VNPAC: A Seat At The Table

Was there a seat at the table for composers and new music? If you bring your own chair, you can squeeze in rather nicely.

Opera America Conference: Day 4

7 a.m. Freeway Fantasy
The freeway on a Saturday morning (really %$#&^ early), especially in the carpool lane, is every Angelino’s fantasy. 20 minutes, anywhere.

8 a.m. Breakfast Table
The morning began by trying to find a place to sit. Literally. With breakfast in hand, people were pushing the remains of swag aside, clearing tables to socialize and eat. I had a most delightful conversation with two women from ConcertOPERA Philadelphia. I told them about the opera I’m working on, which they seemed very interested in. They asked me why I thought I could write for the voice. I thought that was a solid question, and it sparked a great conversation. It was a very energizing way to start the day which, by the way, was really long.

9 a.m. Freeway Opera
First session: a roundtable about education. Composer Laura Karpman presented her two latest works to opera educators. She talked about Ask Your Mama which she wrote for Jessye Norman and The Roots, and her opera about a freeway, ONE-TEN, recently commissioned and workshopped by the LA Opera.

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First of all, the energy in the room was really different from the other panels. It was a closed discussion and there were about 15 invited people there, and the vibe of the small-group, coupled with the optimism that I have found prevalent among the opera education folks, was really great. Laura presented a lot of music and multimedia, with the overarching premise that new opera can and should be synonymous with education.



She also talked about using the internet as a venue. Laura has been blogging about ONE-TEN for LA Magazine. What’s interesting here is that it’s not really about the piece, but it’s more like a window into the process of creating the piece. Literally the music and libretto are being revealed online as they are being developed. Check it out:

10 a.m. Speaking of the Online Reveal
Emergency “coffee” break with my new music network. I pretend that I’m drinking a double espresso but no matter what, the decaf sips don’t fool this pregnant body. (He’s due in November).

I know you’ve all been wondering who my new music network is. Remember when every Opera America Conference attendee was assigned a network and a network dinner? Well, I started my own, with my spouse, composer Laura Karpman. We are supposedly the only two students of Milton Babbitt who are married. Is it true? Anybody out there have any other combinatorial information?!?!?

11 a.m. The New and Unusual: Is It Opera?

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So, I wish I could say that my thirst was quenched by this panel. I had circled this session early in the week—had to go, and wondered just how new and how unusual it would get. The conversation didn’t get very far, at least not into new music. Two key moments: James Conlon gave some opening remarks, mostly stressing that his obligation is always, always to the music. He defined opera as “Theater plus Music,” which was followed by David Kasunic, the moderator, who offered us music to listen to:


Without an introduction, the room was filled with the powerful, soulful voice of Aretha Franklin, singing “Nessun dorma” from Turandot. So for three-ish minutes, the audience, with probably 100 opera people, sat listening to Aretha, framed with the query, “The New and Unusual: Is It Opera?” There was joyous laughter, there was clapping, and there were, what sounded like, gasps of “opera judgment.” It was a totally strange, mixed experience.

I mean everything about Aretha is operatic, so in this context, I kept wondering what was really being asked. Are we talking about interpretation? Or are we talking about non-classical artists singing opera? Is it that much of a church, really?

12:30 p.m. Lunch Table

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Quick lunch @ Lemonade (you can’t even imagine how many kinds of lemonade they have) at MOCA. Ran into Ed Yim from NYCO. We were all squeezed together with fewer tables than chairs, which made for cozy, delightful conversation.

1:30 p.m. Rethinking Spectacle: Opera as Storytelling
Suffice it say there was no discussion of new music here, let alone real storytelling. Really, it was a nuts and bolts panel about the role of a director—another bird’s eye view—quite interesting.

Afternoon Wrap Party
By now I was completely fried. My new music network went to celebrate the week of opera, the week of swag, the week of name badges, and the week of meeting some very cool people. By the way, I don’t normally eat this much…


A Little Night Music
Since this isn’t going up until the week begins, I’m going to give you a little portrait of the odd juxtapositions of the weekend. I just finished scoring my first feature and I’m about to start work on a documentary.

In between my studio and the conference, my nights have had some bizarre sonic contrasts:

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Orpheus and Euridice by Ricky Ian Gordon by The Long Beach Opera at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool.

  • Saturday Night: Opening of the film Whiz Kids, with music by Laura Karpman.

  • Sunday Night: Last performance of Orpheus and Euridice by Ricky Ian Gordon by The Long Beach Opera at the Belmont Plaza Olympic POOL. (photo at right)

  • Monday Night: The Activision E3 concert & DJ/Guitar Hero Party – Eminem, Usher, The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga.

Thanks NewMusicBox/AMC for sending me to the Opera America Conference! It was an intense and fantastic experience.

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