Making a Case for Opera

Lovely Opera House

 

Opera, in its earliest form, was a means of entertainment.  That is not to say that there weren’t other objectives in the writing and performance of opera.  But, to put it simply; today, we go to the movies, in the 1780’s, you went to the opera.  Sadly, the rise of technology has led to a decline in live performance.  Opera companies are declaring bankruptcy while companies like Pixar are breaking box office records with enormous ticket sales.  As a young artist, I have been faced with this question; why does opera matter?  Why does an art form that really reached its pinnacle hundreds of years ago still matter in a world wrought with technology today?  Ironically enough, I stumbled upon an article on The Guardian with this very poignant observation:

“It offers us a reflection of who we are, how we relate to others, and what it means, collectively and individually, to be human. Opera performed live is a uniquely thrilling experience – at its best, it is hugely powerful and the most emotionally direct of all art forms. The combination of dramatic narrative, stagecraft and music, and especially the range and vulnerability of the human voice, make opera the art form that comes closest to expressing pure emotion. It is storytelling at its most vivid and manipulative.” – Richard Mantle, General Director of Opera North

The arts, and more specifically, opera, offer us a chance to peer into the window of the collective human soul.  For a few hours, an audience is invited to live the life of a dying courtesan, see through the eyes of a lascivious duke, or be in on the secrets kept by the scheming maid.  While these scenarios sound farfetched and unrealistic, there is something relatable in each character.  It is the performer who has willingly opened their hearts to us, allowing us to be immersed in a life that is not our own.

Opera is escapism at its very best.  For example, amid the struggle in Syria, refugees from the conflict joined an opera company in Stuttgart to produce Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.  It was the hope of the director, Cornelia Lanz, to instill, “a message of peace and hope into the adaptation.”  While Cosi doesn’t necessarily convey anti-war messages, the inclusion of the refugees and their stories certainly made a statement; opera may be an older art form but it is certainly not irrelevant.

I will never forget my first experience with live opera.  I was very fortunate to be given a ticket to the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.  It was remarkable how much the music and singing enhanced the emotional turmoil and drama experienced by the characters.  I found myself completely enthralled, unable and completely unwilling to tear my eyes away from the stage.  The moment that still seizes my heart came in Act Four.  There is a heartrending intermezzo between Act Three and Four, and when the curtain rose, suspended over the stage was the marriage bed of the doomed lovers.

This photo doesn't even come close to how stunning this was in real life.  But, you get the idea.
This photo doesn’t even come close to how stunning this was in real life. But, you get the idea.

The stage was twinkling with stars as a breeze blew over the sheets of the bed, stirring the couple from their sleep.  As they began singing the haunting “Nightingale Duet”, I felt tears roll down my cheeks.  I was completely overcome.  I used to write off Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as the ridiculous tale of two teenagers who died needlessly.  But as I watched this incredible production, I finally understood that it was much more than that.  Opera showed me that Romeo and Juliet is the story of the power of unconditional love.  Opera showed me that we have an obligation to keep the arts alive because they have the power to move millions and hopefully, create a world of peace, understanding, and acceptance.

I truly believe that we, as opera lovers and more specifically, young artists, have an obligation to ask ourselves these important questions; why does opera matter?  If we claim to love this art form, then we should be prepared to defend it.  So, you tell me; what does opera mean to you?  What makes it relevant?  Opera needs your voice (quite literally) to survive.  Now let it be heard!

Polishing Your Resume

Patricia Weinmann, one half of Boston Opera Collaborative’s dynamic duo of Artist Directors, was so kind as to bestow some very poignant advice on cleaning up a resume.

 

It’s audition season and in addition to having a fabulous aria package, you have to have a professional resume ready to go!

