Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Road Report #1

I’m sitting in an opera rehearsal, and I catch someone’s eye. We introduce ourselves, engage in the usual pleasantries, and then comes the inevitable question: “So, what do you do?”

Most people in the room don’t have a hard time answering this question. They’re singers, stagehands, conductors, choreographers, or even wigmakers. Their roles are clear, and their presence is justified. But when I answer, “I’m a composer,” my interrogator’s brow furrows, and more questions follow.

“Do you compose operas?” Yes, I’ve written one.

“Are you writing us an opera?” Not right now, but I hope to eventually.

“Then what are you doing here?”

OK, I admit I was never interrogated this harshly, but it’s still a fair question. After all, most opera composers are dead, and the living ones don’t typically spend their time haunting rehearsal halls and backstage areas.

But why shouldn’t they? Didn’t Verdi, Puccini, and Strauss spend time in and around opera companies? Didn’t they hone their theatrical craft through countless hours watching what worked (and didn’t work) on and off stage?

They did indeed, and that’s what I’m doing as the 2012-2013 Fellow of the Douglas Moore Fund. For the past year, it has been my job to go to several opera companies and to hone my compositional craft by watching, listening, and interacting with opera professionals.

Every once in a while, I pinch myself to make sure that this is, indeed, my job.

What do the opera companies get out of the deal? Well, they get an extra pair of hands, which I’ve used variously throughout the year to write (and re-write) music, help hang scenery, correct supertitles, apply false eyelashes, and play piano for rehearsals (of all of these things, the eyelashes posed the most difficulty).

So far, the Fellowship has taken me to Center City Opera Theater in Philadelphia for Michael Ching’s Slaying the Dragon, to the Santa Fe Opera for workshops of Theo Morrison’s forthcoming Oscar, to the Metropolitan Opera for Thomas Adès’ The Tempest, to the Minnesota Opera for Douglas Cuomo’s Doubt, and to the New York City Opera for Adès’ Powder Her Face.

Each residency has been uniquely fascinating, and I’ve taken away several important lessons about the art, the people, and the business of opera. These will be the topics of the next several blog postings. Check back next week for a discussion of the art form itself.

Composer and pianist Zachary Wadsworth is the 2012-2013 Fellow of the Douglas Moore Fund for American Opera. For more information about him and his music, visit

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