In the work of creating a new musical drama style, NewOpera CO has had clear issues facing each project. Here are some of them.
Uppvind was NewOpera CO’s first work. Before we started we were really unsure if it really was all right to sing the dialogue in this way, with the casual sounding voices. Uppvind was an interaction between a choir, which told the story, short dialogues between the participants and songs, vocal numbers, which brought together the narrative in kind of nodes. These songs were like arias in Uppvind. This resulted in a clear form and worked beyond expectations as storytelling. Even the dance, choreography and video projections, creating their parallel version of the stories, came finally in place and we had a true Gesamtkunstwerk, a kind of art cabaret.
We in Villa
Vi Villa was built around a long everyday dialogue. In spring 2008, we had a process where we talked and improvised to create material for a story about a dinner party in a Villa. With this material as basis a libretto was written that almost entirely is made up of everyday dialogue. Her and there it’s broken by the shorter songs, with lyrics, and choral sections where the everyday conversation is conducted in duets or quartets. There was already in Uppvind, the first new-opera, a scene with an everyday dialogue in which the man and woman remember, regrets and have some small quarell. It was from there the idea to write a chamber drama was born. The project also fetched inspiration in the tradition of family dramas such as Lars Norén’s works.
Since almost everything in Vi i Villa is everyday dialogue, the music has in a way become like a long recitative. There are musical themes, but they seldom stop to become clear songs wirh repeated verses. And that was also one of the ideas, to explore whether this could work.
We in Villa worked beyond expectations. In the first version there was a chorus of neighbours who had comic cutscenes. These were removed in the new set in 2010 and from that on it really was a flow of sung theater, and we found that it really works as a music drama. In the 2008 version we used projections as set design and the room abstract and black. In the 2010 version, we had a semi-realistic set design with kitchen and living room in plywood. 2008 orchestra was piano, percussion and bass. That made the music style a little more of cabaret and jazz. 2010 the orchestra was piano, violin, clarinet and cello. With the new arrangements the same music now sounded a more in classical chamber music style.
Cirkus is a monologue. It is about a woman who, after a very intense life, is reliving, talking about and processing all that has been. Here we wanted to explore a kind of Sturm und Drang aesthetics, strong emotions that lock together in a chain of sadness, longing, closeness, hate, loss, insight and solitude. Cirkus is not everyday dialogue, but rather a kind of small poetry stories, memories. Or strong emotions conveyed in a kind of surrealist poetry or revealing sincerity. Can this work? Can one actor alone bear such a story? As long as 95 minutes? Is she able to sing for a so long time? Does nyopera-style really work in the Sturm und Drang and at the same time remain credible? How much can the music follow te emotions without getting too sentimental and messy? These are questions we asked ourselves during the work with Cirkus.
Circus consists of about seventy short passages of text that varies much in character. The story is told in a kind of short-cuts’ technology that switches between different eras and memory fragments. Will this short-cuts-technology work? The music consists, in simple terms, of the equivalent number of songs. Many of these are repeated several times as a kind of theme. Does it work to jump between songs like that, and between such different genres as it actually is?
Cirkus became a very effective work, which hung well together and touched many people deeply. And the dramatic flow became quite obvious and the lonely singer managed in a great way to keep up the scene.
With Singless we wanted to write for children. And try to make a real fairy tale, inspired by fantasy and fairytale classic. We also wanted to raise serious questions about death and grief, and how to process a trauma, and what can happen if you lock too many emotions inside yourself.
Singless, the story’s protagonist, lost his sister a few years earlier, she drowned in an accident on a beach. Singless trapped grief had made her lose the ability to sing. And the singing was the best she knew!
But by opening up for social contact and having the courage to tell others the sad truth Singless could deal with her grief and her voice came back. She could also become friend with her own inner voice that had previously been fierce and judgmental towards her.
When we created the story we were out in school classes and received many good tips from the children about how we should construct the story in a credible way. Once the script was ready, we also read it for a sample class and they were caught and moved by the story.
Singless is aimed at 6-9 year old children. It was during the work many who wondered how so young children would take on such a serious topic. Especially as they should be able to concentrate for 50 minutes and hear the entire drama sung. And the music is often in a rather low-key and serious tone, in kind of a neo-classical style, even if there also also are hints of mischief, tension and humor. Some adults did not think it would work, and that the music would be too complex for the kids that they meant prefered listening to Idol and energetic pop.
But it went so well. The children were enchanted by the music and narration, and seemed to appreciate the serenity and seriousness. Singless was played over 30 times, once for 200 children. Each occasion worked beyond expectations and the kids were both moved and marveled afterward. So music drama for children does absolutely not have to not be speedy or fun. And our question whether it was possible to take up serious things and present them in low-key music for primary school children received a very positive answer.
When we should go into such a broad topic as the family, the relationship between children and parents, all the needs children have, and parenting challenges, we decided not to work with a particular theme or individual history. Instead, we chose to gather many stories from real life, from friends, colleagues, experts and our own experiences. We made visits to schools, kindergarten, followed a few families close, met with experts, went to parenting education. It eventually became a kind of method to gather material for a libretto that felt like an experiment in itself.
This approach meant that the end result would be composed of a variety of stories, some mundane and ordinary, some poignant and dramatic, and the most often very recognizable, and that together they would form a collage, a chain of independent scenes, without any fixed role characters. How would these together manage to create a larger story, and how would the dramaturgical flow work? All this was a major issue during the work on the libretto. Also the order of the scenes involved many choices and much trying. In the end, there were nearly sixty stories.
Another issue arose in the work of writing the music. Each scene had its own musical world, although most are related stylistically, but how would they be tied together, and how many different musical worlds is it possible for an audience to accept? There are forty-two scenes that are set to music. In the performancewe used twenty-six of them, the other may be included in a future version. The Family in this version is two and a half hours long.
Another challenge was the ensemble. The family is performed by an ensemble of seven. Five of these are musicians, two singers, but all the musicians also sing a lot, both solo and in choirs. And the musicians leave in many scenes their instruments. So some scenes are performed á capella, some are accompanied by a solo instrument or a duo, others by a quintet. How this would fall out was also one of the major issues facing the set of family.
We wanted the musicians to be a lot on stage, and not just remain at their instruments. That was a reason why we chose to put intermediate actions between each scene with pre-recorded soundscape. This gave a much needed rest between each story. But during the process we also put out solo improvisations between some scenes, on cello, piano, clarinet, sax, violin and percussion, and some time a duet. This proved to work very well and became a musical commentary to the stage that had been, and a musical conduction to the next. So even if the sections with the soundscapes worked quite OK, we will probably in future sets write more musical instrumental parts that take hold of what comes out of each scene.
But overall there was questions about whether such an extensive collage of stories could become a full and coherent work, with so many independent scenes, both musically and in terms of content, and with singers who always has a new role in each of the twenty-six scenes. And the answer is that The Family generally works very well, although there certainly will be changes and more musical interludes in future editions and productions.