Opera, n. - (2008)
for high voice and piano
OPERA, n. A play representing life in another world, whose inhabitants have no speech but song, no motions but gestures and no postures but attitudes. All acting is simulation, and the word simulation is from simia, an ape; but in opera the actor takes for his model Simia audibilis (or Pithecanthropos stentor)--the ape that howls.
The actor apes a man--at least in shape;
The opera performer apes an ape.
[ 6 pages, circa 2' 45" ]
This quodlibet is a twisted borrowing from themes from Bizet's opera, Carmen. The amusement of citing snippets from wondrous themes by composers is a centuries' old game. Other quodlibets which I have enjoyed composing include those to texts by Philip Haffner (Quodlibet to many thematic snippets from Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin) and the humorous anonymous text Lügenmärchen drawn from "Deutsches Kinderlied und Kinderspiel" which quotes many leitmotivs from Wagner's Ring.
The setting opens with fortissimo octaves to announce the word and its definition from Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary. The aggressive gesture mimics the rhythm drawn from Carmen, though of course the rhythmic gestures is far more widely shared. The progression moves from C minor to E flat major, the two tonalities which dominate the setting.
Snippets from several parts of Bizet's score conflate, from with the addition of a few major-minor sevenths spicing the gesture in C minor which again gives way to E flat major. Each snippet is a tease towards the next as the text is revealed.
Among the best beloved themes from Carmen is the "Toreador Song" which I sung often in my youth, here truncated into a triple meter such that the gestures are compacted and awkward as we learn Bierce's very clear and derogatory opinion of the actor and, as he makes the distinction, the "opera performer." We should take it humorously, else I too find myself defined in Bierce's parlance as one of the many Simia audabilis, and most certainly a Pithecanthropus stentor.
The score for Opera, n. is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.