Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Inside an Opera Creation Workshop

Only in the last few days have I got back into a regular teaching schedule at the RCM--the first few weeks of the year were spent at the OTG workshop held at the Distillery District.

We workshopped all six of the one-act operas that will be opening in early March. For those that have never witnessed an opera creation workshop, here's what happens. Present are the composer, librettist, director/dramaturg, musical director/musical dramaturg, stage manager, singers, and repetiteur. Sometimes the music is finished before the start of the workshop, but often it is finished just before which requires the singers and rep to sight-read.

From the pianist/repetiteur's point of view, playing at workshops requires reading skills and flexibility above all. Much of the music I play at workshops is in orchestral score and requires some quick decisions about what to play and what to leave out. In addition, the singers will be new to the work and will require you to shadow their vocal lines whenever possible. As the dialogue between dramaturgs and composer/librettist develops, there will be musical and text changes, sometimes significant, which need to be pencilled in constantly.

This type of playing is difficult in that the ground is never level beneath one's feet, so to speak. Whereas in a traditional opera, the score is fixed and will never change, in a workshop, vocal and musical details are worked in, and sections and entire scenes may be either added or excised from one day to the next while the work is fine-tuned and re-thought by the creative team.

The satisfaction of playing in this type of workshop is in seeing a work take shape before your eyes, watching elements such as character, plot, ensemble, and music crystallize in preparation for the work's production rehearsals leading up to opening night.

Participating in this process is both difficult and incredibly fun, and it makes you realize just how much inspiration, thought, craft, and magic goes into creating successful works for the stage, and how much we take for granted the finished product.

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