A snippet from the new opera, The Boats: Tsunami, The second wave, Verdi, La Traviata, Dying at 100 decibels, The inner voice in opera, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, I’m not dead yet, Brazil, A different kind of Botox.
Roger CortonAnd still. Another. New. Snippet.
JC HarrisRight you are, Rog! But wait. If you act now, you will receive. Not one! But two! Absolutely free…
RCJust pay a small shipping fee.
RCBack on planet earth, let’s talk about the piece. For a piece called ‘Tsunami’ this is fairly quiet stuff.
JCHYes. This is the first aria which directly follows the Overture. Our main character, Ciarán, sits on a bench on the cliff overlooking the town at sunrise. From there you can also see the ocean. He’s just having a think before the auction.
RCSo the tsunami is a metaphor.
JCHRight. It’s this ginormous, silent force that’s about to hit the town from out of nowhere. WHAM!
RCExcept that in a real Tsunami, there’s no warning. In this case, people where you grew up had plenty of warning, right?
JCHOh sure. But they didn’t act like it. It was all so surreal, so unreal, that there was almost no preparation. So in that way, it was a lot like how people here in America treat natural disasters. Look at how few people have flood or earthquake insurance for example. All that aside, people were just in this case of mass denial, so it might as well have come from out of nowhere.
RCAgain, it’s another very simple melody and arrangement. Anything you want to say about the music? You keep saying that you’ll be giving examples of the more involved sections at some point.
JCHWELL NOT TODAY, SONNY! (laughs) It is what it is. As I’ve said about fifty times by now, Ciarán had this thing he always said, “I’ve eaten the same thing for lunch every day for the last ten years and it’s still great.” He was a lot like the sea: every day the same, and that was just peachy. Every day was exactly the same.
RCUntil it wasn’t.
JCHUntil it wasn’t. So there’s only one thing out of place in this bit. It’s the beginning of the opera and he hasn’t quite processed what this all means yet. And that brings me to the other meaning of ‘tsunami’…
JCHWell, remember when they had that one in 2011 in Japan? So it hits after the earthquake and then it backs out and everyone thinks everything is cool and then… a half hour later… WHAM! It comes back for another slurp.
RCI remember that.
JCHRight. So there was the auction. And then there was the after shock. A whole second round of pain and suffering which came later, when people had gotten a check from the government but didn’t know what to do to rebuild their lives.
RCGot it. Anything else?
RCJust trying to keep things moving. And that sounds like another of your metaphysical rants that could take up another complete rant. So… Anything else?
JCHTouché (laughs). Man, you really do know me. Yeah, there is one other thing, where I’m veering away from ‘opera’ into the land of ‘musical’. You’ve asked me what are the differences between ‘opera’ and ‘musical’ and I keep hemming and hawing but here’s another, and it’s a BIGGEE in my mind. I’ve been trying to find a way to cram it into these rants and this looks like the space.
RCCram it. (laughs) Into the rant, of course.
JCHOh, of course. Well, I call this “Dying at one hundred decibels”.
JCHOne very commonly mocked characteristic of some of the most famous operas is when the heroine of an opera dies at the end, typically of some awful disease.
JCHLet’s take Verdi’s “La Traviata”, one of the most famous operas of all time. At the end, our heroine, Violeta, is on her death bed, dying of tuberculosis. She’s in her last moments but still somehow able to sing at full volume about how much she’ll miss her lover and so on and so forth. And it takes her what seems like a half an hour to DIE because it’s all so very romantic and tragic. The whole point is to milk it for all its worth. Opera people looooove that shit.
RCAnd you do not.
JCHI have seriously pissed off some opera loving friends with my unkind remarks about her highly unrealistic energy level. The jokes just write themselves!
RCWell yeah. Obviously..
JCHBut those are moments opera lovers live for. Or rather cry for. And they would say that our mockery reflects a complete misunderstanding of the art.
RCOK, I’ll bite. How so?
JCHWhen the character is dying, she is singing her inner truth. She isn’t singing with her real voice, which of course is wasted away from tuberculosis or whatever. She’s singing with her anguished spirit which is RAGING against the dying of the light, as it were. It’s her passion at leaving the world, her love, etc. that she’s expressing, it’s a feeling that no other art form could express because no other art form can show you how a dying person is feeling on the inside, you ass wipe of a philistine (laughs).
RCAnd I’m supposed to know this, how?
JCHThat’s the thing. It’s one of those rules you have to know to get in the door. And I think that’s why there’s this self-selection. Most people get into opera because they just happen to like that particular style of singing.
RCGood Lord. (laughs)
JCHYeah, I know. So they’re willing to forgive all the rest of it, which I admit looks to you and me like “Bring Out Yer Dead”
RC“I’m not dead yet!”
JCHLike I said. The jokes just write themselves. But of course in pop or in Broadway musicals, this doesn’t happen; the dynamic of the lyric tend to match the dynamic of the character. And I’ve stuck with that convention rather than going with the ‘operatic’ convention which might have Ciarán screaming at the top of his lungs to indicate his inner rage. This seems more straightforward to me.
RCBut ironically, it will seem more unusual to an opera lover?
JCHI’ve kinda given up worrying about all that. For example, we’ve talked before I think about how one thing opera singers have come to hate are any talking bits; they used to be very common in opera and now most singers loathe them.
RCYou said it’s hard on the voice for some reason.
JCHRight. But hey, Mozart did it. Beethoven did it. That ‘rule’ is something someone came up with in just the past one hundred years so I’m not too worried about it. There’s gotta be more flex in this art form. Or at least in my version of this art form.
RCRight on. OK, so what’s next.
JCHOnly a couple more snippets and then I’m pretty much done with the outlines. If my health holds out, if I can make a few more house payments somehow? I’ll hit the road and try to sell this thing.
RCHow is the health thing? He said. Hoping for a quick, positive reply.
JCHWell, after waiting almost a year I finally got my first Botox injections, which are supposed to be the miracle cure.
JCHYou tell me?
RCYou look mahvelous.
JCHWhich is pretty fucking amazing considering the injections when into my back side. (laughs) Apparently, they take a month or so to kick into gear. Fingers crossed.