Status | News

This blog documents the status of the project and provides news related to it. Because this website was created a few months after work on the project begun, the first entry starts with news about version 5.1 of the libretto. Entries will be posted at the discretion of the website managers, once any major step/task has been completed. Be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed if you want to stay informed about new entries to the blog.

Second act completed!

I should have made this post almost a month ago – in fact, I should have posted here long time ago – but, as you might guess, I'm an extremely busy person. If I'm not composing, I'm teaching and if I'm not doing any of the above then I'm certainly doing something else, from designing a new website to playing the piano, from making a video for my YouTube channel to analyzing operatic scores. I hardly ever watch TV and prefer to spend most of my leisure time reading rather than wasting it in trivial things. But I'm losing the point here. My apologies! As I said, I should have made this announcement a long time ago: the second act of R is finished! And, after a brief pause to write a commission, I'm about to start working on Act III. Now, you don't know this, but the third and fourth acts together are as long as any of the previous acts, which means it will take me approximately the same time to write them both: about 6 months. In other words, R should be completed by mid-2018.

I wish there could be a way I could let people have a sense of what writing an opera is. What I mean is that most people don't have a formal music education (or no music education at all, period) and that is a serious impediment for understanding what kind of challenges are implied in such a tremendous work. Perhaps an analogy might help: we all study physics at school so we all know how hard it may be to solve a physics equation but very few study music formally (at school or anywhere else), and even a fewer number make an attempt at composing, so there are only a handful of people (figuratively speaking) capable of understanding what a composer does and how difficult it is to write music, especially classical music. A few stats might therefore bring some light to the matter. As of now, R spans over 303 pages (concert size, 9x12"). The first act is 842 measures long and the second act, 937. The score has 69,803 notes; that is more notes than words in most MA's thesis but, of course, the comparison is not good – because it cannot be said that a note in a music score equals a word in a book. A note may perhaps be equal to a syllable. So, if you'll allow me the comparison, I'll say those 69,803 notes equal around 35,000 words on the English language (if you accept that, on average, most words in English have two syllables… I'm making an assumption, of course). It is still a mighty number, in my opinion. Even more if you consider that music is not a coded language so I'm not actually working with some kind of established lexicon. It's a very abstract process and also very intuitive. In fact, I usually have the feeling I'm working in the darkness, finding my way around a gigantic maze.

And if any of the above numbers don't work for you, why not an example? I'm not going to post the score of R here but I can put here a link to an operatic score available online. Take a look at this score. It's Claude Debussy's full score of Pelleas et Mellisande, his only opera and one of the greatest operatic achievements of the 20thy century. You may have to accept a disclaimer and wait a couple of minutes but after that you'll be able to gaze at the 410 pages of this masterpiece. You don't have to be a musician in order to realize that writing such a score is a monumental feat. I'm not claiming any greatness for myself here, but if you must know, I'm writing something just like that. I'm not comparing myself to Debussy nor R to Pelleas et Melissande, I'm just saying I'm writing a document of a similar nature. Whether or not R will make it beyond my computer's hard drive and, after that, a one-time premiere, only time will tell. In the meantime, I'll keep on working. I can't do anything else.

First act finished & some excerpts

Today I can officially declare that the first act of R is finished. I actually wrote the final measure a few weeks ago but since then I have been inspecting every note, every bar, correcting minor notation mistakes and making improvements to the orchestration. The score is 842 measures long and lasts about 32 minutes, which is roughly 30% of the total duration (that I estimate will be around 110 minutes).

For quite some time, I've been promising to upload samples but I was so concentrated in the composition itself that I couldn't avoid the temptation of procrastinating the task week after week. But, better late than never, as they say. 

So, here they are. Of course, these are just samples of the instrumental part. It makes no sense for me to show you an endless stream of ah's that replace a text you cannot hear and thus force you to try to make sense of a succession of sounds whose meaning you cannot grasp. I've tried to choose extracts that show different sonorities and moods as well as different instrumental densities. 

