Saturday, February 13, 2010

Opera "Dedo" - 'Form-My Life"

Last week I posted an excerpt from my opera "Dedo" about the life (mostly death!) of the painter Modigliani. ("Dedo" was the nickname bestowed upon him by Pablo Picasso.)

Today's installment is another excerpt from that opera.

Again - Emergency Room. Sirens. Heart Monitors ... and a baritone singing. It can only be opera!

The scene: a modern hospital. (Taking a little liberty here!) In fact, in this scene, we hear the arrival of Modigliani to what will be his final residence - a hospital room.

A lone trumpet starts a plaintive call with a theme that is used later in the opera by his lover Jeanne. We hear the siren of the ambulance in the background bringing him to the Emergency Room.

Once again; "Dr White, paging Dr. White" becomes an ex-officio character in the opera. This is his first appearance. (You'll remember that in last week's posting, "Museum in His Mind," we basically had the end of the opera with Modigliani's death.)

A large rhythmic (basically un-'formed') orchestral introduction sets up the song "Form" - a flashback by Modigliani to his student days in Paris where his instructors would criticize his work for having no "Form." (Ironically, in later years he would become well known for his extended neck 'forms.') The song is sung to him by his art teacher, Picasso & the model (who later became his lover) Jeanne:

"Form is what you need, and,
Form is what you get, and,
Form is just the thing, to,
Make it look just like, a,
Painted-Perfect-Picture Art.
Give up what you need for, the,

The flashback of his student days of "Form" gradually leads us to Modigliani's sung expressed regrets on his life in the song/aria "My Life."

"My life isn't all it's meant to be.
I sing it from the heart.
I know I'm not saying anything new

He is joined in the chorus where he laments his wasted life while those around him - the teacher, Picasso & Jeanne - use basically the same words to express the very impact he has had on their lives.

Sometimes we just don't see that, do we?

The scene ends with Modigliani going in and out of consciousness and hallucinating back to his student days in a re-cap of "Form."

A little history of the opera: 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 the 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-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.

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

Robert Ian Winstin

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Tomorrow? Valentine's Day music, of course!

Get the FREE sheet music for all the pieces in this blog (except the opera excerpts) at

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