Thomas Morse is the composer and Kenneth Cazan is the librettist ofFrau Schindler, which will be featured at the New Works Sampler.
What was your first experience of opera?
Thomas Morse: As an exchange student in Finland at the age of 17, I went to Leningrad with a Finnish tour group. We had some free time to roam, and a few of us ended up attending a performance of Eugene Onegin. We were very excited to see Tchaikovsky in Russia, and the performance couldn’t have been more big-hearted and moving. As I recall the production visually, I now realize how much the company had accomplished what they had available. The USSR was nearing collapse, and their challenges must have been enormous. It was, and continues to be an invaluable lesson in the power of sincerity.
Kenneth Cazan: My parents were semi-professional operetta singers. I can remember hearing highlights of Licia Albanese and Jan Peerce singing Madama Butterfly from the time I popped out of the womb.
Why did you start composing or writing librettos?
TM: In my early teens I was studying piano pretty seriously, but I became progressively more interested in writing my own pieces. Then I had a bit of luck. A local university professor noticed my interest in composition and took me under her wing. At no cost, she and began mentoring me in theory, composition, and orchestration. This led to composing a short orchestral piece, which she then had her orchestra read. I’ll never forget the feeling of hearing the first notes of my music from the orchestra. It was certainly the defining moment of my life. After graduation from high school I went on to study composition full time.
KC: I started first by writing the book and lyrics for a rock and roll musical titled Prodigy about Jean-Michel Basquiat with composer Billy Pace. Billy knew that Tom was looking for a librettist for an operatic project. Tom and I met and he asked me to write the story of Emilie Schindler, wife of Oskar. It took me a year of two to get to it but bless Tom’s patience and faith in me, I finally started writing during a production period for Oklahoma! and the rest is (about to be) history.
Who has been influential to you throughout your career and why?
TM: Certainly Marcia LaRue, the professor who mentored me in my teens. Things were very difficult at home, and on Saturday mornings I would escape to her house, where she would do her cleaning while simultaneously quizzing me on orchestration principles. Then during my undergraduate time at North Texas, I studied four years with Martin Mailman (who’s works for wind ensemble, by the way, are literally a national treasure). He had been a student of Howard Hanson and Aaron Copland at Eastman. I only wish I could have had the perspective at that age to comprehend the preciousness of every moment I spent with Martin. Lastly, and this was many years later, I moved to Berlin and began working with the film director Wolfgang Becker. It was from him that I began to truly understand storytelling, and how it interacts with music composition as a unified entity. This was imperative, because addressing a subject as sacred as the Schindler story has required a very sophisticated approach.
KC: There are so many people who have been influential to me throughout fifty-plus years of performing in and directing/writing/designing musicals, opera, and plays. Of course, there are several key teachers who wouldn’t let me be lazy and who urged me to continually take risks. I would have to say that in my last ten years as a professor at the University of Southern California, it is the students and going back to basics with them on a continual basis that has strongly influenced me to go on being honest and to endlessly take risks and challenge myself. It is death to get stuck in a “this is what I do and how I do it” rut. Additionally and happily, there are always those four of five colleagues in the business who will always support you and keep you honest and who, no matter how far away and busy, always have time for you. Finally, my husband, Jesse, who is not in the business may be the strongest influence on my work. Seeing and hearing pieces through his awestruck eyes and ears has kept me more honest and enthused than anyone.
What inspired you to create Frau Schindler?
TM: It started with a desire to tell the story of Oskar Schindler as an opera – which wasn’t the best idea. But my research had led me to discover the largely untold story of Emilie Schindler’s involvement in Oskar’s heroic actions. Emilie’s story is fascinating and historically important on a purely narrative level, but also her metaphor (the woman pulling the strings behind the scenes) was so universal I felt it was perfect for opera.
KC: In a name, Thomas Morse inspired me to create Frau Schindler. If he hadn’t been so patient with my insane schedule and waited for me to finally get to the project, I surely would not be enjoying this process right now. I also have to say that life in an extremely matriarchal family helps. This piece is as much a tribute to the survival skills of my nieces, my sister, my mother, and my maternal grandmother and her mother and on and on. It is from them that I have directly learned about how women thrive. Needless to say, Emilie Schindler’s own unique story was hugely inspirational and guided me continually throughout this journey.
What other projects to you have coming down the pipeline?
TM: On Friday July 25 a film that I scored called Come Back to Me will be released in theaters. And this year I’ve released a hybrid album of remixed orchestral compositions called Code Novus.
KC: I continue to teach full time and act as Chair of Vocal Arts and Opera and Resident Stage Director at the aforementioned USC Thornton School of Music. During the summer of ‘14, I will be directing Jake Heggie’s and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking and Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music for the Central City Opera. In August-September of ‘14, I have the privilege of directing the World Premiere of As One, a new opera by composer Laura Kaminsky and Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Campbell. The libretto is also co-written by Kimberly Reed, the inspirational film director/producer of the documentary, Prodigal Sons. The opera centers around Kim’s trans-gender journey from childhood through her surgery. It is being produced by American Opera Projects and will be performed at BAM. Then I return to USC where we have received a grant to produce Henze’s rarely seen The English Cat in November of ‘14.
Opera Conference 2014 will be a wonderful weekend of visiting with friends and colleagues — strengthening existing relationships and forging new connections. First impressions, we know, matter. And handshakes are an important part of a first impression. How is your handshake technique?
Diane Gottsman, modern manners and etiquette expert, articulates the subconscious responses we elicit when we shake hands in a variety of way.
