Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Museum in His Mind"

Emergency Room. Sirens. Heart Monitors ... and a baritone singing.

It can only be opera!

Recently I have been re-structuring and re-recording my third opera "Dedo."

"Dedo" is about the late artist Amadeo Modigliani. In fact, "Dedo" was the nickname bestowed upon him by Pablo Picasso.

In going through census books from the early 20th century in Paris, I discovered that Picasso, Brancusi, Rivera & Modigliani all lived for a few years in the same building in Paris.

In imagining their conversations - as they were all completely different stylistically and politically - I came to write this small opera which took place in an imaginary bistro on the ground floor of their building.

Recently I have been re-structuring the whole setting of the opera - re-recording the set-pieces, arias and chorus numbers and then adding external sound to convey extra-musical ideas.

I have literally spent hundreds of hours culling and recording the additional external sounds that can make up the audio scene for the recording. The additional sounds quite literally became a composition in their own right.

In the original opera, the focus is the dying Modigliani, and takes place in a bistro - a perfect excuse for a small musical ensemble which would make the operatic setting feel more natural. (At least it does for me - nothing quite like stepping off a trolley car and launching into a love duet with full orchestra to really ask the listener/viewer to suspend belief!)

The setting is last few days of Modigliani's life as told through his friends, peers and lovers. (The title character frequently goes back and forth between past, present & future as he moves through the opera towards his death.)

All this is the same in the new setting - except it now takes place in a hospital. Characters in the opera visit him in his ward room, coming and going. (Is there nothing more frightening than hearing hospital sounds? It is that deathly quiet surrounding medical machine noise that makes it so ethereal and real at the same time.)

In re-setting and re-structuring the opera a new character emerged - Dr. White. Of course, he is heard only through the hospital intercom and public address system, but he is talked about so much that his sonic aura became a character!

In this excerpt from "Dedo," we find his lover, Jeanne, his friend and accomplice, Apollinaire, and his art dealer and critic Lipschitz by his bedside. (The evil baritone art dealer and critic!) "A Museum in His Mind" is mainly Lipschitz's aria as he sings about how Modigliani was greater in his own mind than in life, while his lover and friend encourage him to use the same fantasy to be more comfortable in the road to death.

"A Museum in His Mind" is actually a penultimate number in the opera. Modigliani dies at the end of the aria - you'll hear it in the heart monitor sounds.

In re-structuring the opera I have tried to use not only music, text and setting to create an aural portrait, but I am using external sounds to help set the scene.

A note - I have been informed by email and a few calls that there are a handful of music theory and composition classes following and studying the music in this blog. Young musicians hold a special place in my heart. My wife Susan and I are eager supporters of young programs for musicians. I'm delighted that you are following and will attempt to answer all questions that I can.

I hope you enjoy "Museum in His Mind." (The audio file starts very softly with some external sounds. Just wait for it - it gets louder!)

My many thanks to baritone Brad Mitchell, soprano Mary Ringstad & tenor Mark Waters.

Robert Ian Winstin

Stats: Blog Views to Date (February 8, 2010): 5528 | Sheet Music Downloads to Date (February 8, 2010): 6110


  1. "Museum in his mind...?" I so get it. Aren't we all that way?

    This is excellent and very moving. I love the middle part - chorus?

    Really very beautiful.


  2. Beautiful.



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