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Help Needed in the Operatic Genre


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Hello to all fellow composers.

I have been thinking a lot about composing another opera, but I am having trouble in finding a good story that would be suitable for it. It might help if I tell you a bit about my previous operas that I have written in the past few years.

My first attempt in this field was made in late 2008. I was only about eleven when I made up my mind to compose a two hour long opera based on the Andersen fairy tale "The Swineherd." It was about a prince who wants to win the heart of a princess in a nearby kingdom. He sends over priceless gifts which she pretty much ignores completely. The prince then disguises himself as a Swineherd to get a job at her palace. He makes musical toys for her, but she can have them for the price of giving the Swineherd a certain amount of kisses. At the end of the story the prince reveals himself and tells the princess that she would not accept his tokens of love, but would kiss a Swineherd for some simple toys. I abandoned this opera after several attempts.

My first actual opera is called "The Death of Osiris." It tells the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris' murder and how his sister/wife Isis came to find him only for their evil brother Seth (who killed him in the first place) to slice the body into so many pieces and scatter them all over the earth. The final scenes are about how Isis retrieved the segments of Osiris' body and gives them proper burial ceremonies while Osiris becomes the god of the afterlife. In the original myth, Osiris' genitals get eaten by a fish after he is sliced up and Isis has to make an artificial thing for him, but I decided to leave that part out. My parents disagree with that decision.

My second opera is scored for only six instrumentalists and six singers and is over a third of the length of "The Death of Osiris." This comic chamber opera is called "The King's Horn." It is based on a Macedonian folk tale about a King who was born, much to his parents' dismay, with a horn growing out of the top of his head. Throughout his life he has managed to keep his secret under his hat (or rather crown) but one day he needs a barber to cut and style his hair to conceal his strange growth, but the barber (who is extremely talkative) has the difficult task not to tell anyone. With this overwhelming amount of pressure, he decided to run far away from everyone so no one finds out (the King said that he will cut off the barber's head if anyone finds out). He comes across a cave and feeling sure that no one is around he yells out the words "The King has a horn!" A short while later, some reed begin to grow in that spot and are made into flutes by the children, but when they play these flutes the words "the king has a horn" sing out. When the king finds out what happened and what the barber did, he realises that his horn isn't really anything to be worried about, but it's the person underneath that counts. The opera ends with the villagers singing "What Nature reveals, no one can conceal."

So those are my operas so far. For my third, I have been thinking of using Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night," but I have also come across a true story about a Russian aristocrat who is turned against by the other citizens and is to be killed, so he runs away from his country in fear that someone will find him. Is there anyone out there who could give me some advice on finding a suitable story for an opera? Perhaps you could tell me about some of your own operas as well.

Thanks,

froglegs

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Get a libretto.

Find an Opera Company willing to produce said libretto.

Write to the libretto.

Produce the Opera.

Get a rave or scathing review in the major local newspaper.

Rinse and repeat.

The problem is that I ALWAYS write to my own librettos. That's why I need to choose a good plot.

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It may be smarter to not write your own libretto.

OR, you can be a douche like Peter Sellers (who "wrote" the libretto to Doctor Atomic (John Adams' MASTERWORK)) and compile a whole bunch of "primary" source material about something and go from there.

FOR INSTANCE, don't take my idea. But, next summer, I am (starting) writing an opera about the American Revolution, and the libretto is going to be mostly primary source letters and dialogue between people. I may have to get involved with the details. But, old American poetry. MAN. It's so cool.

And, by the by... Why the HELL have you quoted yourself in your signature?

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I actually finished an opera a week ago, and I also wrote my own libretto. At first, I tried writing the libretto first, then fitting the music to the words. This proved to be frustrating, because I was having difficulty getting the words to flow naturally. So finally, I decided to create the music and the libretto simultaneously, and I was surprised to find it much easier. Sometimes, I wrote a musical passage first, then added lyrics later. This strategy was much more productive for me personally. But it might be different for you. It might be easier to write the libretto first...it just depends on the composer. What's important is that you find the strategy that fits you best, and stick to it to the very end. Personally, I find opera writing to be tedious and sometimes frustrating!

