ENO Mini Opera: Dramatic movement, working with a libretto and battling twee

I’ve been a bit quiet about progress on my mini opera because I struck a bit of a snag. Working on the section “They wanted a war” (The Inspector/The Journalist) turned out to be trickier than anticipated.

The first idea I came up with was similar in style and mood to the opening (“When my cue comes, call me”) and I began to be a little concerned about the dramatic momentum of the work as a whole – if everything The Inspector sang was going to be slightly sad and warbly, then it’d be a pretty dull opera and it’d be gosh-darned difficult to pull out any real drama.

So I put that to one side and started playing round with a sort of fanfare-like figure in the accompaniment. I was able to create a melody for The Inspector that was a bit stronger but still lyrical and related to his opening ‘aria’ (for want of a better word). However, as soon as I started writing the bit for The Journalist – which reuses text from The Advisor’s part at the end of “When my cue comes”, “Dull, dull, dull… Something with a bit more tooth etc.” – it started turning itself into this twee little chirpy ditty – NOT what I was after at all!

And so I battled. I tweaked and I pulled and I deleted and rewrote and nothing helped.

Then I realised that I’d notated the whole number in 4/4 (because I was sketching straight into Finale) but the feel of it was more 3/4 so (after a good deal of technical palaver thanks to a bug in Finale) I switched the time signature and suddenly it all made a good deal more sense.

I’ve ended up ditching the line from the libretto which was causing me the most trouble, “But these have a sexier sound” – I just couldn’t get it to sound convincing no matter what I tried – and to a certain extent I’ve just embraced the twee but by splitting up The Journalist’s lines for “something with a bit more tooth”, while still keeping a relationship with the first iteration of them, and interspersing them with repetitions of The Inspector’s “Those aren’t my words”, I hope I’ve managed to convey the feel intended in the libretto and heighten the tension a bit too.

I’m finding working with the libretto really extremely interesting. I’ve made very few changes really – deleting “But these have a sexier sound” is the first time I’ve cut a whole line, and I think this work is a bit tighter for it. I contracted “Something with a bit more tooth, a bit more eye, a bit more bite” both times it’s occurred to “Something with a bit more tooth, a bit more eye, more bite” because it helps to raise the melody line a bit – it has more of a soar in it without the extra “a bit”. I’ve repeated a couple of bits, too, like the “Those aren’t my words” and also at a few points in the first aria.

I’m also exploring a new way of working for me. Usually when I’m writing a piece (as you see in the Carrion Comfort Work in Progress posts) I work slowly, producing sections that are pretty much fully formed and only need tweaks. This is the first time I’ve sketched out what I want, needing to come back later and fill it in.

I’ve kind of had to work like this because of the very tight deadline and the need to get the vocal parts off to singers, in particular. Most of the accompaniment I’ll be working on myself, in MIDI, so I have control over that, and mostly it’ll be done in software anyway, but singers need to learn their parts and record them, and then I need to integrate them into the stuff I’ve done. So I’ve been focusing on the vocal lines to get them done and I’ll just be working around those for everything else.

That deadline’s seriously looming, though. I’m quite grateful the employment monster seems to have abandoned me in this respect (although I really could do with the money – anyone need a website built? 🙂 ) because I’ve been able to spend every day out at the house, scraping tar off the floors and working on the opera. I’m still not 100% convinced that I can finish it all in time for the 23rd, but I’m sure going to try my hardest and see what I can come up with.

What? You want to hear it? Oh all right then 🙂 Please bear in mind that these two recordings are as rough as rough can be. You get me singing – badly, and all the parts – and no orchestration. In some places, no accompaniment too. But these are the sketches as they stand. Once I start fleshing them out, I’ll post those too. But first to finish the outlines!

ALSO: I am still Desperately Seeking Choral Singers for the chorus of journalists – if you’re interested – and especially if you’re not an alto (sorry – got 3 altos at the moment but no other voice type!), please get in touch! It’s a small part – shouldn’t take long – and I can provide a click-track version to record to, or any other variant you desire.

Egg the Seventh now on SoundCloud

Well, I’ve been working hard playing around with Logic Pro and am happy to say that the result is a shiny new recording of Egg the Seventh, the waltz movement from 2 x 4 – a set of two-part inventions for piano or harpsichord – is now up on SoundCloud. I’m working on the other three pieces from the set and they should hopefully go up gradually over the next couple of weeks.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this one!

Three Whitman Songs now on SoundCloud

It’s been quite a week for the uploads! Today I’ve posted some recordings I made last night of my Three Whitman Songs for contralto and piano. The set consists of three songs (obviously) plus a tiny piano interlude, which is related to Egg the Tenth (which started out as the interlude to this set then got ideas above its station).

Yes, this is me singing. So sorry.

This site’s page for Three Whitman Songs has the texts as well as some notes. A downloadable score will – I hope – follow in the next couple of weeks.

Diabolus now on SoundCloud

My new piece for unaccompanied violin, Diabolus, is now up on SoundCloud in a MIDI-rendered version for your listening pleasure. The piece itself has been sent to Conway Kuo in New York for consideration for his 15 Minutes of Fame concert, so I can’t post the score yet as he gets first dibs on the first performance. Hope you (and he!) enjoy(s) it!

Diabolus is a one-minute piece for solo violin based around the interval of the tritone, the diabolus in musica. It features open string sonorities and natural harmonics and aims for a mix of aggressive rhythmical patterns and moments of stillness.

The blog post Approaching a single line from three directions, posted on this site a few weeks ago, traces the generation of the piece’s initial form. A follow-up post looking at the transformation of the base material to become the final piece is planned for publication in the next month.