The Center City Opera Theater's mission is "New work, new artists, new audiences" so to fulfill this mission they actively commission new operas.  This is a time consuming venture, to be sure.  It takes, on average, two years and an enormous amount of work before the first performance.  The opera still under development, "Slaying the Dragon", is on its ninth revision and there will be more fine tuning before its production run between June 7-17, 2012.  

I had the pleasure of attending their most recent workshop on Sunday, which included a complete run through of the opera with minimal staging and costumes, and piano instead of orchestra.  It was performed in a small black box theater at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia by a cast mostly filled by members of their young artist program. The program is a year long post-graduate professional training session that provides the opportunity to perform major roles in at least two productions.  The many workshops leading up to the production add more possibilities for hands on training.

The workshop started with an introduction by Andrew Kurtz, general and artistic director, and Michael Ching, composer.  It was interesting to learn about the progression of the opera from the early workshops where the libretto was simply read, to its current, and almost complete form.  Composer Ching was given only a few constraints:  Less than 18 musicians, 1 intermission, and a run time of under 2 hours.  Ching also believed that the music should include some "hummers" so he set out to produce accessible music with pieces reflecting the various musical tastes of the characters.  The libretto was by Ellen Frankel and was based on the book "Not by the Sword" by Kathryn Watterson.

Truth is often stranger than fiction, and so the story portrayed in the opera, based on real events, leaves you pondering the power of faith and belief in second chances.  I won't reveal the details in case you wish to attend free of spoiler alerts, but I can say that it is a highly relevant and thought provoking story that will resonate with all audience members on some level.  

The workshop ended with a dialog between the audience, cast, and creators.  There were members of the audience that had attended a number of the workshops and were familiar with the progression of the work from its early stages.  The constructive suggestions and comments were noted by the creators and it was obvious that they took the feedback seriously.  This was a very refreshing approach, as so much in the world of creative arts is done in a vacuum.  How many other disciplines would benefit from this approach?  

Mark your calendars in June for the production run of "Slaying the Dragon" at the Prince Music Theater.  This will surely be an opera that will spark discussion, and I'm looking forward to seeing it in it's final form.

MUSIC REVIEW: Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Conductor’s Orchestra


‘Golem Psalms’ shaped to be ‘impressive technically and

expressive emotionally’

February 11, 2009


Andrea Clearfield, the Philadelphia-based composer of an oratorio of very

recent vintage (2006), was present in St. Mark’s Methodist Church Monday

evening to speak about and then listen to a performance of that oratorio, “The

Golem Psalms.”


Her talk was engaging and instructive but could not possibly match the power

of the music she has written, performed persuasively by the IU Contemporary

Vocal Ensemble, the Conductor’s Orchestra, and a fine soloist, baritone

Kenneth Pereira, all under the controlled and obviously also devoted-to-score

leadership of conductor John Leonard.


Clearfield and her librettist, Ellen Frankel, a scholar of Jewish folklore, used as

their subject the legend of the Golem of Prague, a golem being a mythical,

human-like creature shaped from the earth and given life through prayer and

incantations. The story, explains Frankel, permits exploration of themes: “the

mystical power of words . the power of magic and its dangers; human

vulnerability; the loneliness of a solitary creature, who, though possessing

power, lacks a soul, a voice and human companionship; evil and redemption;

technology run amok.”


Frankel’s libretto, structured into seven psalms, has been set to transformative

music, music that’s impressive technically and expressive emotionally. One

hears mystery and threat, exultation and resignation, supplication and struggle

as the golem is created, lives, causes havoc and gets “uncreated.” Clearfield’s

evocative music shifts athletically from eerie calm to violence, from simple

choral statements to complex outbursts of clashing tonalities and rhythms that

defy description. At all points, what one hears, vocally and instrumentally,

accommodates and furthers the content. Clearfield has written a compact and

colorful oratorio.


Pereira voiced the golem with such conviction that, as the composer intended,

one felt pity, even sorrow, for the pesky creature. The chorus sang resonantly

and, at conductor Leonard’s urging, with great passion. The orchestra handled

its difficult, often brassy and percussive assignment with assurance, again the

result of Leonard’s hard work.


If there was a problem in what one heard, and there was, it concerned

balances and diction. Perhaps the acoustical qualities of spacious, high-domed

St. Mark’s were a factor. Perhaps the score itself, densely textured as it is in

many passages, contributed to the difficulties encountered. Perhaps the

performers themselves needed to sharpen elocution. But too often, words were

blurred, even indistinguishable, in a work that requires a clear union of text and

music.

 

Words were of no problem during the concert’s curtain-raiser, Steve Reich’s

“Proverb,” a 1995 exercise for three sopranos, two tenors and pairs of

vibraphonists and keyboard specialists. Reich’s music plays on one sentence,


“How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.” For close to 15 minutes or so,

one heard those words and extractions there, in a lulling style, part medieval, part modern minimalist.

Librettist of Opera and Choral Works

Libretti: I am available to write lyrics for short works for voice and/or chorus, as well as longer pieces such as cantatas and operas.

 

I am especially interested in truly collaborative projects, involving multiple drafts and close work with the composer.

 

Initial Queries: Please contact me by email with a short description of your project and an approximate timetable for completion.

 

Contact Information: 

ellen.frankel@gmail.com

The Write Angle: Editing and Publishing Services

Editing Services: I offer several levels of non-fiction editing, including 

  • concept edit (manuscript evaluation and critique) 
  • limited collaborative edit
  • line-editing (editing and/or rewriting at the sentence level)

Initial Queries: Please contact me by email with a short description of your manuscript and an explanation of what you want me to do. 

If I am available and think it sounds like a good match, I'll ask you to send me the full or partial manuscript. I prefer to see the project before settling on terms. 

Contact Information: ellen.frankel@gmail.com