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Music Secrets: 5 Opera Production Tips

Caricature of Giuseppe Verdi.
Caricature of Giuseppe Verdi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Although I have written an operetta and oratorio in the past, nothing prepared me for the intricacies for learning how to compose an opera. The large scale form that made countless composers like Verdi immortal in the annals of classical music seems daunting and somewhat archaic in a world of fast-paced social media, instant entertainment, and blase' pop music that permeates our minds like the polluted air we breathe.

Ironically, I found little modern literature that helped me learn how to write an opera. Had the form been so abandoned in the Digital Age that writing a book on opera composition was futile? In any case, I decided to reinvent the form combining modern technology with contemporary compositions with
Libertaria: The Virtual Opera, an animated opera produced entirely online. 

Here are a few tips I have learned along the way:

1) Be Realistic 
When I started working on Libertaria: The Virtual Opera  two years ago, I knew that I had to create a production that involved low overhead cost and allowed for mobility. In other words, writing an opera for a specific local opera company would not work because that would involve enormous cost (unless it was a college group). Our family moved around a few times, and I could not count on being in the same geographic location at that time during the entire length of production. Besides these issues, after writing a complex multimedia oratorio that is difficult to perform, I wanted to create an opera that required no more than an internet connection or a DVD player to perform. Thus, the idea of a virtual opera.

2) Use Your Resources
Voice classification in non-classical musicUnless you have an opera production company at your fingertips, then I suggest you round up your resources. Do you study or work at a university with a strong choral program? Do you teach a high school music ensemble or do you have a handful of friends that are extremely talented? Do you participate in community theater or have a church choir with decent talent? Pool your resources. There are also countless opportunities for emerging composers and new opera if you can get through the competition. 

3) Use Technology
Contemporary operas use technology in a variety of ways, from multimedia sets to electronic scores. In my case, I opted to use technology and my social media savvy to contact numerous musicians throughout the world to volunteer for the cast and crew. I used everything I could think of: Facebook, Twitter, Music Xray, listserves, online music ads, crowdsourcing, press, and personal interactions. Then I asked the cast to record their own vocals and submit it to me for the animated opera via e-mail. The crew submitted their animated scenes the same way. Technology may help you make a large production a reality.

 4) Organization
Set up a production schedule. Even if the schedule changes a hundred times, you need to have a set schedule, preferably with a premier as the end goal. When you collaborate with more than one person (yourself) there needs to be some common ground. Being organized will help you get there. For Libertaria I had a production schedule, excel sheets with shots and master lists, organized folders for raw and mixed vocals, animation folders with WIP and final files, lip sync audio folders, and more. 

5) Communication
To direct a great opera you need be a great communicator. Now, I can talk hundreds of words a minute, but if I am not clear in what I need and want from the cast and crew, then they have no idea what I need from them. This is only the second production that I have directed, and being entirely online had its definite drawbacks. You can solve so much more over a cup of coffee (or hot cocoa, don't like coffee too much). And with my drummer's ears, Skype and phone conversations didn't always work out. But communicate. Your cast and crew are working for YOUR opera to make YOUR music great! Treat them with respect, and they will treat your score with respect.
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Feel like writing an opera is only for big name composers with big budgets? Or are you willing to take the plunge and create a work in one of the most compelling and cutting edge musical opera? Almost two years ago I embarked on the largest musical production I have created to date -  Libertaria: The Virtual Opera. After writing the award-winning Creation Oratorio and dozens of multimedia works, I wanted to combine my love of the audio and the visual into a single large scale work.  Find a Great Dramatic Story You need a strong story to write a compelling opera. Fortunately you can easily borrow from thousands of public domain works and modernize them. Think of West Side Story (just a contemporary version of Shakespear's Romeo and Juliet) .   Many great operas use Shakespeare, the Brothers Grimm , and Biblical stories, all of which include interesting characters, strong themes, and action.   Libertaria borrows heavily from messianic stories, but is se

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