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Composer Secrets: The $2000 Opera

Budget Friendly Opera Production

When you think about writing an opera, often your vision is tempered a little bit by reality. After all, the libretto might call for two hundred Roman soldiers marching in perfect rhythm or require insurmountable months of rehearsal to sing your score just right. You might need a full orchestra or a rock band or need to hire a dozen jugglers for that one scene before the heroine plunges a knife in her lovers heart (it is  opera, so we must be dramatic). 

The last couple of decades have seen splendor and extravagance, once the calling cards of great opera, give way to smaller chamber operas, short opera productions, and experimental operas where technology replaces lavish sets and a handful of characters play out a complex, sometimes nonlinear, story.

When I set out to write Libertaria: The Virtual Opera I knew that I wanted grand splendor. I wanted to recreate the grandiosity of the operatic heyday, when audiences clamored to see exotic costumes, hear lyrical gymnastics, and in general enjoy a spectacle that mocked society's ills and openly tore apart the political fabric of the time. That is what opera truly was, the epic before the cinema blockbuster. Yet, there was one issue - money. How can I finance an epic opera? I don't believe in borrowing money and then owing my life to several investors if the opera "flopped", but I also didn't want to compromise on the vision in my head. 

If you have ever created a large scale work, I am sure that you have dealt with the same issue, whether it was a film, a symphony, or a large business project. There are logistical issues that threaten to destroy the very idea that gave birth to your vision. 

These were my solutions which I now share with you in the hopes that my innovative approach to opera will help the next artist that wakes up in the middle of the night with an intense desire to create without any cash flow. 

A Story 

Fortunately I am a writer (it helps, you know to be a multitasking maven). I rewrite an old sci-fi tale about genetics gone wrong into a full librettoplay (a cross between a libretto and screenplay). By writing my own story I bypassed any copyright issues. I own all rights to the story. It came from my head.


Here I have to say I was incredibly blessed by talented crew and cast members that were willing to give up their time and donate sheer incredible talent to practice and record each song separately, e-mailing me over 1000 takes in the end. I found them through sites like Music Xray and publications like Sigma Alpha Iota's Panpipes and the International Alliance for Women in Music listserve. 


I am not an organized individual, and the production would have been completed probably a good year sooner had I been more organized and had a better idea as to how much time this project would take. All the same, I posted detailed "Rehearsal Albums" through Bandcamp with instruction manuals that provided click tracks, scores, and music for each individual part.

Set Design

I opted to use a program called Moviestorm with animators Lucinda McNary and Kera Hildebrandt to create fantastical futuristic dystopic sets. Our sets included the destruction of New York, a full Underground cavern, a genetics lab, prison cells, and dark alleyways, and enough pyrotechnics and visual effects to blow your mind. Lucinda McNary created the majority of the sets, although others like Shirley Martin also had incredible addons that I used for the production.



I wrote the entire score and all of the music, and also did the initial mix for the album and soundtrack. When my brain was about to explode, I used a Kickstarter campaign to pay for professional mastering by New York based composer Patrick Rundbladh, who was both professional and artistic in his mastering of the soundtrack and album. 

Post Production

Due to a few production snafus, of which there are always a few, the final production ended up being shorter than the original script. the solution was to cut out one really long self-indulgent dream sequence that had little purpose than to satisfy my inner geekness. Cut and gone. I also ended up doing over half of the animation for the film because of the production issues. Thankfully both Kera Hildebrandt and Lucinda McNary pulled through with excellent work that really saved me time and headaches. 

Opera Premiere and Distribution

My mentor throughout the entire process was the incredible composer Dr. Clare Shore, who also hosted the world premier in Lake Worth, Florida, and helped gain some valuable press for the production. In typical 21st century fashion, my original idea to hold off on the video release of Libertaria gave way to the realization that audiences today want to see the film now, not two years from now. As such, I've been spending the last month readying the film for Video on Demand through a few different sites. 

In the end the costliest parts of production were the purchase of the East West Symphonic Choirs suite to provide a good choral background to my small cast, the album release, and the final mastering, which was funded almost entirely through Kickstarter.  

The personal cost of the opera over two and a half years was a little less than $2000, although the production itself at full cost would have 
probably hovered in the tens of thousands. 

Why do I share this? In the future I hope to give more detailed information on how I created an opera using technology and incredible collaborators, but my hope is that the next composer who wants to write a symphony, create an opera, write a ballet, or create the worlds next digital phenomenon will realize that with a little innovation, you can achieve your musical vision. 

Working on a project? Need some advice on how to streamline production costs? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below. 

And SHARE with a friend!

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