer's needs in mind and often with their input. The next day, the singers are called in to read the libretto for the group, which discusses any initial issues that may come up with the dramatic direction of the scene. The composer (already in the loop with the scene's creation and its reading) then takes the scene and writes the music for it overnight. The next afternoon, the singers and repetiteurs show up and rehearse the scene from sight and then perform the new work in a master class, after which discussion ensues once more among the group.

This afternoon we learned and performed the third group of operatic scenes in the workshop, and are noticing that all 8 writers and composers are getting the hang of the form and are able to create a viable and finished scene within 48 hours of inception.

This year's creative team

Writers: Marcia Johnson, Alison Payne, Sandy Pool, and Taylor Graham
Composers: Gabriel Gould, Glenn James, William Rowson, and Stephen Taylor
Singers: Carla Huhtanen, soprano, Scott Belluz, countertenor, Jessica Lloyd, mezzo, Keith Klassen, and baritone Peter McGillivray
Repetiteurs: Jennifer Tung and myself

Of course, none of this would be possible without the expertise and leadership of Wayne Strongman and Michael Albano as dramaturges and animateurs of the entire project.

The Challenge

What I find fascinating about this process as a pianist is that on every day I am called to read the newly minted scenes, I arrive with nothing. For all those of you who question the purpose of sight-reading skills in piano playing, this workshop is evidence that sight-reading ability is a clearly marketable skill. Jennifer Tung and I start off our coaching days with a brand new score that we need to both read, assist the singers with, and coach in a very short time frame leading to a performance class the same day. The sheer terror I felt on playing this workshop for the first time in 2002 has abated somewhat--the mindset I arrive with is that the singers and pianists can be presented with absolutely anything and need to learn and perform it right away with a clear sense of musical and dramatic integrity. Furthermore, our performance isn't just about ourselves, but about the composers and writers whose works we are workshopping--the better we are at conveying the scenes, the more they learn about what works and what doesn't on the contemporary lyric stage.

The Final Day

In case you are interested in seeing what the composer/librettist teams come up with for the final round of the laboratory, the performance on the last day will be public! Admission is free, and you can catch the performance at 4pm August 23 at Rosedale United Church in Toronto. Selected scenes from the Liblab will be performed September 28 and 29 at Opera Briefs 7 at the Ernest Balmer Studio with an additional performance at Word on the Street.

P.S. Actually, I do get plenty of sleep during these 10 days. It's the writers and composers who feel the burn of working around the clock.


  1. wow - interesting process and some wonderful singers.

    p.s.: I think you'll find that Scott's name is 'Belluz', not 'Balluz'.

  2. also?
    LOVE the site.

  3. Thanks for the correction. Typos are a probblem for me.