For the next 2 days a studio recorded version of KHAOS will be available for download here. (click on the link)
Well….production week is almost upon us and all the elements are in place for a great show! The promotional side of things has really kicked into high gear with features on Khaos coming in the Globe and Mail and on CBC radio. Opening night is next Thursday March 8th at 8pm followed by shows on Friday and Saturday night and a matinee on Saturday. All shows are to take place at the Capitol Theatre in Nelson, BC. For showtimes and to book tickets, click on this link to go the Capitol Theatre Website.
The leads and chorus in this production are doing an incredible job. It is really a testament to their work ethic that the production feels so solid at this point.
Here are a few musical excerpts.
1) Demeter’s Aria – as sung by Audrey Bissett
2) Cerberus’s Aria – as sung by Kevin Armstrong
So….it’s been a while. A long while in fact since my last pontification on the subject of all things Khaotic. Reasons for this include a long awaited renovation to my studio, creating parts for the workshop, and the workshop itself. The workshop was a tremendous success owing in large part to the preparation and performances by our all-star cast. Workshop attendees Charles Barber from Vancouver City Opera and Alison Greene who has worked extensively with Victoria’s Pacific Opera offered just the right amount of critical feedback. Special thanks goes out to producer Marty Horswill for making the weekend go off without a hitch.
One section that was identified in the workshop as possibly needing to be repeated elsewhere in the work was the short aria for Persephone titled “Black Water”. In this aria a dancer from the upper world has perished due to Demeter’s rage and enters the underworld full of dread, crippled by sadness due to the loss of loved ones left behind. Persephone’s new role in the underworld is such that she must relieve the suffering of all who enter the kingdom of the underworld by removing their memories. This she does by singing the “Black Water” incantation that deals with crossing the river Styx, the ancient mythical river that separates the underworld from the world of the living.
This music is for a scene late in act 3 (there are currently 3 acts). Persephone is on her journey back to the underworld after seeing Demeter her mother for the last time. Once a powerful and beautiful kingdom that relieved the dead of their suffering it has been transformed into a dark and forbidding land. As Persephone walks through the passage the music underscores a growing sense of dread as the dark underworld is revealed. The metallic percussion that appears later is a potential thematic concept for the underworld.
Here’s the libretto for this section:
Chill, dark, hollow heart
Void of beating, void of blood
An awful stillness
In this chamber
I fear I am lost…
Caught between the worlds
My worst nightmare come to pass
Trapped in this passage
Move feet! Move forward!
I taste the dirt, I feel the worms
Crawling against my skin
Where is my husband?
Hades? My king?
A scene with Demeter and the upper world chorus. My voice is obviously substituted for all vocalists. As you listen to the demo take note of one of the lead female voices. She is actually my voice transposed up an octave using computer software that I use called Digital Performer. I’ll be glad to fire her once performances begin.
Scene 5 demonstrates how the music will deal with scenes that are more like traditional recitative. For those unaware of some of the operatic conventions, “recitative” is a style of performance that incorporates a speech-like delivery whereas an “aria” may often contain the more rhythmic delivery of poetry. Scene 5 uses recit whereas as scene 6 is an aria. Since music is inherently rhythmic, recit can pose some challenges for the composer. Do you, like the many of the Baroque and Classical composers, compose music that uses free flowing non rhythmic gestures or do you try to inject rhythm and forward motion like later composers such as Wagner? I’ve chosen to go the latter route.
The harmonic concepts for the work are still in the evolutionary stages but as you’ll hear, much like music for a motion picture, the music paints each moment of text with a different musical color. I am keenly aware that too many harmonic concepts can lead to a directionless result so this quote from Stravinsky is always in the back of my mind as I write…..
“My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
This is a rather eloquent way of suggesting that the creation of art is best served by narrowing your options. If a painter uses every color in his/her palette the results may not be as compelling as one who experiments with specific shades for each new work.
With that thought as a backdrop, here are some of my chosen plans for the music….
– melodies will use a very smooth topography for emotional moments and very angular movement with wide leaps in more dramatic sections
– harmony will have triadic (chords built in thirds) and quartal (chords built in 4ths) harmony and there will almost always be a layers of subtle and not so subtle dissonance (due to our dark subject matter) weaving in and out of the score
– a signature structure of the work will be the recurrence of chords where a seventh or ninth is placed below a triad – in most cases these chords will sound dissonant but will also afford opportunities for warmth and power since they contain triads
That’s it for now.
Well it’s 3 months into the new year and ages since anything has been posted on the site. This absence is actually due to real progress on the libretto writing front as well as some modest inroads into the music. Nicola has come up with some beautiful prose and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to wake up and find a libretto filled email waiting to be put to music.
Having worked in film for such a long time I am used to responding musically to visual cues, whereas working from a page of prose I have to imagine the scene entirely. It’s a new and exciting challenge. In a number of attempts at writing the music for scene 6, my interpretation of the text lead me down a musical pathway that slightly misrepresented the emotions of Demeter. Her daughter abducted, Demeter sings the words “torn from my body”. In each restatement of this theme my music originally delved into an increasing sense of sadness and grief. Nicola suggested that the text here is one that actually dwells for a moment on loss but moves quickly to an emotion of one who feels betrayed – loss – bitterness – anger – and in the end a move into action. After a number of attempts I arrived at an opening harmonic concept that plays to Demeter’s grief but in each of the two following verses the harmonic undercarriage shifts to follow her changing emotions. Near the end, grief has given way to fury and the chorus will join her on stage for the closing of the scene heard here with only the rhythmic pulsing of the orchestra.
Stay tuned. The conveyor belt of progress is slowly starting to chug along.
Seven Sisters Dancing – I wrote a few images down on a piece of paper (wind over ice – etc.) and then my wife Allison came up with the image of seven sisters dancing – an old Iroquois Legend that I think speaks very nicely to the feeling of space and playfulness that might be the world inhabited by Demeter and Persephone early on in the Opera. I wrote this one early this week and tried to accomplish a few things. The main concept was to use one melodic idea and then rearrange the harmonic background so it goes through a large transformation. In this study there are 3 different versions of the same melody each starting on the chord of F major but then going in vastly different harmonic directions. I think rhythmic diversity will be a big component of this work so moving into a different rhythmic pulse for the word “dance” plays to that idea.
This piece is a study exploring a potential thematic concept for Persephone, some darker harmonic ideas later that may work for the world that Hades has created and an ending that explores the tragedy of the ill fated romance between Hades and Persephone. Early days though…. ideas could end up on the cutting room floor.