Archive for May, 2012

Roopler at NYU

Posted: May 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

This past Friday, May 11th, Sara and I had the extraordinary pleasure of presenting a staged reading of our first triptych of chamber operas.

Breakfast, A Light Lunch and Dinner began when director Noah Himmelstein approached us about a possible operatic collaboration. Noah and I met whilst working on Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s grand opera The Grapes of Wrath (Noah was the assistant director and I was assisting Ricky and producer Ed Barnes). Shortly after Noah read about Sara and my musical The Memory Show and we met again at a benefit for The Transport Group and we began to discuss a possible collaboration. At first it was only supposed to be one opera (Breakfast) but soon we discovered an idea for a companion piece (Dinner) AND THEN whilst attending the John Duffy Institute at the Virginia Arts Festival to work on Breakfast, Michael Korie (who happened to be there too) said, “but what about Lunch?” Thus the triptych was born. The trick would be to find a place to work on these pieces and present them to an audience.

For the past eight years or so my life has pretty much centered around Washington Square Park, that is, NYU. Without going into too much detail, I received my undergraduate degree in historical/theoretical musicology from NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences, my Masters in Musical Theatre Writing from Tisch and am now adjunct at Steinhardt as a vocal coach and accompanist in addition to teaching a few classes at Tisch. NYU is where I met my wife and where Sara and I began working together. So naturally, I figured I might as well start my search there.

I approached Bill Wesbrooks, head of the Vocal Performance Department at Steinhardt about the idea, he loved it, and Sarah Schlessinger at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program agreed to house the performance in their black box. After some scheduling issues and some technical details worked out, Sara and I signed on as Adjuncts to teach an “Advanced Opera Workshop” focusing on teaching a select group of extremely talented students how to approach new work. The idea of workshopping/producing new operas is an extremely recent (and yet extremely old) and not very widely dispersed phenomenon. The “Canon” is so pervasive and dogmatic that Universities and, more unfortunately, young artist programs at opera houses have become inefficient factories, pumping out singers on conveyor belts with little to no regard for Opera as an evolving or newly created art form. Of course there are many exceptions and oases of support for new work (Minnesota, Santa Fe, Houston, Indiana University, University of Colorado at Boulder and most pervasively, at least in training for writing both musical theatre/opera, NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program to name a few). However, I digress. (I plan on writing in more detail on this in a future article.) The point is, NYU Steinhardt took a bold chance in hiring Sara and me to work on these operas with their students and the outcome was a complete success.

Not only did the students feel that they were offered an experience they had never had either in their tenure at NYU or at their respective undergraduate universities, but the faculty loved the opportunity for their students. Most were extremely impressed with the students growth in the areas of musicality and acting ability, but even more so in the idea that a new piece could be written to support their teaching of healthy vocal technique and appropriate and accurate casting, other traits so rarely thought about in new work both on the composition and performance level. (This will be covered in yet another article I have planned on the training, or lack there of, of composers in the art of writing for the voice and writing for the stage.) On the flip side, Sara and I learned from and were inspired by their eagerness to work, grow and explore their untapped creativity.

More Universities should take NYU’s lead in including this kind of training for their vocalists and opportunities for professionals looking to workshop their material! We are very happy and honored to say that Steinhardt’s New Music Ensemble will be collaborating with the Voice Faculty on our set of monodramas, Windows, for their premier on December 5th, 2012!

-Zach