VNPAC: Emerging from wreckamovie—The First Social Opera

VNPAC: Emerging from wreckamovie—The First Social Opera

For my second afternoon at the Opera America conference, I was attracted to the session focused on the first social opera in the world, the Savonlinna Opera Festival’s Opera by You. A mega-collaborative effort, it’s a much grander version of HyperOpera (a course I teach at CalArts, and what I call operas that take collaboration to various extremes). Introduced by Jan Hultin, general director of Savonlinna Opera Festival, Opera by You is an interactive opera created by a web community that has grown, and continues to grow, exponentially. The trailer spells it out: “We have 80 vocalists in our choir, but no script; a cast and a castle, but no wardrobe or set design; a symphony orchestra, but no composition.”

The logistics of pulling this off were inspired by wreckamovie, founded by the Star Wreck team, so that filmmakers could help one another. For the creation of Opera by You, a group of paid supervisors (composer, librettist, stage director, project leader, production director) manage the creative masses. There are around 215 active participants from over 30 countries; 60 ideas for the topic of the opera have been submitted, with four stories on the short list (including a space opera story); language is English; cost will be around 800,000 Euros. The project has attracted substantial media attention, appearing on the technology pages of newspapers and on the front page of an Italian paper. The premiere is scheduled for July 2012.

Here’s a conference participant signing up for Opera by You:


Are individual artists going the way of the dodo? A short conversation with Jan Hultin following his presentation (but we didn’t talk about the dodo thing):

Next: a concert! The New Works Sampler offered excerpts from recent or soon-to-be-produced operas, performed at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Composers represented were Kitty Brazelton (Animal Tales); Daniel Catán (Il Postino); Mary Ellen Childs (Propeller); Bramwell Tovey (The Inventor); Skip Ewing (The Snow Globe); and Gregory Spears (Paul’s Case). Singers were from the LA Opera Domino-Thornton Young Artist Program, accompanied by pianist Douglas Sumi. These were all well-constructed compositions and performed with panache, but were essentially stylistically conservative, with no experimental or risk-taking pieces on the roster.

Mary Ellen Childs graciously agreed to speak about her opera, Propeller, and her sense of what Opera America might do to make the conference more accessible for composers. But first, here’s the beginning of “O Sacred / I Want”, from Propeller, with the part of Daedalus sung by José Adán Pérez:

To answer my looming question from yesterday: Clearly, composers do have a place at Opera America, albeit their participation is limited. My wish list for future conferences would include: 1) a lower registration fee for composers; and 2) a wider representation of styles and aesthetics in works that are selected for performance, so that a broader spectrum of compositions might be experienced. The sessions themselves, and the keynote addresses, were dynamic and informative. Thanks to the American Music Center and to Opera America for inviting me to participate and to share my experiences for the past two days.

This LA Opera production of the Ring cycle has been polarizing. Last night, many conference participants attended the performance of Die Walküre. I interviewed one conference participant yesterday who freely shared her criticisms, but later asked me not to post her remarks. So here is Cara Consilvio, producer, director, and performer, with her more positive impressions of Thursday evening’s performance:

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One thought on “VNPAC: Emerging from wreckamovie—The First Social Opera

  1. philmusic

    “..These were all well-constructed compositions and performed with panache, but were essentially stylistically conservative, with no experimental or risk-taking pieces on the roster…”

    Highlights can only reveal part of the story but your point is well taken. Could it be with all the difficulties of a new production that the music is where they look for the easy part?

    Zimmerman’s Die Soldaten did great in NY.

    Us 12-toners are ready! Operators are standing by!!!

    Phil Fried Phil’s great American opera page


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