The panel discussion on The Two-Cents Opera will take place today, Saturday March 21 at 5PM – it’s free…first day of Spring – to hear Kyle Gann, Yuko Nii (curator of the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center where my work will be shown in April 25-May 1st as part of the Women Forward exhibition that hosted Yoko Ono in March), violinist Julianne Klopotic and other performers of The Two-Cents Opera, at Theater for the New City (First Avenue between 9th and 10th St).
The Two-Cents Opera came about as a follow-up to the ideas outlined in a blog on sequenza21 from April 18, 2005: “Ten reasons to stop composing”. I guess you could call that a very acute case of the glass ceiling. I felt that some of us were being suppressed especially women (I still do even now). In particular, people would deny me the liberty to call my work an opera. They would say, but it is not really an opera, because of this and that: “It’s very nice but it’s only a song cycle”, with the now obvious subtext reading “as a good lady should write; ladies don’t write operas they only write song cycles.” whereas Philip Glass or Robert Asley whose work can be more unconventional than mine, were left at liberty to call their works operas. The Two-Cents Opera does not even intend to be an opera other than by name, it is a multimedia musical. Technically speaking however, I had been taught that a piece where everything is sung is an opera. Go figure.
Here are again the Ten Reasons to Stop Composing in short:
- too many composers exist
- people want music for free and I can’t blame them
- too many limitations on artistic freedom within structures
- composing is a luxury we can no longer afford
- lack of encouragement is a euphemism
- too much emphasis on conventional methods and results
- making a great piece requires too much free time
- it really makes no difference one way or another
- being a woman does not make it any easier
To which I will add: in my experience, women composers are not as supportive of one another as one would assume; the competition is fierce.
Here is the link to revisit if you wish…
That’s how I began wanting to write another opera, even though I struggled for a couple of years with issues of “no one wants another opera especially from me” but somehow felt a calling to do it. Then there was the long search for an adequate subject which turned out nothing. The only story I could relate to in a tangible and effective manner was the experience at hand, with its immediacy. This very same feeling is musically expressed in the introductory a cappella section of The Two-Cents Opera, The Desire and the Doubt.
I went through many different versions of the story. I recalled my childhood traumas and experiences with a score of therapists and psychoanalysts – which led to the Shrink Number 8 scene. However the piece is not just autobiographical. I combined some imaginary elements with the realistic elements – such as the characters of the Young Beethoven, and the Trickster who brought with him the playful element of dance.
Now four years later, I have not stopped composing – I just went multimedia with the writing and visuals in addition to the music. I guess that was one solution to the problem of composing – placing the activity in a different context – not classical music with its arcane commmissioning structure, but musical theater and art. I have many friends in the visual arts and I find that I am more comfortable with them than I am with many strictly classical musicians. I love crossover musicians that can go from opera to jazz to microtonality to heavy metal. And that requires a special personality as well. That’s what I found in the band I put together for The Two-Cents Opera - Jonathan Hirschman on guitar, Bill Ruyle on drums, Steven Hall on bass guitar and Andrew Bolotowsky on flute (son of the well-know painter of the same name). That band experience alone can make up for a lot of things.
Also what tremendously helped remove the block is the acquisition of new recording equipment in 2007 which I used to compose and produce the piece in demo form at home with my vocals and electronics, gradually developing vocal and instrumental parts. And then, paradoxically, what helped even more was to lose my day job with the recession. The free time was immediately invested in the piece and The Two-Cents Opera was composed in less than two years which is record time for me. Other operas such as Waking in New York took twice as long when I was struggling to keep a job. And even if The Two-Cents Opera is some kind of a swan song, or alternatively if this leads to other work and there is life after it, it is at least the statement that I needed to make at this time.