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How to Write an Opera in the Digital Age: Production Tips

Young Dishes Opera at TEDxBuffalo

How to Write an Opera in the Digital Age

When we think about how to write an opera, what often comes to mind is a large scale traditional opera on an immense theatrical stage employing dozens, if not a hundred, singers, musicians, costumer designers, stagehands, theater personnel, a publicist, and more. 

Writing an opera in the 21st century has greatly evolved with the changes in technology. Specifically social media, Internet downloads, video hosting sites like Youtube, smartphones and even changes in basic coding has allowed today's opera composers to truly write great operas without the cost and complexities of a traditional stage opera. 

Composer Sabrina Pena Young Discusses Online Opera Production at TEDxBuffalo

As a composer, I still prefer live performance and the grandiose splendor of a live theatrical production. However, with economic and social barriers that have limited my access (and many contemporary composers') access to the resources that would allow such spectacle, for my own opera Libertaria, I had to opt for an entirely different route like many other opera composers today, subsequently breaking new ground in creating an opera that was produced entirely through online collaboration without a single live rehearsal. 

Use the Music Resources at Your Disposal

As a composer you may have resources that you are unaware of, from friends with vocal talent to computer coding skills to access to a community gym or church for a performance. While there are some programs that will finance a large theatrical production, a little bit of creativity in terms of production can help you achieve a grandiose opera production without incurring a large financial burden. Part of being a smart musician today is being business savvy, and that includes avoiding going into deep debt for your music. 

Opera Highlights from Libertaria

What are some resources that you can use? Here are some specific examples:

  • Reach out to your community and friends/family to see who has creative talent and the time to work with you on your project
  • Use the Internet to post on blogs, put out audition calls to artist message boards, use sites like MusicXray to audition potential talent, make connections through social media
  • Crowdsource your ideas by asking for help on large online forums
  • Use outsourcing through sites like Upwork or Fiverr for marketing materials, administrative work, and more
  • Avoid large production costs by integrating technology in your production. This could be anything from animation to video projections to code to create an interactive opera
  • Use sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter to crowdfund some of your production
  • Offer in-kind services to creative professionals that want to help you on your project. For example, you can offer to write music for your artistic director's next production in exchange for their help on your opera
  • Start a blog or social media site during the production of your project from the beginning that helps create a buzz and interest on your project and network with individuals that may want to help you with your production
  • Use programs like Finale or Sibelius to write up scores quickly and share them online with the cast. Take advantage of sites like Bandcamp that allow you to upload music and scores for free
  • Find a venue by being creative and asking/crowdsourcing ideas about potential opera sites, or just skip the live venue altogether and have an online virtual opera or interactive opera

Be Realistic

Yes, you can achieve your opera dreams and write an opera using technology, but you also need to keep your feet on the ground. During the time period that I created Libertaria, I lived in three different states, had to leave my professor gig in Kentucky because of the move, was caring for my baby, and for at time was pretty much stuck with limited access to the outside world except for my computer. And yet, I decided that I would still do an opera! However, with little financing, changing locations, and having little access to local musicians, I had to be very creative.

I initially planned on creating a video game opera. However, I realized that I didn't have the technical know-how at this time to do this convincingly. Instead I opted to create an animated opera using machinima, a consumer-friendly video game based animation style that is less labor-intensive than traditional computer generated animation. With some training in film school, I found two talented animators - Kera Hildebrandt and Lucinda McNary - who volunteered to help me create Libertaria.

When I decide to create an animated opera I also researched how to fund a film and found out that while many indie filmmakers finance projects through investors or their personal credit cards, I did not want to make this opera financial disaster for myself plus I had intentions of just releasing it for free on the Internet, not limiting it to those who could afford overpriced tickets because I chose not to be financially savvy with my project.

These are just some of the challenges I faced as I created my opera at the outset. And yes, I am being overly practical, but the reality is that no great musical idea will come to fruition without doing some serious logistical legwork. 

So when you are producing your first musical, opera, oratorio, or large scale theatrical production, be sure that you are truly using the resources that you have available. Over the period of three years I worked with incredibly talented musicians, animators, and fellow composers who helped me create the world's first machinima opera and perhaps the world's first animated comic book opera. Since the premier, Libertaria: The Virtual Opera has been screened in Europe and the Americas, has been seen by thousands, and was presented at a TED Talk at TEDxBuffalo. 

If you would like to know more about how you can make your creative dream a reality, I offer consulting on creative projects. Find out more by contacting me at or clicking here:

Composer Sabrina Pena Young
Interested in developing your musical skills? Study with me one-on-one with Composer Boot Camp 101. You will learn how to develop both practical and musical skills as you write a new composition under the direction of award-winning composer Sabrina Pena Young.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Award-winning composer Sabrina Pena Young is the foremost expert on virtual opera production with the creation of her "epic" and "groundbreaking" machinima opera Libertaria. Heralded as "Wagner 2.0" by the Palm Beach Arts Paper, Young continues to share her innovative musical insights on technology and the arts. 



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