Amanda Smith, Artistic Director and Resident Stage Director of FAWN, talks to Adam Scime about his experience writing FAWN’s second opera, L’homme et le ciel, which he dubs “his most substantial piece to date”.
Q: We are very excited to have you as the composer for FAWN’s second opera. Not only is it our second opera but I believe it is yours as well. How has this process been different from your first and what do you think you’ll take away from this present project?
A: My creative process differs with each project presented to me. Each project has different problems that need to be solved, and I enjoy creating tools in order to solve these problems. This opera is certainly no different. Along with being my most substantial work to date, there are several aspects of this piece that require special attention. For example, the text often relies on metaphor to further the narrative, and the music must respond to this in an appropriate manner.
Opera makes for an ideal context to collaborate with a number of artists. I am certain that when this project has been completed, I will be able to look back on a wonderful experience with some amazing people that inspire me.
Q: The parable you chose to work with certainly lends itself well to music. How did you come across the story and what struck you about it?
A: The text was presented to me by a friend and colleague who is studying early Christianity at the Doctoral level. It was his opinion that this particular narrative lent itself to theatrical treatment quite well, and I agreed with him. It was important to me that the adaptation of the text into libretto form did away with any heavy references to Christianity. I thought any reference to heaven or God should be replaced with less weighty euphemisms that were also metaphorical. This decision has nothing to do with my personal religious beliefs, on the contrary, the choice was dramatical in nature. It was my opinion that the text should embody a cloudy atmosphere that would complement the dreamlike quality of the narrative.
Q: You are becoming well known for your use of electronics. Do you find developing electronic material to be different for a narrative-based piece? If so, how?
A: I don’t believe my approach to the electronics has been altered due to the narrative aspects of this project. Perhaps this is due to the fact that my use of electronics is mainly to enhance the coloristic qualities of the orchestration. There is one important part in the piece that relies solely on electronics, and this moment is in fact used to further the narrative. However, the manner in which I composed this passage is consistent with my previous practices.
Q: How do you approach the individualization of character in your music? Do you find it happens organically or do you plan specific sonorities for characters before the writing process begins?
A: When dealing with the voice in an operatic setting, the composer must take into account the different types of characters. When setting the text, the composer must ensure that each character has a distinct musical quality. Too often composers make the terrible mistake of setting the text for each character in a similar manner. Musically, this is an unfortunate oversight, and the result can be quite dull. For example, you can’t set the text for a disturbed murderer the same way you would set the text for a magical wood nymph. The subtleties of these characters must be embedded within the music.
Q: What do you enjoy most about writing for opera that you can’t find in other mediums?
A: The collaborative aspect of the medium is completely attractive to me. Composing can often be a rather solitary affair. When dealing with opera, the composer has the chance to collaborate with other musicians, librettists, designers, and producers, etc. This list goes on, and if the right people are involved, there is the potential to create something quite special. This wide spread collaborative environment is wonderful, and truly inspiring.