23 May Rosa
Librettist: Camyar Chai
Commissioner: Tapestry New Opera (Artistic Director Wayne Strongman)
Premiere: 1 – 5 April 2004, The Fermenting Cellar, The Distillery, Toronto, Ontario
Other productions: Tapestry: May 2009, The Fermenting Cellar, The Distillery, Toronto, Ontario; Bicycle Opera, July and September 2013, various venues, Ontario and Quebec
Performers: 2 voices (sopranos, tenor) and 5 instruments (clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, cello). Also arranged for 2 voices and 3 instruments (flute, violin, piano).
Duration: 12 minutes
After a long search, Hector finds his estranged wife Isabelle in a house of ill repute. She has run away to live her days in shame after a traumatic event. Hector pleads with her to come back home with him. She refuses, steadfast in the face of his sorrow, anger, and religion. At last he invokes their daughter, and she melts.
Other notes: Why opera?
We manage to get through most of our days without needing to sing, without needing the accompaniment of an orchestra. But opera isn’t about most days. It is drawn to extreme situations where a marriage, a reputation, a fortune, or life itself is at stake. Our voices rise with distress or excitement; we shout, we yell, we curse. In opera, we sing.
What made Rosa a natural opera subject? The characters are fighting to survive. They must plead, persuade, speak up for themselves, struggle with forces much larger than them, react to cruel and unpredictable turns of fate. Most of us will lead less eventful lives, and be the happier for it. Yet we also realize that pure chance can visit death or misfortune upon us, without warning, without rhyme or reason. Opera can bring alive the excitement of these extremes without their actual danger.
Opera music must have magical powers. The music snakes through every twist and turn of the plot, swings up and down with the mood, and brings to life each character: their desires and delusions, their pride, their grief. All these must be wrestled into an coherent piece of music that lasts two or more hours. And the audience, while being deluged with music, must still be able to hear enough words to understand what’s happening.
But there is one “must” before all others: there must be some tasty singing. People go to the opera to hear singing. Scenery, orchestration, acting, plot–all these are fine, but it’s singing by which an opera lives or dies. Our ears can distinguish the tiniest vocal inflections. We can hear immediately whether a voice rings true for us; for this reason, characters must be vocally true before they can become psychologically true. A composer enables singers to convince, to seduce the audience. And since singers are athletes as well as artists, the physical demands placed on them must be carefully chosen. Opera has a demanding nature. It demands that singers memorize and sing hours of music, that creators struggle for years to write it, that producers raise lots of money to stage it, and that audiences sit through it all, in the mandatory operatic state of suspended disbelief. And after all that effort, if the singing isn’t delicious, who would want to sing the opera, and who would bother to listen?