Writing an opera wasn't something I wanted to teach myself, even after years of listening to and loving this art form, after starting work on the hip h'opera program with OperaPhiladelphia and writing two full-length opera treatments. Only American Lyric Theater's Composer Librettist Development spends a year, like the most crazy specific MFA ever, to teach people who've done work in other fields to create opera. New, American opera in English. Like JFK in Dallas; and The Long Walk, about a returning veteran trying to hold it together to hold onto his family. Mark Adamo, librettist-composer (Little Women) taught us skills in what became one, long master class; Cori Ellison, dramaturg for Glyndebourne Festival Opera (and also, like, the whole world) took us from Monteverdi in Renaissance Venice to the writers of "Elizabeth Cree" in Philly last year.
I got to imagine and write an aria for Paul Robeson in Moscow; a duet for a father coming out of prison and the son who has come to collect him; a naughty take on the Native American Cinderella story our girls grew up on. Bits and pieces. The program gives you a chance to write, rewrite, collaborate, mess up, try again. Make better. For our final piece, since I was also finishing up a memoir about caring for our grandmother at the end of her life, I was able to write a one-act opera about a grandmother ghost who haunts the librettist who dares to make changes--you know what kind of changes--to the perfect, sunny Nana character she started. Uh-oh... My composer, Liliya Ugay, originally from Uzbekistan, entered into the spirit of the thing (ahem), with music that soars. Her music brings it! It's opera's superpower: a delivery system that percolates through us to loosen up the feelings we aren't sure we can withstand.
ALT likes to say that every opera we love was once a world premiere. It's also true that every librettist and composer was once scrambling to learn. What a refreshment this year has been!