How did you first get involved with Cerise Jacobs and her new operas?
I had just started working at NEC and a colleague (Timothy Steele) thought to introduce us. I was immediately struck by Cerise’s passion, tenacity and the delicious Japanese sweets she brought to our first meeting. How could I resist those desserts…
How many operas have you developed with Cerise and how were they different/similar to each other?
I believe this is our fourth project. Though all of them are different, the connecting tissue is her desire to grapple with the big issues of existence. Her libretti deal with archetypes, allegory and myth. Each opera has had a different composer bringing a different musical vocabulary to each project. She invests in American composers who understand how to write dramatically.
What's your approach to developing new opera using the resources of NEC?
My approach is very simple—focus on music and relationships. I try to give the composer and librettist a chance to see the basic narrative structure and how the musical language works to move the narrative forward. It is an opportunity for the writers to test out what they are writing without the pressure of production. We have excellent singers and coaches eager to experience and develop new works and this is the most basic necessity for workshopping new opera.
What are the challenges and the rewards?
A major challenge of developing new work is interpretive. In Cerise's case, her work is original—she creates her own stories. The challenge is to make sure that what is in Cerise’s head is understandable on the stage. The rewards are seeing a new work come to life and to see a young singer stimulated by the experience of working with living composers. One great benefit that's emerged from our work together is that several of the young singers workshopping Cerise's operas have been hired as chorus members, covers, and for PermaDeath, the show we're workshopping this Fall, as principals. That's huge for them.
What is the student feedback on what you're doing?
The singers love the experience. There is a strong sense of being a part of something new and exciting. They get a composer who will write music for their particular voice!
Why do you continue to do this?
There are two fundamental reasons I feel passionately about developing and presenting new opera - it is vital to the survival of the art form; and I believe young singers need an opportunity to experience working with living composers and new opera.