A new program airs Sunday nights on WBAA Classical: What's New. Host John Clare features new music, new releases, and interesting guests. Hear a special preview of this week's What's New, and let us know what you think.
We'll hear operatic music by Carlisle Floyd, Michael Nyman, Jennifer Higdon, John Corigliano, Jake Heggie, and John Harbison.
Composer John Harbison shares this about his opera The Great Gatsby:
The work on the libretto of Gatsby was something I did while I was writing the pieces that I was working on just before the opera and I had so many musical ideas that were already in forming that it was simultaneous to the music kind of situation. I didn't think of that libretto of something that was a document that would simply be constructed like a poem and then I would fit to it, and in fact one of the advantages of doing it myself was I was able to change so much of it as I worked on it, I very very extensively reconstructed it as I went through it.
Part of it was to satisfy the people who were producing that there was a direction to the project. That I tried to make my libretto deadlines very carefully and tried to be ready so that there was a feeling of what we were really shooting for. But it also was, to me, a tremendous convenience. I would have preferred to work with a librettist. I couldn't think of anyone who would agree to so much cooperation in terms of really – because sometimes I had to cut out things I really liked in the libretto or change them.
So I think it's – collaboration with one's self is probably a streamlining too. I didn't want to have to wait for permission to do as I did. For instance, I wrote every line that the chorus sings, because I changed the whole idea of what a chorus should be in an opera. I had a complete philosophic shift. And I felt like I needed to have the chorus sing only what it could have experienced and witnessed on the stage, which meant that the whole text was word-for-word different. And I'm satisfied that, philosophically, that was an improvement in the show, but if I'd had to try to talk a very prideful librettist into completely reconsidering the whole idea of the chorus, it could have been quite a task.
It was a fun project to write. It was a less fun project to experience as a going through the production kind of thing. Opera is a very rough and tumble world and everyone has an opinion on it. It's probably more like sports. It's sort of like – if the manager doesn't take the pitcher out in time, you know? Everybody will call up on the talk shows and say what should have been done. In opera, it's the same way. If someone doesn't particularly like something in an opera, they're very, very vehement about letting everyone know – particularly the composer. So I still get people – complete strangers come up to me and tell me about an improvement in the Great Gatsby, from a piece they saw ten years ago.
And it's partly because it's on stage and certainly details become more memorable from that standpoint. I'm not quite sure I understand it at all, but it is a very different world, and no – it's always been that way and I don't think any composer gets into it without being ready for that. If you can be ready. But it's been very fascinating. I still hear from Gatsby critics.