Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's Opera, Doc?

The Spintunes 5 Round 3 challenge is:
What's Opera, Doc? - Write a Mini-Opera: A dramatic story told through dialogue sung by two or more characters.  A couple suggested examples I got are "Come Talk To Me" by Peter Gabriel or "Written In The Stars" by Elton John.  (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due July 29th 11:59PM (Sun)
Defined Opera as: A theatrical presentation in which a dramatic performance is set to music.


Actually, we've previously written something that nails this challenge. It's called "In My Memory", and is found elsewhere on my blog (click on the title). Now we have to write another.

One thing I'm not going to be concerned with is whether the song is "self-contained". I know some past judges have preferred that there be nothing unresolved, and that the listener need not bring any prior knowledge into the song. However, I'm assuming that this is a piece that's part of  a larger work, or that at least you know something about the characters involved. With a shadow I get to bend the rules a little more than usual.

I'll be updating this page as we work on it.

Friday Update: Alright, it's Friday, and we hadn't really done any work on this since talking about it briefly last Sunday. Work got in the way, which is why I didn't sign up. However, William is working on lyrics today, and I have some of them, and have done some of the music.

Another thing I'm not going to be concerned with is whether the song is "operatic".  Here's the dirty secret about opera. It's basically a play set to music. Other than that, THERE ARE NO OFFICIAL RULES. There are historical precedents, which are continually challenged. "Rock Opera" is just opera that happens to be written in the rock genre. You could as easily write a "Country Opera" or a "Reggae Opera" or a "Rap Opera" ("rapera"?). The "operatic" qualities of classical opera stem from two things: 1. orchestral music is what they listened to when opera was born; and 2. the voices had to be of that quality and timbre to overcome the lack of acoustic enhancement (meaning there were no microphones, so the singers had to project over the orchestra). Today the boundaries between a musical and an opera are incredibly blurred, with a musical being distinguished by more-or-less equal emphasis on dialog, music, and dance; and opera being almost all music. But there are "musicals" that would easily qualify as opera (such as Cats), and "rock operas" that are more like musicals. An arbitrary distinction isn't worth keeping a stick in your butt, so the best thing to do is not worry about it.

"A theatrical presentation set to music" makes this "mini-opera" challenge fairly open. While there are judges who may desire certain things out of it (like multiple movements), that's a personal desire that has nothing to do with the actual challenge as posted. A one-act play is as much a play as a five act play. A vignette is as much a theatrical presentation as any other... in fact, it's a pretty damned solid example of a "mini-play" of which a "mini-opera" is an exact analogue. This is why I don't give much weight to Mark's "Dr. Evil" comment below. Now, he's a judge, and will be scoring people according to his preconceptions, so it's nice that he let everyone know what they were up front. So if YOU'RE competing in Spintunes, I'd put some weight to his advice, because that's how this game is played. When you play the game that way, though, keep in mind that there are several other judges whose opinions you'll have to factor in. 


Mark S. Meritt said...

I'll bet Mini-Me is glad that Dr. Evil didn't think the same way as you did, otherwise he'd just have been a liver or a lung wandering around next to the evil doctor. The challenge states "A dramatic story..." Not "Part of a dramatic story...." Beware those who misinterpret "mini" as "excerpt from" :)

Mark S. Meritt said...

Dave Leigh said...

As I said, with a shadow I get to bend the rules a little more than usual. In other words, I get to write what I want. Contestants obviously must tread more carefully. ;)

That said, there's a certain amount of leeway that you may find yourself allowing once you start listening to submissions.

For instance, as with any short work, the accomplished writer may pre-suppose a history that isn't directly exposed, but which lends weight to the story that is explored. Example: the simple sentence, "So; we meet again," in a short story concisely communicates that the protagonist an antagonist have a long association without lengthy and boring exposition.

Also, there are cases where you might find it palatable to pre-suppose some knowledge of the characters and dive into the story without the sort of character exposition you might require in a full-blown work. A mini-opera featuring a dialog between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty might be an example.

In this context, the "larger work" is the entirety of the characters' association, where the mini-opera may depict a single encounter. Would you say that any single one of Sherlock Holmes' adventures in short-story form is not a complete work? Of course not. By allowing the listener to bring the familiar with them, you open the door to a richer work than if you narrowly define the mini-opera as being complete in itself. I think that approach would sadly do the composer, the listener and the judge a disservice.

By all means, have expectations. But I think for your own enjoyment you shouldn't insist on them so strenuously that they cannot be exceeded.

(BTW, we're not doing a Sherlock Holmes opera)

Mark S. Meritt said...

Any story can have backstory, unresolved questions, etc. I'm not planning to be unreasonable. All I mean by a complete story that stands alone is all that I suspect anyone would generally expect from most storytelling. As just typed over at FB my main purpose was clarify just that and also especially the examples which are sorely lacking in story from any common storytelling standpoint. I just want a beginning and a middle and an end. Don't need to start with the Big Bang and end with the Big Crunch :)

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