Resumes are a reflection of you: Not only what you’ve done (and will be doing) but a sense of who are you.  Attention to detail is paramount.  Resumes vary widely in looks, but there are elements that all resumes should contain.
Audition panels appreciate a resume that is easy and fast to read.  Keep the font a reasonable size and type (avoid fancy, curly fonts–even with your name) and create some white space so that the resume doesn’t look too crowded.
Here are some pointers!
  • Must fit on one 8.5×11 sheet
  • A thumbnail photo is very helpful
  • Professional email: use the cute ones for personal use only: cuteysoprano@gmail., etc.–please don’t
  • No mis-spellings of titles, people, etc.  For instance, Cosi fan tutte–fan and tutte are not capitalized.  This is trickier with Le nozze di Figaro.  Many times Nozze is capitalized-you could go either way with that one.  But be careful with other title
    • RE: People’s names: It’s always a little disturbing when I see my name spelled incorrectly on an singer’s resume–a singer who was a student of mine for two years…..
  • Simple titles for categories: Roles, Scenes (just put Scenes–Partial Role is unnecessary–we know what you mean–scenes), Concert/Recital, Education, TrainingAwards/Honors/Scholarships/Related Experience
  • Use columns for directors, conductors, teachers, etc.  Much easier to read than a horizontal list.
    • A word of advice on creating these clean columns and making them easy to edit later- use the Chart function if you’re using Microsoft Word.  Add all of the things you need- Title of Opera, Role, Location, Year.  Once you’ve added everything you need, highlight the entire chart and select “Hide All Borders” from the toolbar.  Voila!   A clean, easy to edit listing of all your work!
  • Teachers, coaches, etc.: List three or four at the most.  Pick the people who know you best and, if we called or emailed them, they would remember you.  Conductors–again–best if they know you. Coaches, voice teachers, stage directors–try to list people who remember you.  A big name is not as important (Conductors and master classes may be viewed differently)
  • No months, list only years
  • Don’t list composers unless it is an obscure composer and/or a premiere
  • If your resume is jammed-packed, remove less important or older information
  • Special skills:
    • Foreign languages: only list if you are fluent; we assume that you’ve had a smattering of languages and diction classes
    • Other instruments only if you’ve had years of lessons and/or have achieved a level of real proficiency
    • Dance: lessons when you were a child shouldn’t be listed but if you’ve continued dancing through high school and college, do list.
    • Stage combat: only if you’ve had a full semester; not a week or day workshop
Patricia has also included two sample resumes that she has deemed clean and polished!  Take a look and see where yours could use some help!
Now, you have all the tools to make a lovely and clean resume!  Go get ‘em!

Natalie Polito: Wisdom from an Emerging Artist and BOC Alum

 

Following her recent international debut in concert at the National Academy of Music in Hanoi, Vietnam, rising star soprano Natalie Polito makes a number of additional exciting debuts during the 2014-2015 season, including her Opera Columbus debut as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, debuts with both Opera Saratoga and the Erie Chamber Orchestra as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and with Opera Providence as Violetta in La Traviata. The season also includes her return to Vietnam for a world premiere performance with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra of a new song cycle, Songs of Reconciliation, by Boston-based composer Larry Bell, a world premiere performance of Joseph Summers’s chamber opera The Tempest with The Shakespeare Concerts in Boston, and an appearance as the Soprano Soloist in Handel’s Messiah with The Stamford Symphony.

As an alumni of Boston Opera Collaborative, Natalie was kind enough to offer her insights into what it’s like to bridge the gap between being a young singer and an emerging professional artist.

What has been your involvement with BOC (i.e. roles, other performances, work experiences administrative, committee, etc.)?

I have actually been involved with BOC since the very beginning!  It’s amazing to see the company entering its 10th season next year, when I can remember back to our very first membership meeting and the work that went into putting up our very first production of Gluck’s Iphigenie en Aulide.  It was an incredible honor to be cast as the title role in that very first show, and I went on to sing several other roles while I was a member of the company.  A few of my favorites were Donna Anna in Don Giovanni in 2008, Countess in 2010’s Le nozze di Figaro, and I had a blast playing a scary gingerbread kid in the ensemble of Hansel and Gretel in 2007.   In the early seasons I worked as the first Fundraising Chair and for the past few seasons I’ve enjoyed representing the company as an alumni artist member of the Board of Directors.

