“As One” from zero to opening in 22 days
At 3:00 this afternoon the FedEx truck drove up and dropped off this:
…and off we go. That was August 12, although now it is technically the 13th. First rehearsal is August 25. Opening night is September 4.
This would seem quite late to be getting the score for a world premiere, but one must understand that only a month or so ago there was a workshop of this opera out in Utah, and some substantial changes to the piece have happened in the weeks since then. So yes, I am on an accelerated timeline to learn and digest this score, but NOTHING compared to Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed as they have made the final revisions to this wonderful new piece that will be in front of an audience in 22 days!
This is the first of 22 posts (at least) that will take us from ground zero– Steve opening the box that contains his score– to opening night. I have often wanted to record this process, but never have even started. Usually day 1 is 12 months or more before the opening, which would be a daunting project. Usually day 1 is “Steve buys his score and places it on top of his piano” and then days 2 through 100 are “Steve looks guiltily at his score and then turns to far more pressing work.” Who wants to blog THAT?!?!
But this is 22 days! No time to leave the score lying around in this time-table.
Of course I HAVE done a good bit of prep work. I have had earlier versions of each of the scenes that I have been able to look through to get a sense of the music. I have been busy lately so I have not spent time really LEARNING any of the earlier versions. But they have given me a good sense of how the music and the opera in general are put together. About a week ago I received the “final” version of the libretto from Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, and was able to begin to truly understand how this opera is built. And a while ago I watched Kimberly’s very moving documentary “Prodigal Sons” which gave me a crash course in what we would be addressing in our little opera. All very very helpful groundwork. But here we are finally at day 1…
Day 1– OUT COME THE PENCILS
A score with no markings in it is a daunting thing. What will be the first pencil mark to sully its pristine pages? Why even mark it up? Shouldn’t I just learn the darned thing and then just conduct it? Who needs markings after all??? You wimp!
Fortunately I have developed over the years a quite specific process through which I tackle a new piece, and there is no question as to where I will start– especially when the score is mine to keep and nobody will ever have to worry about erasing all of my markings! First comes the red pencil and I put a box around every tempo indication from page 1 through the final double-bar. These bright red boxes will be my friends in rehearsal and performance, proudly showing those big moments that I have to take particular care of. But today, on day 1, this pass through the score starts to teach me how the composer’s (Laura’s) music is structured. There may be tempo changes on every page, or there may be one every 10 pages. There may be accelerando’s (which get their own specific red mark) and ritardando’s (which don’t) all over the place, or very rarely. A specific metronome marking might show up frequently, or there may be no specific metronome markings at all. I never know what type of information will bubble up as I enter into this first pass. I ALWAYS come out of it with many new points of curiosity.
Pass 2, at least today, was marking vocal entrances that I may be called on to cue. This begins with devising a 3-letter abbreviation for each of the roles in the opera. “As One” only has two roles, but they share the same name– “Hannah before” and “Hannah after”. “HAN” and “HAN” certainly won’t do. “HAB” and “HAA” are too similar. So I have decided to use “MEZ” for Mezzo (Hannah after) and “BAR” for Baritone (Hannah before)– that is Hannah before and after gender reassignment. Gender reassignment has certainly never come up in my Pucinni and Verdi scores!
Through pass 2 I have started to get a much more visceral sense of how much each of the two singers sings in the opera, and the relative weight of each role in each section of the piece. It is all still quite general, but that is ok. Pass 1 and pass 2 serve specific performance purposes– cuing vocal entrances– but more importantly NOW, they help me begin to learn the structure of the opera. I start to see how I will need to structure music rehearsals, and I start to get excited about certain passages that pop out. I notice that when MEZ and BAR do sing together it tends to be homophonic sharing of the same lines of text, each of the voices fleshing out the other in harmony. I start to see the passing back and forth of certain rhythmic and melodic figures, and how these same figures recur late in the opera after having been first exposed in the initial scenes. And I start to get excited about hearing Sasha and Kelly sing some of these phrases together!
Here is a typical page of the score after passes 1 and 2:
And now it is late on August 12th, or early on the 13th. What next? Well, now I have to hunker down and learn the vocal lines. I think I will dive in on this just a little tonight, but it will continue through tomorrow and perhaps into Wednesday. Me, my pitch pipe and my score. But this is when I REALLY start to learn what the piece is all about!
To close– my favorite thing in the score as we wrap up day 1 is a specific tempo marking:
Yikes! I don’t have a metronome that goes to 400!!! What ever will I do?