Opera America is currently hosting a Masters at Work series with American "dean of opera," Carlisle Floyd. I've been attending each installment of the five-part series since September 2015.
The series is largely centered on Mr. Floyd's latest opera, Prince of Players, which premiers at the Houston Grand Opera on March 5, 2016. The first interview centered on the libretto-writing process, and took place on Friday, September 25, 2015. The second was about the new opera's workshop process, and took place on Friday, November 13, 2015. The third discussed orchestration, and happened on Friday, January 15, 2016. The fourth will take place on Friday, March 18, 2016 and will discuss design and the creative team. Finally, the last installment will happen on Friday, April 15, 2016 to discuss rehearsal and performance.
It's been an education watching Carlisle Floyd have intimate, honest conversations at Opera America. His new work is a chamber opera in two acts, based on the true story of Edward Kynaston's struggle to continue his profession as an actor portraying female characters during the London Restoration era after King Charles II allowed women to appear on the stage while also forbidding men to perform as women.
Here is a brief summary of what Carlisle Floyd had to say at the September 25, 2015 interview about his libretto-writing process:
- Libretti must have 1) passion and feeling and 2) action.
- Music exposes a flat libretto faster than anything!
- Prosaic dialogue is bad for opera, unless it has tremendous emotion beneath it.
- Opera is a "heightened emotional atmosphere."
- In order to get ideas for writing his libretti, he reads a lot and watches films, always asking the question, "Does the story grip you?"
- He thinks playwrights rather than poets make the best librettists because poets are in new territory in the field of spoken drama.
- A composer must be zealous about matching prosody with the written word (putting accents where they belong in the actual spoken language and adhering to this when the language is sung).
- His process: he completes the libretto first before setting the music. He maps out the words from the beginning and builds them to a climax - they don't just happen. He plans! The peaks should feel absolutely natural to the libretto.
- In opera, the composer must always be aware of what is required dramatically, and this has to in turn affect the music one writes. There should be character arcs, which contribute to the music and create atmosphere.
- Dullness is forbidden in opera!
- It's ok to go back and write more words to satisfy the music, even if it's vexing to do.
- An opera is never done until its premier, and writing an opera for him, takes about 3 years. Up until opening night, the libretto is subject to editing. In fact, in rehearsal, entire scenes have been lost over the course of his career.
- Why does he write his own libretti? Because when he was in college, he studied writing, and this led naturally to him writing his own libretti. He's always done it like this and has never tried to work with a librettist.
- Sometimes, he has to throw out words he loves because they don't carry the story.
- When he writes a libretto, he does think about voice type, i.e. the kind of voice that will best suit the character.
- A basic ingredient of opera is crisis! tension!
You can watch the full interview by clicking on the Source link below. Enjoy!