Thursday, May 27, 2010

Collaborative Opera

In Narrative vs. Conversation, a post of a couple months back, I considered the difference between works of fiction created by one author and those created as collaborative efforts. On May 6th the Savonlinna Opera Festival has upped the ante by announcing a grand collaborative endeavor to create an entire opera, soup to nuts -- a collaboration open to all.

From the web site:
Savonlinna Opera Festival is one of the leading festivals in Finland, attended annually by over 60,000 guests. We are now initiating a unique project, through which anyone can participate in creating an opera. The finished opera production will have it’s premiere at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in July 2012.

And the invitation:
You will have an 80 member opera choir, a symphony orchestra and the unique stage of a medieval castle at your disposal. Join us in writing a script, composing and designing the staging of an opera.

Here's Savonlinna's promotional video about the collaboration:

The press release of 6 May explains that
Helping the Internet community will be a group of opera professionals: the Savonlinna Opera Festival’s Head of Productions Jukka Pohjolainen, composer Markus Fagerudd, opera director Jere Erkkil√§ and project manager Sivi Uitto. The idea is being developed and worked on in partnership with the hasan & partners advertising agency.

More than fifty would-be librettists have pitched their concepts to-date. The FAQ page contains a discussion in which the organizers are looking for tools for collaborative composition of a musical score, so it looks like the most usual sequence of opera composition is being followed: the composer(s) start with the story.

Are you skeptical yet?

A composer friend who is also a software developer, upon hearing of this endeavor, wrote to me:
[...] it seems like it will yield a [...] comic result more than anything else. I guess I don't have too much faith in design by committee working out in software, so maybe that's transferring over to here too!

Most operas, before they are performed, are created as collaborations of a narrower sort: between a librettist and a composer, the latter usually dominant (and sometimes a full-blown prima donna). And by definition opera is an art form that is performed as collaboration. An orchestra plays the instruments and a conductor governs their rendition; singers sing and act the libretto; director and producer frame the staging; and then there are the set designers, costume designers, choreographers, and a host of supernumeraries (I love that word).

The Savonlinna is going beyond all of that, though. And composition by committee is something any reasonable person might reasonably decline to take on faith.

What do you think? If you were to write a speculative review of Opera For You, pre-dated July 2012, how would you lay your bets? What do you guess will come of the Savonlinna Opera Festival's project?

(Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for pointing me to the Savolinna's collaborative opera project.)


  1. Reminds me of a highbrow version ChartJackers. Now all it needs is to be performed by a virtual choir...

  2. Though I am leery of composition by committee, and the promises of technology, I suspect that this might turn out to be something rather boringly decent and presentable, like Jerry Springer opera presented in London, which was considered a success. But we shall see. When I was very very young, I rejected the idea of writing a play or a novel together with my sister. I thought and am still believing that artistic creating is a soul bearing process therefore can not be easily done collectively. Therefore, I'll remain a spectator in this new age spectacle.

    Cheers for the participators though.

    Matthew Felix Sun

  3. Hey Quinn, great connections ... I've run across charlieiscoollike before on YouTube but didn't know about I've Got Nothing & the ChartJackers saga. Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir is a brilliant take on "mashup" and I'd never heard of that before either. Thanks!

  4. The Virtual Choir is amazing. I also have heard of a phenomena called YouTube Symphony Orchestra and thought they playing at individual channels which were then mixed together. But it turned out the YouTube was only used as a selection tool and the members of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra did get together to play in the traditional condition. YouTube is just audition window. I'm both relieved and felt cheated. See Join the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

  5. Is anyone suspicious of the part where they say: "Helping the Internet community will be a group of opera professionals"? I work in a 7th grade math classroom where constructivist learning is all about group collaboration. Unfortunately, the biggest challenge is setting things up such that the "experts" don't just jump in and make all of the critical decisions. As far as the opera goes, I'd like to see some creative ways to structure the process to provide for both wide participation as well as a final product that does have some structure. I'm skeptical of the idea that success must rely on meddling "professional" hands throughout the process.