Atlanta: All the (Virtual) World’s a Stage

Mark Gresham
Mark Gresham
Photo by Angela Lee

Video games are only one of the new media being explored by composers, but this year has seen the advent of a new twist: the first-ever live symphonic concert tour of music from a video game series. Dear Friends, an evening-length concert featuring Japanese composer Nabuo Uematsu‘s music from the Square Enix Final Fantasy games, has been played across North America after the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as part of a May 2004 videogame conference, performed a stunningly successful one-time event which sold out in three days. That got promoters hyped about creating a tour.

One of the concerts, conducted by Arnie Roth, hit Atlanta on June 24 and 25 as a summer special performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It included a total of five video screens (three large projection screens overhead and two home theater screens on the stage wings) showing digital animation sequences mixed with live cam shots inside the orchestra.

Except for some empty seats on the first night (rumored to have been a mishap with a block of seating originally assigned to Ticketmaster), both concerts were full of both dyed-in-the-wool Final Fantasy fans and the merely curious. In any case, this was a disproportionately young audience for a typical ASO concert. They knew the music by name (Roth announced selections from stage) and responded as if at a rock concert. One audience member by the name of Phil Yu is so much a fan he had been to all of the U.S. performances so far except one in Hartford, Connecticut. Another couple was overheard afterwards to say, “This was so totally worth the 147 mile drive.” Roth took a voice poll during the concert, indicating a large number had come from outside Georgia just to hear it.

More Friends, a second concert of additional music from Final Fantasy, has already been developed and test-driven in Los Angeles, in anticipation of a tour in 2006.

Opera that Runs with Scissors

Very few of Atlanta’s composers are exploring the genre of traditional dramatic grand opera, primarily due of the scarcity and expense of resources for developing and mounting a production.

However, the Harrower Summer Opera Workshop gave composer Curtis Bryant the opportunity on June 26 to try out the solitary competed scene from his opera in progress, The Anarchists. The libretto, by New York author and forensic psychiatrist Allen Reichman, is based on Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent. Reichman had selected Bryant out of a list of seven potential composers provided to him by New York City Opera, and proposed the project.

Based in London, England, Scene 1 of Act III involves a confrontation between two characters: Adolf Verloc (Kyle Guglielmo), a stationary shop owner and part-time secret agent in the service of a foreign government, and his wife Winnie (Katie Baughman). The point of contention is the accidental death of Winnie’s developmentally impaired brother Stevie (presumably in Act II), killed in her husband’s failed mission to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. The urgent, initially neoclassical music underscores both declamatory and lyrical vocal dialogue, and approaching the end, in Winnie’s upstage solo soliloquy about Stevie, swells in emotional passion to conclude the scene with a Tosca-esque stabbing of Adolf—but with scissors.

The Anarchists is to be Bryant’s second full-length opera. His first, Zabette, libretto by Mary R. Bullard, was premiered in April 1999 by the Georgia State University School of Music.

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A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Mark Gresham is a composer, publisher, and freelance music journalist. He is a contributing writer for Atlanta’s alternative weekly newspaper, Creative Loafing, and was winner of an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for Music Journalism in 2003.