What has it been like to be a member of the board?

I’m so grateful to have had the experience to see the inner workings of the company as a board member, and to have played a role in helping the company grow and change over the last several years. One of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a board member has been serving on search committees for BOC’s Artistic Director and General Director, two positions that are vital to shaping the direction of the company.  As a founding member of BOC, I care deeply for the mission and the young singers who benefit from membership in BOC!

How has membership with BOC affected your career?  The behind the scenes work and the singing?

I truly would not be where I am today without BOC. Like many young singers, when I graduated with my Masters from Boston Conservatory in 2006, I had only sung one leading opera role, ever.  My voice was still developing and growing, and I needed to gain experience in order to be competitive with other singers entering the “next step” of young artist programs.  In my years as a singing member of BOC, I added several roles to my resume and had the opportunity to learn from many talented young conductors and directors who have since gone on to great things!  I learned how to create a character and make it my own, and gained vocal confidence while singing with full orchestras.  The roles I sang with BOC showed larger opera companies that I was ready and able to perform those roles, for example – I sang my first Countess in Le nozze di Figaro with BOC in 2010.  Then in 2013 as a member of the Emerging Artist Program at Virginia Opera, I was given the opportunity to cover the Countess, and now in March of 2015, I’m looking forward to singing my first professional Countess in my house debut at Opera Columbus!

The education that BOC members receive in terms of arts administration work is also extremely valuable.  The skills I gained while running BOC’s fundraising department allowed me to land a job with the Free for All Concert Fund, an amazing organization committed to providing free classical music to all people in Boston, which was my “day job” up until recently taking the plunge to move to New York and sing full time!  I am so grateful to BOC for giving me the skills to work in such a fulfilling job that allowed me to make such an impact on the city of Boston.

Miss Polito as the Queen of the Night with Opera Saratoga

What was your favorite role or production with BOC?

It’s hard to pick just one! I loved 2010’s Le nozze di Figaro – we had such a great time as a cast finding the comedy in the score, and there’s nothing quite like singing the Act 2 Finale of Figaro with full orchestra!  Plus, our director decided that the Countess would be pregnant, so I had a great time figuring out how to maneuver onstage with a big fake baby bump!  I also have fond memories of singing the Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen in 2011.  I wasn’t familiar with the opera at all before working on it with BOC, and I completely fell in love with the score – plus it was so fun to play my first pants role and a fox, all at the same time!  Costumes really are the best part of opera, don’t you think?!

What’s something that you wish you would’ve known about a singing career when you were leaving graduate school?  In other words – what DON’T the conservatories tell you?

A piece of advice that someone told me a few years ago was to go into auditions thinking only of competing with yourself, not the other singers.  It can be so easy to compare yourself to the other singers in your fach, especially as a young singer, and I know I struggled with it a lot.  The first audition I did with that new mindset was a turning point for me – all that was on the line was doing better than I had the last time, and that thought was so freeing.  We all have something unique to offer, whether it’s our look, or the color of our voice, or the way we use our body onstage – and every audition auditor might like something different!  Embracing that and knowing that regardless of the panel’s personal tastes, you have something different to offer than everyone else that will walk in that room is very important.  And it’s also what makes opera so special – you can hear the same opera sung literally thousands of different ways, because each singer is unique and no two productions will ever be exactly the same

As someone who has sung internationally, what advice would you give to a young singer about to make their foray into the international singing?

 Embarking on a professional singing career means commitment to a lifestyle that may not be for everyone. Again, this is something I wish I had known more about as a young singer!  A professional singing career is a life on the road, often living out of two suitcases for months at a time, usually in homestays or hotels.  For example, I will travel overseas in December for a performance with the Vietnam National Symphony, and then I’m on the road for the next five months in various cities throughout the US.  Last year, I spent almost nine months of the year on the road, living out of the same couple of bags!  It can be grueling and lonely at times, and often your free time at one gig is spent working on music for the next.  You miss weddings and birthdays, and keep up with friends and loved ones via Skype and Facetime.  Your setting can be unfamiliar, whether it’s a wacky homestay family or a hotel in the middle of a country whose language you don’t speak.  The other months of the year can be spent working a temp job to make ends meet in between gigs, or doing many weeks of auditions in New York for future gigs.

