Another snippet from the new opera, The Boats: Australia. The Godfather. Nostalgia. Jigsaw puzzles. Intimate boots. Kids and operas change you when you think you’re changing them. Stage-swearing.
Roger CortonAnother week? Another slow snippet–like last week.
JC HarrisAnd yet another country!
RCIndeed. So what’s the story this time?
JCHWell, as with Canada, this is another of the three boys thinking about where he’s thinking of going now that the fishery is shut down. But in this case, it’s a duet; he’s sharing the bad news with his fiancé.
RCAnd she’s not taking it well.
JCHNope. Despite all the hardships of being a fisherman’s wife, one could always count on the guy being constant. She feels like he’s just pulled the rug out from under her. It’s not just that he’s thinking about leaving, it’s the fact that she never even knew he’d thought about Australia before. She really thought she knew the guy inside and out. That was part of the attraction.
RCEveryone has secrets of course.
JCHNo doubt. But most of us would prefer to not know that we don’t know, if you take my meaning.
RCOf course. We know that our spouse had other boyfriends, but we don’t want to be reminded of it.
JCHYeah. I should probably circle back to something which I’ve mentioned before–the emigration classes.
RCRight. If I recall correctly, y’all had to take a class in high school on how to move to another country. That is so weird.
JCHYes. It was weird. Kids haven’t done that for decades, but that’s where each of the brothers got their fave country stuck in their minds. In this case Pól always thought Australia would be cool.
RCBut wait, he’s not the real cousin who went to Australia, right? The one who passed recently?
JCHRight. I know it’s confusing. But I switched names and countries among other things.
RCI still don’t quite get that.
JCHLike I said way back when, part of it is because the story doesn’t match what really happened. But also, I realized early on that the more I changed it up, the less painful it is to think about.
RCThe names have been changed to protect the innocent? (laughs)
JCHIt’s like that method acting stuff we talked about; I need to keep some distance between my real family and this story.
RCAnd changing the names; that works?
JCHOh hell no. It just confuses the shit out of me (laughs). But it’s too late now!
RCBut that, I don’t quite know what to call it, maybe ‘nostalgia’. That really gets to you that much?
JCHOh yeah. I was watching The Godfather again last week for some reason. Man what a masterpiece. Ya know how you can tell a masterpiece?
RCI’m sure you’ll tell me.
JCHYou can watch it again and it just gets better.
RCVery few movies work that way for me.
JCHWatch it again. You’ll see. But the universal theme is that you can’t have it both ways. The whole Mafia business model changes, but he expects the family to stay the same. So he defeats all his enemies, but loses his family. Well, that’s how it worked for this story–and also in real life. The whole business collapsed. But at the same time, the whole notion of ‘family’ changed.
RCBecause of the fishing ending?
JCHNot really. What I’ve started to think now–even as I work on The Boats, is that the family would’ve broken up anyway sooner or later.
RCBecause they already had those seeds planted in their minds.
JCHRight. And I was so nostalgic for so many years I didn’t even consider that. I mean, if the fishery hadn’t been closed, maybe things would’ve survived one more generation, but then?
RCI get you. So maybe one way to think about the closure as being like a band-aid being pulled off fast rather than slowly.
JCHThat’s an excellent way to look at it. And that’s so weird. Working on this show has been therapeutic in a way; or at least, it’s helped me ‘process’ my feelings about it. I literally never saw this big picture until I started writing the opera. In fact–I think I told you this already–Ciarán, the real cousin who went to Australia…
RCThe one who passed recently.
JCHRight. He was seriously concerned about this really damaging my mental health. He thought it would send me into a real depression. But so far? Just the opposite.
RCBe patient (laughs).
JCH(laughs) I know, right? But it just goes to show ya that art really is a lot like having kids. It isn’t just you making them. In fact, they end up changing you.
RCAin’t that the truth. One last thing: why have we gone back to a short snippet? I was getting used to hearing longer excerpts.
JCHOH WERE YOU? WERE YOU REALLY? (laughs) That’s an easy one. I don’t have anything more finished on this one.
RCSo how does that work? You don’t finish one ‘song’…
JCHARIA! ARIA! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO YELL YOU, IGOR!
RC…aria and then go on?
JCHNo. It’s not linear at all. The mental image I sometimes get is like this ginormous jigsaw puzzle. And the puzzle is actually of a map of the world. I’ve got all the edge pieces worked out and then I start filling in. Some places get filled in faster than others just because you pick up pieces and they’re really obvious what goes where. But then as you go, for some reason it actually gets harder to fill in bits in the middle. That’s where I’m at now. I’ve pretty much finished all the easy stuff. I know the overall shape, but those pieces in the middle? Total struggle.
RCI’m not sure I follow. How does that pertain to this aria? SEE! I got it right!
JCHWell done to you. Well on this aria, I know what it needs to do. I know the plot it has to cover–Pól has this big reveal that he actually might want to go to Australia. I have the basic melody and harmony and colors. I’ve got some imagery here–the bell spinning in a storm…
RCAnd his boots…
JCHYes. The intimacy of that. They’re at a point where it’s normal to see his filthy boots at her door. They’re a real couple. But beyond those images? I sure as shit don’t have the specifics. Yet.
RCSo is this uncertainty about lyrics?
JCHMostly so. Like I’ve ranted about so many times, the real drag of ‘opera’ is that it’s almost like doing a commercial jingle. When I’m working on my ‘regular’ stuff, I can just go wherever ‘the muse’ takes me. But here, I’ve got this musical form and I have some thoughts I need to get across, but I have to come up with specific words to fit within that mold. That’s the single least pleasant part of the job. Sometimes I get so frustrated with it I swear I’d rather deck hand.
JCHOf course not. What are you nuts? Commercial fishing is hard.
RCYou did swear.
JCHCan’t you tell a stage-swear from a real swear?
JCHYeah, man. “I swear I’d give a miiiiiillion dollars if I didn’t have to take out the trash!” Stage-swear. Try to keep up.