So, after the events of the Impromptu Mini-Opera Escapade I undertook with only three days to spare, I came up with two small supposedly five to seven minute operas. Like I said before, this is something I’d never done before until this point and, quite frankly, I didn’t really know what to expect. This was one of the great challenges of doing something like this: basically showing the judges my writing skill through a form which I was almost completely unfamiliar.
I came up with one concept and then after sleeping on it, I came up with another that ended up superseding it. So because I really want to talk about my recent works, here is something of an outline about what I did in writing them and what I learned.
Words on a Screen: A 16-Bit Opera on an 8-Bit Track was the unexpected piece of the two that I made. It was derived from the seed-story On Paper by A.L. Kennedy: a story about two lovers that maintain a long-distance relationship by letters across the world. It was a very interesting story that talked about how people can touch each other perhaps more intimately through correspondence and words than even face-to-face, but I didn’t really know what–if anything–I could do with it. I was more interested in doing something with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sweeper of Dreams.”
Then I read an example opera taken from this seed-story entitled Facing the Truth by Tamsin Collison: the English National Opera’s librettist. She took what was in Kennedy’s short story and expanded on it into an interaction between two Soloists texting each other and debating whether or not it would be a wise idea to meet in the flesh. The irony is that as they interact and contemplate their decision, they are already in the same coffee house but are completely physically unaware of each other. It really struck me just how much that reflects the human condition: how we are an inherently social species yet at same time we are separated by space and our own heads.
“Words on a Screen” was something of a response to both Collison and Kennedy. I thought about a scenario where two geeks meet on the Internet, fall in love, correspond through different media and then actually plan to meet and follow through with it. I also wanted it to deal with the themes of human communality verses isolation, and distance and connection as well. Some of the verses just seemed to flow into place, but for the most part the entire opera–such as it is–struggled with me and it took a day indoors, and a food and Calvin and Hobbes break to finish what I started. The aesthetic of the thing–resembling an online chat room transcript–was inspired once I finished typing the thing on this site. For all it was an unintended piece, I was very pleased with it and saw a lot of ways it could be used to challenge what the operatic form can actually be.
Then there was my intended piece that turned into something else: The Sweeper: A Teardown Epilogue. Like I said before, the story-seed for this miniature opera was Neil Gaiman’s The Sweeper of Dreams: a story about a being that cleans up the detritus of dreams once dreamers awaken or are finished with them. I have read this story before in Neil’s Smoke and Mirrors collection, and then on the Mini-Opera site and got to listen to Neil read it on there as well: which is always a pleasure. Tamsin Collison’s own libretto of the story, What Dreams May Come, was also really intriguing in that it was specifically from the point of view of the dreams themselves.
Reading the seed-story and Collison’s creative example made me really think about my very intricate idea. Unfortunately, I didn’t spend as much time on it as I wanted to and my original idea would have been much longer than the five to seven minute duration we were given. I also realized that I needed more research on certain details and I wasn’t as qualified in my own mind to use my idea in the way I wanted to as I thought at the time. I will pursue this outside of this context, but let me just keep on track here. Although Neil’s story dealt with the Sweeper on a purely distant third-person level and Collison created her libretto from the first-person collective perspective of the dreams, I started to ask myself a question: how does the Sweeper of Dreams feel cleaning up the dreams and nightmares of others? Isn’t it a lot of work to keep being on teardown duty? Doesn’t it get tiresome after a while? Would he get tired of the long hours between sleep and daydreaming and absolutely get fed up by harassment and abuse? And does the Sweeper of Dreams dream?
In the end, the libretto that I wrote ended up dealing with exactly these kinds of questions. I looked at a possibility as to what it would be like to be the Sweeper of Dreams. In retrospect, I am not sure how well this piece turned out. There are some elements from my first idea that I couldn’t resist adding in there as an example of what happens to those who refuse to have their dreams cleaned away, but I don’t know how well that meshes and flows in there. Also, I think the piece ended up being more like a Musical than opera material.
But hey, they were both ad hoc experiments: done on the fly and with only the examples I looked at. I got to make some new things and experiment with a new form. In addition, although I am not a musical expert or creator, I could almost “hear” something in the almost poetic verse rhythms that I ingrained into both pieces to some extent. This Challenge really made me think and I am grateful for that. It was totally worth doing and definitely worth being the first creative works to end up on my Blog.
May there be many more.
ETA: I just found out that the Script Entries have seemingly been all posted up on the Mini-Opera site here. Unfortunately, it seems as though “Words on a Screen” didn’t make it, but The Sweeper: A Teardown Epilogue did. It also seems a few few other people are making their librettos from the Sweeper’s perspective as well. It’s a pity about “Words on a Screen.” I really liked that one, but I will say that my “Teardown Epilogue” has its moments as well. I don’t know how I will do–the judges have to choose ten entries out of all the ones that are posted there–but you know I’m just glad that I will get some reading.
ETA: ENO added my Words on a Screen script after all. Hurray! 😀
As they might say in the opera business, may the best fat lady sing. 😉