At the same time, I think being on the road is the absolute best part of my job.  I do sometimes get lonely and I certainly miss the people I care about (and my kitty cat Adele!) but at the same time, I fall in love with every new city I visit.  From Norfolk, Virginia to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Waitsfield, Vermont and everywhere in between, I love trying all of the local restaurants, making new opera friends, and calling each new city home.

 What’s the most surprising skill that you gained while in BOC?

BOC’s artists are involved in ALL aspects of putting on each production, so I would have to say I never thought I would learn how to properly (and safely!) hang a stage light! Some of my best BOC memories are of the friendships forged behind the scenes while putting up productions, many of whom remain some of my best friends to this day.

Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Boston Opera Collaborative, 2008 (photo by J.Justin Bates)

 

What’s your favorite piece of music (opera, song, theater or otherwise) and why?

 That’s a tough question!  I definitely can’t pick just one favorite opera, so I’ll give my top 3 – WozzeckLa Traviata, and Cavalleria Rusticana.  They’re all very different musical styles, but what I think they have in common is that drama is such a central part of the score.  My all-time favorite piece of music though might be the Act 2 Finale of Figaro, which I can’t wait to do again this spring at Opera Columbus!

 Do you think the nature of making a career of singing in opera is changing?  If so, how do you think the experience of BOC can help a young singer prepare for their next stage?

I think now more than ever it’s important for singers to know their “brand”, and to be savvy and knowledgeable businesspeople in addition to talented performers.  BOC is so important because it gives its members skills both on and off the stage, that will continue to serve them in their careers for years to come, whether they choose to be performers, or administrators, or teachers, or something else entirely.  Being an artist encompasses so much more than just having a beautiful voice.

 How do you think opera is evolving and changing with the times?  Or do you think it’s staying the same?  Do you prefer opera to be reinvented or remain the same?

 There has been a lot of talk lately about how opera is “dying” – companies are closing, audiences are graying, and soon we’ll all be out of a job, they say. But to anyone who says that, I would encourage them to go see the current production of Death of Klinghoffer at the Met.  If you’ve been keeping up with the news the opera has been the subject of a lot of debate these last few weeks (who ever said opera was boring!?!).  I attended this past Friday, and the audience was rapt – and FULL of young people.  The opera was poignant, relevant, immediate.  I’ve never heard an audience that large be so still and so quiet – it was truly a magical night of theater that I will never forget.  So yes, I think opera is evolving and changing, and it’s certainly not dying!

 

From all of us at Boston Opera Collaborative, thank you, Natalie!  We wish you all the best in your upcoming performances!

Get the latest updates on Natalie Polito from her website at www.nataliepolito.com

Knowledge is power- Resources for a stellar audition

As many of you know, the fall brings the onslaught of auditions for the upcoming seasons of hundreds of opera companies.  Those of you who are just starting out probably took one look at the YAP Tracker website and just about keeled over!  The benefits of having all of this information at your fingertips are numerous but the sheer number of opportunities is a bit intimidating!

Fear not, young singers!  There are so many resources available to you to help prepare you for this exciting time, including this spectacular series being produced by Carnegie Hall called “The Singers Audition Handbook” written by Claudia Friedlander.  This series puts together a bunch of videos with very helpful information, including the first post, “What do you wish you had known starting out?”  Ms. Friedlander also helps you to figure out what programs and auditions would be best for you as a young singer; the infamous Young Artist Program, competitions, and beyond.

For those of you who are a little more “weathered”, this series will also delve into proper formatting for a repertoire list, polishing your ever-growing resume, and even tips for giving an unforgettable audition.

