NEW Libertaria Chronicles Expanded Edition at AMAZON

NEW Libertaria Chronicles Expanded Edition at AMAZON
NEW Libertaria Chronicles Expanded Edition at AMAZON

How to be an Opera Composer in 5 Steps

When I started working on Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, I didn't set out to be an opera composer. Had I written vocal music before? Well, yes, in fact I wrote a large scale multimedia Creation oratorio (complete with Afro-Cuban drumming ensemble, sci-fi animation, and synthesis). And like any college composer, I wrote several songs throughout my college career and more as I developed my music career.

Libertaria: The Virtual Opera Highlights Reel

Yet, becoming an opera composer was just something that happened. I found that I loved the format, where musical theater and voice worked together so well. However, I have become involved with opera that incorporates technology. So you won't find my opera at the Met, you will find it on Youtube or the Internet, like the collaboration with composer Lee Scott on his web opera The Village. I even wrote a nano-opera, a short sixty second electroacoustic work about a hapless space explorer named Robotika. Currently I am working on Alicia and the White Rabbit, a children's video game opera.

Nano Opera: The Rise, Triumph, and Fiery Demise of Robotika
"Nano Opera: The Rise, Triumph, and Fiery Demise of Robotika" is an exhaustive opera in 3 acts. In Act 1 we meet the fledgling Robotika adrift in outer space. During the riveting battle scene in Act 2, the evil antagonist Teknilateroa betrays Robotika in a scintillating battle of wits. Act III begins with a massive explosion as Robotika accidently hits the big red button that destroys the galaxy's second quadrant. The opera ends with Robotika's ashes again adrift in the multiverse.
You can become an opera composer. But how? Fortunately today there are many amazing resources available to any composer with an imagination and the Internet.

1. Develop a good story idea

You might want the help of a writer or librettist, borrow a story from traditional fairy tales, or develop your own dramatic tale. Just remember that opera is DRAMATIC and exciting and usually involves at least one person with a singing death scene. (Libertaria had three singing death scenes, two with the same guy who died twice!).

2. Work on the music

You need to develop at least a basic piano/vocal score for your opera. Some contests and opera workshops will work with this basic set-up. If you have an ensemble in mind you can write for the ensemble, just be sure to have some flexibility in your orchestration so your work can be played by other ensembles. If you opt for an electronic score, then you are the master of the entire thing. For Libertaria, the opera cast was live, but the full choir and orchestral experimental score was electronic, mixed with some synthesis.

3. Find your performers

To be honest, before I start almost any musical endeavor, I already have an ensemble and/or concert venue planned out. Why? In my early career I ended up with a stack of compositions that went unperformed because the ensembles didn't work out or the performers were not able to play the piece. (Since then I have open-sourced these scores and thousands have downloaded them). Find your performers at your local college, church, community orchestra/choir, or even the Internet. I would recommend checking out and to find high quality musicians.

There is no point to a composition if you never hear it performed. It's like training for the Superbowl then staying home with a cold. 

For Metal Ink, I combined the voices of Matt Meadows and Perry R. Cook, both playing the role of Simeon, the Underground leader.

4. Rehearse

This is the key part of the process. If you are doing an online collaboration, like Libertaria, then you will need to be very, very organized and realize that you have very little control over your lead soprano who lives in Hong Kong. This means flexibility and back-ups. In Libertaria, nearly every part had two singers. I then mixed their vocals together to make a convincing soundtrack. For live performers, you might have two days, two months, or two years to prepare. If these are paid performers, you need to budget for any unforeseen expenses like extra rehearsals, recordings, and more. If you have volunteers, respect their time, be organized, and realize that your work needs them to be a success. I have known a few composers that treat performers like dirt. Don't do that. You aren't a prima donna, you are the composer, that's all. 

5. Final performance

Whether this is a small performance at a college, an opera workshop, a full performance in a concert hall, an online streaming performance, or a film, your final opera is your amazing achievement. Enjoy the success, build on it, continue to network with musicians, and get ready for your next project. There aren't many composers able to pull off a successful opera, and if you do, congratulate yourself and your performers and an incredible job well-done! 

Award-winning composer Sabrina Pena Young is a foremost expert on Virtual Opera Production and Music Technology. A
sought after consultant and speaker in music, arts, and technology, Young continues to push musical boundaries. Critics have called her "Wagner 2.0"and "Talented" with her works presented at Art Basil Miami, Opera America in NYC. the Beijing Conservatory, ICMC, London's Angel Moving Image Festival, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, SEAMUS, the NY International Independent Film Festival, Miramax's Project Greenlight, TEDxBuffalo, the Holland Animation Film Festival, TEDx, and countless venues in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.


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