P.S. What's my opera about? Frankenstein's monster. :horrified:

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I actually finished an opera a week ago, and I also wrote my own libretto. At first, I tried writing the libretto first, then fitting the music to the words. This proved to be frustrating, because I was having difficulty getting the words to flow naturally. So finally, I decided to create the music and the libretto simultaneously, and I was surprised to find it much easier. Sometimes, I wrote a musical passage first, then added lyrics later. This strategy was much more productive for me personally. But it might be different for you. It might be easier to write the libretto first...it just depends on the composer. What's important is that you find the strategy that fits you best, and stick to it to the very end. Personally, I find opera writing to be tedious and sometimes frustrating!

P.S. What's my opera about? Frankenstein's monster. :horrified:

Have you uploaded it onto YC music?

I've used both methods as a matter of fact. "The Swineherd" (only Act 1) and "The King's Horn" had the libretto done first and then the music. It can be hard to fit the words to music in some sections, but I think the librettos are a lot better than "The Death of Osiris" (which I think has better music.)

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  • 3 weeks later...

I was surprised to find so much interest in composing opera over here. That in fact is an accomplishment. And don't get backtracked by the age stereotype. If you're good enough, you're old enough.

When I was 13 or 14, I was just beginning to compose - and by then I vowed not to compose a single note to be sang. Opera was 'stereotypical' to me, and lieder didn't catch my interest at all.

But then I experienced one of Mahler's song cycles in the concert hall - and it started a slow but sure change of mind. After a while I found myself setting to music the text of Psalms 93. And then (about 10 years later in fact) I again caught myself redhanded in the act of writing a collection of lieder (I'd never call it a 'song cycle' because the songs are not related among each other).

But opera?????? Really??????

Then I heard Tchaikovsky's Onegin, Queen of Spades and Puccini's Tosca. And saw Bizet's Carmen twice. And, upon showing Carmen to my wife and sister-in-law, ended up stunned by the way they (esp. the latter) totally fell for opera and even encouraged me to undertake one myself!!!

As I'm also a fiction writer, I thought I could adapt one of my novels into a full-length opera. No way - that's Wagner's domain only. We earthlings should be content to write owr own librettos (if only not to fail due to someone else's fault)... So I'm currently set on a project, of which I'm on the earliest stages as of now, but which would take a very unorthodox approach to Tchaikovsky's life.

My advice for you:

1) Fear not.

2) Compose ideally - some day it will end up being performed anyway :phones:.

3) If you have a powerful melody or theme as the main reason for composing the opera (even if it is inspired by a story you'd like to tell), ask yourself if the tune deserves an opera or can be better used elsewhere. I can't think of Wagner, Verdi or Britten composing their operas just for the sake of the "highlight number" :hmmm:.

4) It's better to have a general outline of the story before starting the composition. Even the act structure. But not necessarily the full libretto. Also don't think of a libretto as a straightjacket :headwall: - you're the artist, you can change anything the way you want. If words don't fit into the naturally flowing music, change the words.

5) If a particular scene stirs your own emotion, start by composing this scene, no matter if it's on the last act. You can use its themes as a build-up through the whole opera :nod: . Also, that most inspired scene will most likely turn into a 'highlight' itself.

6) Don't be afraid of not following any of these if none serves your purpose :toothygrin: ...

I hope this set of advice helps you - and, if not, I'd like to hear from you anyway.

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I won't deny maturity must help a composer, esp. an ambitious one. But it can't hurt to give a try despite the 'lack of experience'. We could finish with a mediocre product and most likely will - but success rarely happens in the first try. Alas, we all know composers who, despite their age and experience, did never come up with anything worthy. But if the geniuses of the genre had not taken on something they'd never tried before, there would not be opera at all.

Bottom line: give it a try. Fear not. The result can objetively suck, but if at least you enjoyed doing it, it was worth the effort.

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Thank you SOOOO much for your help and advice, Austenite! :)

Recently I have come across story that Studio Ghibli adapted into a movie entitled "Grave of the Fireflies." It seems quite suitable for a powerful tragic opera (it made me cry when I saw the film). Maybe with a bit of change to the plot I could write an opera out if it.

(I have to stop planning ahead so much when I have so much work to do!)

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One last advice:

Get one done.

When I was 14 or 15, I had a list of over 180 compositions which I would write sometime in the future (no, I'm not even exaggerating, I still have that list). I did actually compose only about four of those; and the rest of my works (about 27 as of now) blossomed by themselves without any relationship to what I had planned in advance.

So, stop planning, sit down and do compose one opera at a time. You'll have 10 before you even realize it.

PD. I love ballet - blame Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. So far I've never composed one, mainly because of a lack of a suitable story to it. Suggestions are welcome...

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