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how to deal with reviews

Greetings from outside-of-Salerno, Italy, where I'm taking a much needed working vacation1 after NANOWorks' run of THE BUBBLE and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.


Normally I'd be all a-glow gushing about the world premiere of my opera about the housing bubble, but I'm just so freaking happy that my partner/co-founder/librettist/all-around-fantastic-person and I produced four nano-productions and had them performed five times. And it all came together. And we survived it. And the house is still standing.

Let me tell you—producing your own opera series (at a Fringe festival) is an experience in which the learning curve is rather steep. I have learned quite a bit from this experience,2 and I've also learned how to deal with reviews from critics who have no musical background.

I have to admit, I was a little bit naïve about the process: I thought that the local music critics would attend my show (I mean, I did email them about it and they should have been aware of the performances), but they never came. Instead, all of the (freelance) theatre critics appeared since they were assigned to attend all of the Cincinnati Fringe shows. Is that why the music critics never attended? Did they assume their theatre colleagues would have the same background as them and understand the opera genre?

I'm not sure. What I did learn was that the theatre crowd can be hostile to opera, mainly because most believe that it's long, foreign, and mainly sung in Italian. And I also got the impression that some did not want to be there, which was quite sad and disappointing to me. In this review, for example, I was slightly confused about the line "Once into the flow, however, I saw fewer yawns in the audience." The opening night audience was the best we've had as a company.3

In this other review/blog post, I appreciate that this writer admitted that he had only seen a handful of operas. And, I learned through his review that theatre-goers probably want to feel emotionally connected to their characters onstage. Since the operas I produced were about really really really really really bad people, I didn't think the audience would have connected to the characters.4

The last review was probably the most balanced in that the critic actually researched our fledgling company. He had good things to say about our production, he pointed out that our stage direction was lacking (which, considering that we're not really stage directors, makes sense, although I wish he mentioned how we could fix it), but he mentioned that one of my singers had poor diction (which is NOT true!). I wish I could talk to all these theatre critics and explain that female operatic voices are harder to understand. (I mean, sung text is harder to understand than spoken text.)

Anyway, I did learn quite a bit from this production, and I now know who my Fringe audience is. I can now attune my productions to sustain their attention and interest. I believe opera can learn a bit from the theatre kids, and in turn, we can show them that opera is fun and exciting.


So, I'm the composer-in-residence this week at Chamber Music Campania! My woodwind trio Ma fin est mon commencement, est mon commencement5will be performed in Varano this weekend. The musicians are stellar, and I can't wait to hear my piece (in rehearsal) this afternoon.

1. More on that later.

2. As in, how to do it better next time.

3. I mean, they were a highly lubricated audience, ergo they were not yawning.

4. Like I totally related to buying a house with my student loans. Ever.

5. Let it be known that I have now abandoned extensive titles. You're welcome.

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