Here are two versions of the same text set differently. One being set in a conventional way and observing the stresses of the original text and one deliberately accenting unstressed vowels. This may become a stylistic feature of, if not the whole opera, but possibly the character of Prospero.
The one on the left is the conventional word setting.
The one here is the one which breaks with the convention of stresses in the original text.
After discovering a few weeks ago that in 2013 an opera was made of “The Masque of the Read Death” I looked for any online interviews about the work. Cecilia Livingston, on being asked “Please talk about the challenges in creating your adaptation of the story” answered: “The principal challenge in adapting Poe’s Masque to the requirements of drama, and opera specifically, is that Poe’s work typically has very little dialogue or ready-made mise en scene.”
(taken from https://barczablog.com/2013/10/14/10for_cecilialivingston/ accessed on 15/05/23)
She is also asked “What do you love about Poe and especially his story The Masque of the Red Death?” to which she answers: “I have mixed feelings about Poe as a writer, but as a provider of dramatic material with operatic potential, he has left a great legacy.”
These two quotes from this interview have been the difficulty I have found in the process of adapting Poe. It is dramatic and therefore suited to being staged, but finding text you can extract from the source material into something suitable for a libretto I have found very difficult. Since Poe returns often to the same themes it was quite easy finding poems of his which were suitable for adapting into the libretto.
Below is a video clip of Livingston's opera where The Red Death appears. The libretto seems more narrative and there seems to be space in the sung material for mime and choreography.
In the Edgar Allan Poe poem "Alone" Poe writes in iambic tetrameter meaning there is an even pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables which I always find a problem since the style of the music for the rest of the opera is striving to changing meters in the music. I'm looking to break up the evenness of the stresses in the poem with changing time signatures, while still making sure to keep the stresses of the original poem in the "correct" place. Here are the first few lines of text set to music and focusing only on the role of the singer.
Issues covered at supervisory meeting: The adaptation of the text. Narrative theory. Some differences in singers producing different vowel sounds at different placements in their range. We discussed, and looked at, the “vowel chart”. Ritual in the Jewish festival of passover and if it might find a place in the opera. We discussed different composers approach to compositional technique (pitch class sets).
In my original proposal for PhD I had mentioned trying to use "non-lexical vocables" which are inspired by the band The Cocteau Twins use of an "invented language" to use which services the music (rather than text being set to music). In order to generate vocables in the style of The Cocteau Twins I asked chat GPT to generate some, It took a while to give the right prompts to the Artificial Intelligence but, eventually, it came up with something close to what I was looking for. Below is a link to the conversation which led there. Below that is how I set (as a hocket) the text the AI gave me.
A pdf of the chat i with the AI can be found HERE
Issues covered at supervisory meeting: Discussed the upcoming Viva Voce and what would be required. Discussed text as pure sound divorced from literal meaning (non-lexical vocables). Mentioned the traditions of word setting e.g. Purcell ‘Dido and Aeneas’ and Schubert Lieder. Looked at my use of harmony and it’s “Jazziness” and some harmonic choices. Also we talked over my trying to use pitch sets and limiting pitches and how symmetrical scales might be used.
Here is a setting of the extracted text where I have tried to connect all the words I've chosen from Poe to make into a drinking song for the chorus which has phrases of equal length. Below is a picture of an extract from the piece and below that is a link to the pdf of the full score.
Click HERE for the pdf copy.
I'm attempting to find poetic couplings in the original text and freely adapting them to create some kind of meter. Below I have colour coded which lines might similar in poetic character and, anything in red, are lines I have decided I don't need and I'm cutting.
following on from the task in the last blog post where I was trying to extract enough from the original story to make a libretto. I, this week, am trying to extract enough from the original text to make something lyrical enough to be an aria. Again you will see me trying to reduce the amount of words by cutting out the parallelism.