The Musical Exchange website is also very handy reference point, with many articles, videos, and communities for musicians to join.  I would highly recommend signing up and creating your individual profile!  There are just too many great resources to pass this up!

 

Now, get out there and sing your little hearts out!!!

On the Road with Zachary Ballard

Zachary Ballard, BaritoneZachary Ballard is currently singing in the 2014 Des Moines Metro Opera Apprentice Artist Program. There he is performing the 2nd Guard in Dead Man Walking and covering the lead, Joseph de Rocher. An avid performer and emerging operatic artist, Zachary most recently travelled across the state of Iowa as part of Des Moines Metro Opera’s outreach educational troupe, OPERA Iowa. There he sang the role of Don Giovanni Pig in The Three Little Pigs (Davies) and Belcore in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. In the summer of 2013, Zachary made his Boston Opera Collaborative debut covering and performing scenes as Dandini in Donizetti’s La Cenerentola. Other 2013 highlights include singing Papageno (Mozart, Die Zauberflöte) with the Manhattan Opera Studio and Junius (Britten, The Rape of Lucretia) as part of the Opera Brittenica inaugural season. Zachary is continually searching for enriching opportunities in the world of opera.

 

What was the audition process like for the Young Artist Program you are currently singing with? 

I auditioned for Des Moines Metro Opera during the regular New York season.  So, I used my YAP Tracker account to send in materials and book a time slot.  I traveled to New York and sang my audition, which was for both the OPERA Iowa and DMMO programs.  Because I indicated that I was interested and available for both contracts, I found out about my acceptance relatively soon after singing for the company.

How did you prepare for your experience? (Music memory, moving, etc.)

Taking on both contracts generally means about a six month commitment.  Because of that, I had to relocate to Indianola, Iowa.  We rehearsed for about three weeks before starting the school tour, so I showed up for the first contract nearly memorized.  We knew about the season for the summer as well, so after I signed my second set of contracts I started learning choruses, small roles, and scene assignments.

What is your living situation like?

During the winter, I lived with one other person (a great guy and roommate) in an apartment.  The educational tour involves a great deal of traveling, though, so I mostly lived out of hotel rooms.  The summer is much different, as the company utilizes Simpson College’s campus and apprentices live in individual rooms with communal bathrooms.

What has the experience been like so far? (classes, rehearsal, etc)

The process has been very busy.  DMMO’s season wraps up earlier than many other programs, so we are constantly moving.  That’s exciting in a way, because there is always another performance to prepare.  However, I have not been vocally challenged like this before.  The same goes for the winter contract.  We sang shows, generally two a day, all week long.  That doesn’t include evening performances, weekend concerts, and a random bar sing or two.

Has anything about your experience surprised you?

I was surprised that everyone got along so well.  My colleagues have been amazing.  Not that I expected cattiness, but I did anticipate that we would be too busy to socialize.  Not the case.  I have made some great friends here and have felt very supported by all of them.  I am also surprised to feel the need to rest.  Usually singers seem to just move from gig to gig without rest, but I can surely say I need a break (at least a small one).  I’m learning that pacing is much more active than I realized, and you need to be careful so you can plan accordingly.

How do you feel you have grown / are growing through this experience?

I have really started to figure out where my individual voice fits into the larger operatic spectrum by being here.  Schools can only show you so much about where you will land after graduating, and having fresh takes on what I do has been truly educational.

What is the next step for your career?

I have a few things in the works, but until anything is set in stone, all I can say is I’m moving with my fiancé (not singing related) to Washington D.C. as soon as I leave Iowa.  More auditions!

Cis’ Diary – Part 3

Take a sneak peak into the making of an opera character!

Follow BOC Member Artist Sarah Shechtman as she takes you behind the scenes of our summer opera as “Cis” in Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring

Cis’ Diary – Part 2

Tech Week!

Cis’ Diary – Part 2

Take a sneak peak into the making of an opera character!

Follow BOC Member Artist Sarah Shechtman as she takes you behind the scenes of our summer opera as “Cis” in Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring

Cis’ Diary – Part 2

Practice Makes Perfect…

Introducing…Cis’ Diary, Part 1!

