a 1-Act Musical Theater Opera for 8 Solo Voices & Piano (Plus Announcer)
Perhaps a bit too "musical theater" for opera, and too "opera" for musical theater, this macabre show presents three characters wrestling their own demons and attempting to drown them in alcohol. The Bartender is all too happy to keep them drinking, while the Busboy seems invested in helping them leave. Will any of them escape this purgatory? The
Libretto: Patrick Michael Wickham
Composer: J. Aaron Stanley
DEB Karina Kunda
DARLA Amber Bormann
AL Dean Willis
BARTENDER Joey Goodale
BUSBOY Timothy McCoy
SOLDIER Harrison Caltagirone
DAUGHTER Claire Givens
SISTER Anna Weber
ANNOUNCER J. Aaron Stanley
Demo Recorded & Mixed by J. Aaron Stanley
Special thanks to Southern Methodist University, Dr. Robert Frank, Dr. Lane Harder, Dr. Virginia Dupuy, & Dr. Pamela Huffman.
History of the Work
I first read Patrick’s libretto, and had the opportunity to score it, around 2011, where I was to have less than 2 months to write a score and have it presented for a 15-minute musical theater festival. Two things became apparent after a few weeks of working on it: 1) that it wasn’t a 15-minute work if I were to approach it as an opera (being pretty much entirely sung all the way through)… and 2) that I could not possibly finish it in time. (Now that I’ve gained more experience, I could probably do it in that amount of time if I were able to work full time on it. But in 2011, I had some misconceptions about how it would be performed, which had me wasting time with orchestrating and sequencing rather than focusing on a piano-vocal score.) Ultimately, the performance was canceled, and my unfinished, partially orchestrated work laid dormant on my hard drive collecting digital dust for over 8 years.
Then, in 2019, an opportunity presented itself to have material workshopped by Dr. Virginia Dupuy’s Contemporary Vocal Repertoire class at Southern Methodist University, where I was studying composition. I decided to seize the opportunity, and resurrected my unfinished work, revising what I had written, paring it down to a piano-vocal score, and completing the work. The class workshopped it in the Spring of 2020 and it was slated for a performance until COVID-19 shut the entire world down.
Still, the workshopping was extremely beneficial and I made a number of revisions later that summer based on the experience and feedback I had received. One year later, I wanted to present the work on my graduate composition recital, but due to COVID restrictions, it could not be performed live. However, I could pre-record it using the university’s resources. This recording is the result of that process. Each voice was recorded individually and pieced together to make this recording. My hope is that someone out there will like it well enough to present it live, and I’m certainly open to further revisions and refinements of the work. My hope is also that this project will lead to other opportunities to compose an opera or musical theater work.
My Approach to the Story
Like any good story, the original libretto left some room for interpretation. But as the composer, I decided to approach this story as a kind of allegory of purgatory: that each of the characters were stuck in some kind of limbo (whether literal or figurative) that kept them reliving past traumas and wrestling the same demons, attempting to drown it out with alcohol. That approach greatly influenced the direction of the music toward a somewhat macabre tone--something that can certainly be heightened with the right orchestration.
The libretto also seemed to call for a more musical theater aesthetic rather than a stylized classical operatic one. I felt the immediacy of the drama and lyrics suggested an immediacy and urgency in the music, as well. I didn't want the music to stand in the way of the development of the drama and story, but rather to serve and heighten it. I didn't preoccupy myself with writing something "new" or "original," I simply wrote what I felt the story needed.
I present this demo as a work in progress. For example, it occurred to me after hearing the recording, that perhaps DEB should be scored lower--more in the seductive alto range. There are also some places I may want a bit more "flourish" in the piano parts (something that would certainly happen in an orchestration.) Someone also mentioned that this would make a great radio opera, but it would require some adaptation to make it work in that kind of setting. I think it could also easily be expanded to a full-length story, if the librettist is willing. Who knows where it goes from here? I'm open to possibilities!
If you'd like to perform or workshop this opera, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.