OPERA IS the most collaborative of the major art forms. It is the combination of instrumental and vocal music, text, acting, scenic and lighting design and direction. The highs opera can reach when these components work together are truly euphoric and unique.
Most opera companies overwhelmingly program pieces that have been deemed masterpieces, usually with a track record of several hundred years. Given the woeful state of public arts funding in this country, companies risk their financial well-being (or as we’ve recently seen in Boston, their very existence) if they choose to program new or lesser known works. As a result, masterpieces are trotted out year after year. People have been collaborating with Mozart’s corpse for over two hundred years and his brilliance (unrivaled to my mind) has allowed directors and singers to explore his catalogue over and over again, often to wonderful effect. Unfortunately, this historically weighted programming also robs opera of one of its most fundamental strengths – the active collaboration of artists across all artistic mediums.
By design, one of Guerilla Opera’s real strengths has been the ability to develop new productions from early libretto discussions and musical sketches to the final product, while tapping a diverse collection of artists along the way. It was thinking about these unique attributes of the company and how to maximize them that inspired our upcoming fall production: Let’s Make A Sandwich.
Having seen the process of opera assembled first hand, I’ve always been amazed at the power of spontaneous interactive creation. Some of the most effective elements in our pieces have been discovered collectively. It is an organic, serendipitous process, almost impossible to fully control. Because of this it’s often difficult for the audience to distinguish the contributions of the individual artists from the whole. Where did the composer end and director begin? Where did the libretto end and the lighting designer begin? Those are some of the questions we wanted to explore with our fall production.
Lets Make A Sandwich will be an evening of four opera productions: two short operas (approximately 15 minutes each) by two composers, each staged twice by two production teams. The composers, Curtis K. Hughes and myself, selected an obscure short film as the basis for the operas, also called Let’s Make A Sandwich. The film was shot in 1950 and offers step-by-step instructions on how to make a tuna “rarebit” sandwich. It features a mother and daughter cooking under the direction of an unseen male narrator. Aside from being culturally dated it is also wonderfully odd and unsettling. We chose it as a compositional Rorschach Test, an ambiguous jumping off point designed to reveal something about the composer’s own worldview. The two resulting operas, RareBit and Ouroboros, are now in the process of being filtered through the lens of two outstanding directors: Copeland Woodruff and Giselle Ty. With an all-star cast, ensemble, and design team selected from some of our favorite collaborators over the years Let’s Make A Sandwich will be a one-of-a-kind look into the nature of operatic collaboration.
I’d like to offer a special thanks to Ethan Parcell, a talented composition student of Curtis’s, whose discovery and interest in the film Let’s Make A Sandwich helped codify this project.
“LET’S MAKE A SANDWICH” SOURCE VIDEO
Rudolf Rojahn a composer and Co-Artistic Director of Guerilla Opera. He was the composer-in-residence for Boston’s Ludovico Ensemble from 2005-2010, a collaboration that resulted in several commissioned pieces. He has also been commissioned and performed by the Quincy Symphony Orchestra, Juventas New Music Ensemble, the Lorelei Ensemble, the Arbelos Trio, Gabriela Diaz, Kent O’Doherty, Rane Moore, and the Green Light Consortium among others. From 2004-2006 he ran the Proletariat Tanning Salon, an event series pairing young composers and visual artists such as Camille Wainer and Nicole Margaretten. He has written four operas for Guerilla Opera: “Heart of a Dog” (2007), “We are Sons” (2009), “Bovinus Rex” (2012), and “Ouroboros” (2014).