Take a sneak peak into the making of an opera character!

Follow BOC Member Artist Sarah Shechtman as she takes you behind the scenes of our summer opera as “Cis” in Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring

Cis’ Diary – Part 1

Learning the part

On the road with Stephanie Scarcella…Her experience as a Young Artist

Stephanie Scarcella is currently working with St. Petersburg Opera, as an Emerging Artist. She will perform the role of Margarita and is covering Anita in West Side Story. Stephanie is a proud member of Boston Opera Collaborative.

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1) What was the audition process like for the Young Artist Program you are currently singing with? 
I sang for their general auditions in Spring 2013 knowing  their season included Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet and West Side Story.  I had thought I would be considered for the pants role Stefano in the Gounod, but I secretly wanted to be Anita in West Side Story even though it had been a few years since I’d done any musical theater.  At the audition I sang Stefano’s aria, then was asked for my musical theater piece and then asked to look over Anita’s lines from the bridal shop scene with Maria and read them with the maestro after I was ready.  I was emailed in August being invited to attend a dance call back in New York (which I did) and then the waiting process began until they offered me the contract!
2) How did you prepare for your experience? (Music memory, moving, etc.)
I asked a lot of my colleagues who had a head start on this how they recommended handling everything logistical with my apartment and money and such.  This was my first time not having the comfort of a steady income, so I found a sublet for my room and was very diligent about saving up before leaving to be sure I was set financially.
Since high school I’ve had the mindset that you ALWAYS show up to a gig/rehearsal with music learned and memorized if need be.  For West Side Story, the added difficulty was the dialogue! I actually practiced with my colleagues at my gig prior to coming here. I also recorded myself speaking the other character’s lines with space where Anita has a line.  I know I looked like a crazy person practicing that way…but you gotta do what you gotta do!
3) What is your living situation like?
I am living with a very lovely host who is a big lover of the opera company.  Actually, most people down here are very supportive of it!  But, everyone who is brought in from out of town is living with a host “family”.
4) What has the experience been like so far? (classes, rehearsal, etc)
Rehearsal for this was INTENSE.  We would have 8, 10, 12 hour days sometimes due to the complexity of the choreography.
5) Has anything about your experience surprised you?
Probably the intensity and length of rehearsals!
6) How do you feel you have grown/ are growing through this experience?
 I had the opportunity to step in as Anita in rehearsals when the actual Anita had been released for another performance.  I hadn’t had any rehearsal other than practicing in the back by myself and somehow I was able to do everything.  In the midst of four 12 hour rehearsal days, and three concerts.  I’d say I felt pretty invincible after that and was able to see that if I just put my mind to it, I can get through anything!
7) What is the next step for your career?
That’s always the question…I’m preparing for two recitals in the fall plus audition season!
8) Anything else to add.
I imagined my career to follow a “cookie cutter” path that I figured it HAD to in order to be successful.  Although it hasn’t gone the way I imagined, I am learning so much about myself and still getting wonderful experience.  I still struggle wondering and worrying about what the future holds and how everything will pan out, but lately I am feeling comforted knowing that each year out of school has had a significant step forward and I can only keep going that way if I remain persistent.  I am thankful that I have some wonderful colleagues I’ve met along the way who are supportive and encouraging!

 

Spotlight: Composer Mohammed Fairouz on Sumeida’s Song

Mohammed Fairouz, composer
Mohammed Fairouz, composer

Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is one of the most frequently performed, commissioned, and recorded composers of his generation. Hailed by The New York Times as “an important new artistic voice” and by BBC World News as “one of the most talented composers of his generation,” Fairouz integrates Middle-Eastern modes into Western structures, to deeply expressive effect. His output encompasses virtually every genre, including opera, symphonies, ensemble works, chamber and solo pieces, choral settings, and more than a dozen song cycles. Commissions have come from Rachel Barton Pine, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Borromeo String Quartet, Imani Winds, New York Festival of Song, Da Capo Chamber Players, Cantus, and many others. Recent premieres include his first opera, Sumeida’s Song, and his fourth symphony, In the Shadow of No Towers, both greeted with critical acclaim.