Let’s all be honest: one of the best things about visiting a new city is checking out the local eats, especially those best kept secrets.
We rounded up 11 covert dishes and sips that you’ll be tempted to keep all to yourself once you’ve had a taste. (Though, we highly suggest you spread the love.) From a sweet cocktail that comes with a smoky surprise to a burger smothered in a special Caesar sauce, here’s all the hush-hush we can’t help but blab about.
Read more on Refinery29…
Sunday’s General Session, Re-Imagining Impact: The User Experience, will inspire you to implement ideas from the tech and design communities to improve your customer’s experience. Check out this article from the Chicago Tribune about how the Goodman Innovation Group is crossing technology and the arts.
With its latest play, “Ask Aunt Susan,” the Goodman Theatre bridges the technology world with the arts community on numerous levels.
The production is the first to benefit from a two-year-old tech and startup community infusion throughout Goodman’s operations. That infusion has yielded changes in marketing, and it seeks to create props and sets using 3D printing and to bring a better supernatural feel to the long-running “A Christmas Carol.”
That’s courtesy of the Goodman Innovation Group, a tech-focused collective led by babysitter-matching site Sittercity founder and opera singer Genevieve Thiers and New Chapter Entertainment CEO Candi Carter. The group is a local innovation all-star team eager to provide feedback and suggestions about doing things differently. Among them: Chicago-based Google engineering manager Brian Fitzpatrick; GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney and The Starter League’s Neal Sales-Griffin.
We want to know: how is your company infusing the arts and technology?
What was your earliest experience of opera?
When I was 10 or 11 my mother took my sister and me to see Carmen at the Tilles Center on Long Island. I was pretty confused about why, if the story takes place in Spain, the characters were all singing in French, but I was completely awed and transfixed by the music and the drama unfolding on stage (even if I realize now that I actually understood almost none of it).
Why did you start composing (or writing librettos)?
Although I’ve loved music for my whole life, I never dreamed of being a composer. My first childhood obsession was roller coasters, and when I saw a documentary about roller coasters on TV that interviewed some of the leading designers of the day, I realized that people had to design these things, and that I was born to be one of those people. I sketched hundreds of original designs, and they got more sophisticated and technically fleshed out (and scarier, and more dramatic) as I got older.
Unfortunately, I turned out to be terrible at calculus, so I had to figure out what else I could do with my life. Music was my other great love, but I’d never taken it very seriously as so many young musicians do—I’d never taken private trombone lessons or done any of the young solo competitions or festivals or anything like that. I’d certainly never composed anything. My high school band director was also my Music Theory teacher, and he suggested that I write enough music to put a portfolio together and apply to schools as a theory/composition major and just figure it out once I was there. I started writing and found that I loved it in the same way that I loved sketching imaginary roller coasters.
Somehow I ended up in college and eventually grad school as a composition major, and I was fortunate enough to find teachers and mentors who understood where I was coming from and what I wanted to do. I suppose you could say that designing roller coasters is exactly what I’ve ended up doing, and no one loves a good roller coaster like opera audiences and opera performers.
Who has been influential to you throughout your career and why?
John Corigliano and Mark Adamo for teaching me to think about music and drama as one and the same thing, and for their never-ending wisdom, support and mentorship; composer and teacher Deniz Hughes, for introducing me to Corigliano’s planning method, for making sure I knew how to ask the right questions, and for setting me on the path I’m on today; Lawrence Edelson, the founder and director of American Lyric Theater, for taking an enormous chance commissioning me and for being like a (very, very patient) lighthouse for me throughout the whole process; dramaturg Cori Ellison, for awakening me to a universe of dramatic possibility and giving me a vocabulary with which to talk about it all; composer Austin Wintory, for being my no-BS sounding board and indefatigable one-man workshop; The Guidonian Hand trombone quartet, for commissioning two big pieces from me and performing the bejezus out of them all over the country; dancer and choreographer Haylee Nichele, for finding joy and athleticism in my music that I didn’t even know was there.
What inspired you to create THE LONG WALK?
When Stephanie [Fleischmann] and I read The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner we both instinctively knew that we’d found the story we needed to tell. There was the subject matter, which spoke to both of us and felt both authentically urgent and socially necessary, and there was the musical way Brian wrote his story, with its motivic refrains and symphonic sense of form and structure and development. It took a very long time for me to work out how to make the characters sing, but I knew how the music(s) would flow— move, build, act, function—almost instantly. It was immediately clear that this was not only a story that could be told with music but a story that demanded to be told in music.
What other projects do you have coming down the pipeline?
I’ll be spending the rest of 2014 and part of 2015 orchestrating THE LONG WALK—getting it ready for its world premiere in summer 2015—so there isn’t a whole lot of room to think about anything else. That said, I will also be writing two solo pieces for members of The Guidonian Hand: an unaccompanied solo multiphonic trombone songbook for William Lang called Single by Choice and a solo multi-track piece for James Rogers and his new contrabass trombone called Don’t Be Shy. (Writing solos is the only thing I can think of that’s as terrifying as writing an opera!) The Gaudete Brass Quintet will be recording a piece I wrote for them, ROAR, and soprano Heather Michele Meyer will be recording a song I wrote for her, Mamie, both this year.
Photo: THE LONG WALK: Stephanie Fleischmann, Librettist; Brian Castner, Author; Jeremy Howard Beck, composer. Photo courtesy of American Lyric Theater.