Saturday, November 22, 2008

Libretto Fashions

A playwright friend & I have recently being going through some libretto possibilities. There are some really interesting ideas, but I've started to worry about things being either too fashionable (which is one sort of risk) or not fashionable enough (which is another sort of risk altogether). A vampire opera, for example, immediately suggests lots of interesting musical solutions (even Marschner's empty coffin of a vampire opera has been getting revived) but it would inevitably be thrown against the whole pop culture vampire phenomena (not to mention the fact that I've already done my Edward Gorey puppet opera). A pirate opera, on the other hand, has real-world news value above and beyond any popular phenomena, but poses instead a musical issue for me, in that I'm not particularly interested in a piece without (or with few) female voices, short of imagining a Barbary — or Somalian — Coast version of a Seraglio harem, which would probably be too cheerful for the particular species of piracy encounter in these times. How about historical or political topics? A Bush in Bagdad might have been imaginable if the resident had stayed on the bottle and sometimes went to bed late and did more than squeeze German Chancellors. As it is, he so boring (see: evil half-wit, the banality of the) you simply can't imagine the guy in Sprechstimme, let alone singing. Perhaps you have to have a certain distance to pull this off, anyways. Stravinsky suggested a Maximillian and Carlotta opera, a great idea, complete with a Manet-quality execution and a very long mad scene, but, surprisingly, no one's ever made a go of it.

6 comments:

sfmike said...

I want an opera about Elizabeth Taylor, The Last Movie Star. Plus, she's still alive which is sort of cool, and there's plenty of opportunity for female voices. Also, you can set everything from Tennessee Williams ("and then they devoured him") to Albee ("That is a desperately sick lie, Martha") to Mankiewicz envisioning Cleopatra ("I am the queen of Egypt, you will kneel!"). This idea is freely offered, but it's definitely the opera I want to see.

Daniel Wolf said...

Mike:

that's definitely someone's opera, and an opera about film (which itself owes so much to opera) is definitely worth doing. If it could be done with the dry irony of a Mad Men episode, I'd be all for it, but I suspect that it would only happen in a US opera house if the tabloid and camp elements were played up, which are honestly not my strength.

Nevertheless, I can well imagine an opera ending with "and now for your close-up, Mrs. Fortensky."

Daniel Wolf said...

You can't imagine how angry I am that I would happen to know the name Larry Fortensky. What a waste of grey matter!

sfmike said...

I was very impressed that the name Fortensky had lodged in your grey matter and that I also recognized it since the name had lodged in mine. (Now there's the opera: The Liz & Larry love story at Betty Ford's rehab hospital in Rancho Mirage.) It reminds me of one of my favorite Roz Chast cartoons in "The New Yorker" where she's illustrating the scientific assertion that you have to dump certain bits of information from your brain to absorb other new stuff. She has a picture of somebody dumping "Italian Renaissance Art History" out of their cerebellum into a trashcan in order to absorb the latest info about Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck's breakup. Unfortunately, I can relate.

Anonymous said...

"evil half wit"

God bless the Chums of Chance!

Brian said...

It just so happens that in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the Boston composer Charles Shadle suggested a Bush in Baghdad opera, but as far as I know it never got beyond the talking stage. Among the hypothetical highlights was an aria for one of Saddam's mistresses, "I am the Tigress of the Euphrates."