You have been hailed as one of today’s leading composers. How did you incorporate elements of Arabic and Western contemporary music? 

I don’t see a conflict here. Having traveled the entire world as a kid has only emphasized to me how small of a place it is. The cross-pollination between Arabic and European culture is also something that has been happening for a very long time now.

Sharing creative ideas about astronomy, mathematics, medicine, the arts, and every other aspect of human invention and culture has enriched the millennia-old dialogue between Arabic and Western civilization. Maqam (the Arabic modal system), with its emphasis on melody finds a natural place of importance for me as I compose works that are largely driven by poetry and text. The Arabic love for storytelling and drama also heavily influences the way I write music.

I believe that music is intuitive, dramatic and communicative on the deepest level. This is something that both cultures share.

Sumeida’s Song was your first opera-what were some of the challenges of composing such a work?

Opera is hard. Naturally, there are a million and seven considerations when composing an opera beyond just the music itself. The libretto has to convey a sense of immediate drama and work together with the music to capture the audience and not let them go till the very end. The story has to be revealed without being overly expository or contrived. The drama has to work itself out in a way that seems natural. The singers and their many concerns, from the passaggio of a lead mezzo to the balance between the trombones and the baritone in his big number (for example), have to be taken into account.

Then come all the concerns of mounting a production: from working with lighting, costume and set designers to directors and musical directors and rehearsal pianists and tech crew and many, many others.

Opera, being the ultimate collaborative art form, is hard but the things that make is so difficult to pull off also make it deeply rewarding.

After studying at New England Conservatory, how does it feel to have one of your works presented in Boston?

I’m no stranger to Boston! My works have been presented and even co-commissioned by the important and great institutions on the Boston scene. But I don’t always get up to Boston for the performances. Getting to come and work with the special talents that make up the Boston music scene is such a treat and always feels a little bit like a homecoming for me.

What drew you to the play, Song of Death by Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim?

It’s one of the absolute classics of Arabic theater in the 20th century. Written in the early 1950s, its also one of Tawfiq al-Hakims earliest plays. I’m really taken by its straightforward classical architecture. al-Hakim said he was influenced by Sophocles and Euripides when writing these early plays. If opera had some early foundation in the formality of greek plays then I think we’ve come full circle.

The story of Sumeida’s Song doesn’t directly deal with politics of Egypt however, it’s difficult to ignore some of the correlations of recent events over the past few years. In what ways were you able to capture the feel of this time in Egypt?

Please remember that Sumeida’s Song was finished in 2008-2009 before the events of the Tahrir square uprising began by a couple of years. Having said this, the themes of the opera are pretty universal. This could happen in a small village in rural Italy or the American South as easily as a small village in Upper Egypt. People standing for education against darkness and insisting on change for the better in their societies has happened again and again in every human society on the planet.

How were you able to project the humanity of the characters so that we the audience could connect with them on a deeper level?

I just stayed out of the way of the characters. It’s easy, when writing an opera like this, to be tempted to provide a sort of musical “commentary” on the characters of the opera but thats not really the point. It is ideal for the music to serve the purpose of furthering the drama of the opera. The music needs to help tell the story.

Just presenting the characters of Sumeida’s Song objectively as human beings goes a long way to making them more relatable to the audience.

What are the over-arching themes of your opera?

Education over darkness and illiteracy, peace and non-violence, a refusal to take up arms and kill, the value of both modernization and tradition and the conflict that arises between them and, of course, change vs the status quo.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us!

I am thrilled that the Boston Opera Collaborative is taking the initiative to bring new works of opera to the Boston audiences. Boston has not had a really permanent opera house since the days of Sarah Caldwell so it is particularly moving to see the young collective of BOC doing ambitious and great things. I’m honored to join you in Boston for this production.