Carlisle Floyd's second installment of his Masters at Work series with Opera America took place on November 13, 2015. I had the privilege of being in attendance and meeting the great man himself.
As I mentioned before, this series gives us an intimate glimpse into the life, work, and artistic process of America's "dean" of opera. He has taken us on a personal journey as he prepares for the upcoming premier of his latest opera, Prince of Players, which will premier at the Houston Grand Opera on March 5, 2016.
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 November 13, 2015 interview about writing the piano and vocal score of an opera:
- Composers must listen to their "inner ear" when composing.
- He starts first with a piano/vocal score because he's trained as a pianist. The danger in this is thinking too pianistically, and not orchestrally enough. Overall, however, he views his skill as a pianist as a strength when composing an opera.
- He does not start composing until the libretto is 100% finished.
- To write an opera, you have to think in large arcs: high points of tension or alteration of action). As a composer, you're setting up something that you'll probably be using again: "You have that on the shelf as it were."
- When writing, think of the "color of the scene," which comes from Verdi's term, "la tinta." If you're an aware composer, that can give you what you need for the scene. Is it somber/suspense/love? La tinta is not an actual color, but rather, a feel, a mood.
- La tinta gives you rhythm, length of phrases, pace of progression, underlying emotional atmosphere.
- Your thematic motive might be 12 measures, but throughout the opera, you might alter that, shorten it, etc.
- If he's ever stuck and has no thematic material, he goes back to "la tinta." What is the color of the scene?
- When he writes, he writes for a character, a definite point of view, not a voice, although he may have a voice-type in mind.
- In his experience working with singers, a well-trained singer will know when to breathe and how. The singers he works with all have a wealth of experience.
- He strives for elegance in the vocal line.
- Prosody is all-important.
- When he's going through the workshop process, he looks for flow, that the opera is constantly moving and accumulating dramatic tension. And he asks questions like, "Did the scene overextend itself?" It's easy for a scene to take too long.
- If you're a composer and you ever get stuck, try analyzing your way out by asking questions like "What is missing? What do I want here?"
- In his inner ear, he hears phrases, melodic ideas, something that will generate further material.
- Musical material should have extension, and finally, explosion!
- In a workshop, if possible, ask to hear the music first without the singers or staging. This brings the music to its bear bones, so you can listen critically. As a composer of opera, your first responsibility is to keep the audience involved. It can't be boring!
- When you listen to your opera for the first time, you have to first and foremost listen to phrasing. It's easier to overwrite and then trim. This all comes from instinct. The important and difficult thing is to develop a good libretto.
- You have to earn your place in music. Don't overbuild too soon, because it's dangerous -- you can lose momentum this way.
To watch the full interview, click on the Source link below....