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composer FAIL #67

I want to take the time to thank everyone who has been supportive over the past few months—from those reading my blog to attending my performances (or watching them online)—and to those posting and reposting that feature in the CCM blog about my feature in Opera News.This, especially the latest posts, has been quite amazing and surreal, and I am thankful to all of you who have been quite wonderful and encouraging for all this time. You all rock.

On that note, I feel I should explain how the Opera News article came into being; this is both a short and a long tale because it depends how deep into the backstory you dig. The short version is that Kyle MacMillan was writing a preview piece on a concert that never happened. So, as any emerging composer would react, I was thrilled that I was having a premiere in Chicago, even more delighted that there was going to be a preview piece in the Chicago-Sun Times, and terribly bummed when the premiere of my yet-to-be-performed piece was cancelled two days before my road trip.

So at that moment I probably thought I wasted my compositional energy on this ensemble, and in all likelihood, overstuffed my face with some gargantuan serving of glorified fattiness and moved on with my life. A couple months later, I was having coffee with my friend Liz and received an email from Kyle stating that Opera News wanted to do a short piece on NANOWorks.

Holy sh*t! My opera company was going to get featured in Opera News! My cancelled gig in Chicago wasn't a complete waste! This was flipping amazing.

And that is the short story.

Go back in time a little further, probably around December 2011, when I was asked along with a handful of other student composers to create proposals for Washington National Opera's inaugural American Opera Initiative. They were looking for student composer/librettist teams with an interest to tell an American story through a short twenty-minute opera. Those selected would receive guidance from an established composer and librettist in workshops leading up to a performance at the Terrace Theatre at the Kennedy Center. Supposedly they were looking for an original and contemporary American story.

Oh man. I had to jump on this opportunity. I have been wanting something like this for a very long time. True, I had great opera resources at my school—lots of great enthusiastic singers and musicians—but my institution had never premiered or officially workshopped any operas by student composers. They still have yet to do so.

My librettist almost instantaneously invented a synopsis. "We should write an opera about the housing bubble! It is our great American story of the early twenty-first century!"

The housing bubble?! Normally when I think of "great American stories," I don't immediately equate that to "great romanticized disasters."

It gets better.

"And…the story should be about a college student who is able to buy a house with her student loans."

Oh man.

Thankfully I warmed up to the idea after a couple days because it's a great one, and so I started to pull my share of the creative weight.

"I think The Ditz shouldn't be an actress. I think she should be a dancer."

"We should totally make those four male characters (The Dean/Mortgage Broker, The Banker, The Landlord/Realtor, The Financier) come together at the end like they're in a barbershop quartet. Let's make it schmaltzy and patriotic at the end."

"OH. We should totally write dirty catch canons where the characters sing one thing and The Ditz hears how much they're screwing her."

This was going to be the best proposal ever. We eagerly submitted it. We had this.

And then we were served a slice of humble pie.

In late April of last year, I learned that my friend Doug Pew won the opportunity to work with the WNO. And you know what, he (and his librettist Dara Weinberg) totally deserved it. If I were on a committee, I'd totally pick Doug and Dara too. Doug's a good composer. And, even though I'm not familiar with Dara's dramatic works, she's sharp and can write a good libretto.

That all being said, this has probably been the most crushing composer FAIL I've ever experienced. And this defeat was further compounded because my in-house librettist was taken down with me.

So, what did we do? We ate at Izzy's.

There is nothing a delightfully-fattening reuben and a perfect potato pancake can't cure, and the sandwich did help soften the blow, but I think the pairing of good food with good conversation is ultimately what helped us.

"We should produce this opera ourselves."

"I know, right? No one else is going to perform this. I am SO tired of receiving rejection letters and waiting for other people to produce my work."

"We should form our own opera company."

"And pull a Joan Tower? Yeah. Yeah…totally…"

So there you have it, folks. We became new opera vigilantes. We arrived at the 2012 Opera America Conference, picked up our name tags, and inscribed "NANOWorks" as best we could, mimicking the font on the badge. When opera administrators asked us what is NANOWorks, we said as best we could, "We are North American New Opera Workshop, we're a new opera company in Cincinnati, and our first production will be about the unofficial life and death of Paula Deen." Done and done.

Am I thankful for this rejection? Yes, finally, because now I can say, "We're in Opera News, monkeys!"

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