Regarding the musical style, I haven't made use of the traditional opposition of arias and recitatives. I preferred to combine both in a continous flow that moves from one to the other, some times in quick succession, other times with a bit more space in between. In other words, in R there are no real arias or recitatives. Instead, there are passages – of various sizes – that sound like arias interspersed with passages that sound like recitatives and even others that combine characteristics of both. The decision of what style to use was based on the needs of the narrative and, ultimately, on the text itself.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: Caitlin Regan. Used in accordance with the terms of its license. Image has been transformed and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

New milestone: Act I Scene 4, finished!

Hi everyone! It's been quite a while since my last post, so I'll summarize what has happened in the past months. After finishing the music of Scene 3, by mid March, I made a trip to Buenos Aires to take care of some personal stuff and then came back just before the start of the semester. I got stuck in between classes and the composition of a commission for flute and guitar which was successfully premiered in July. Shortly after that, I made a second trip to Buenos Aires, where I attended the performance of Zimmermann's Die Soldaten, at Teatro Colón. Then, I came back to Lima and resumed my work on R. Finally, today I celebrate a new achievement: I have completed the music up to the fourth scene of the first act. The score has now 81 pages (528 measures) and lasts about 20 min. Also, almost all major characters have been introduced so far (only two remain, that won't appear until the very end of the opera). If I keep the pace, I believe I can finish the music of Act I by the end of August. Regarding performance, I've been talking to some people but there's nothing concrete at this moment. In any case, I still have more than a year before I can finish the music so there's plenty of time to determine where and when (as well as how) R will be produced. Next post will have some samples, I promise!

Creative Commons License Photo credit: Richard Potts. Used in accordance with the terms of its license. Image has been transformed and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

Achievement and a few statistics

Today I achieved another goal in the composition of R: I finished the music for the third scene of Act I. The score has now 64 pages, that contain 414 measures, which in turn contain a total of 14,718 notes, that make approximately 15.5 minutes of music. This means that, after 9 weeks of work (I had to stop for a couple weeks to take care of some important stuff) I’m almost half way through the first act. I'll have to stop again — or at least slow down considerably — for a few weeks, in order to write a commission for Peruvian flute-player Daniel Cueto. Despite that, I'm very confident I'll be able to finish Act I before my new trip to Buenos Aires, in July, to attend the performance of Die Soldaten at the Teatro Colon. I'm still trying to decide how to make those short samples I mentioned in previous posts. My next update will surely contain a few of them, for you to enjoy. That's all for now. Till the next post.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: Used in accordance with the terms of its license. Image has been transformed and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

First Sample

Richard and I are so excited about how the music is taking shape that, instead of just sharing a simple audio export from the software, we have decided to put a little more effort into it and produce a short video using photos of the score and pictures in the public domain. “With a little help from my friends” Andrea De Martis and Fico Wiesse, we have been able to avoid using the old boring “ah” sound of my sample library and actually record a few vocal lines. To both of them, our deepest gratitude! Also to José Luis Madueño, for recording the voices at his studio. A little clarification, though: neither Andrea nor Fico are opera singers. They are both excellent composers and singers of popular music and have made their best effort to imitate an operatic timbre, so don’t judge them harshly if you think they didn’t get it right. It’s just a demo, after all, and it’s purpose is to give you a brief idea of the style of the music. And now that I talk about style, I have to say that this short sample has been made only with parts of the music of the first scene, so don’t think the whole opera will sound like this. In the future, I’ll be posting more samples (simple audio exports, this time) that will let you get a sense of how the rest of the music will develop. 

Now, the more musical guys may be wondering about the instrumentation, so here it goes: flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, percussion (1 player), keyboards (1 player, also) and a string quintet (with double bass). Why not oboe? Well, I simply made a choice, that’s all. I didn’t want to increase the number of musicians (as that would also increase the cost of production) and I wanted a partner for the horn. Usually, the horn in a woodwind quintet ends up somehow turning into a woodwind most of the time and can only stand out as a brass when playing solo, so I wanted a brass instrument with which I could pair it. Also, I felt that I would need the trumpet’s timbre. Call it premonition, if you like. To all oboe players, my sincere apologies.

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Work on R has started!

Well, actually I started last week — to be more precise, on January 7 — but I’ve been so excited about the whole thing that I couldn’t calm myself down to write a post on this blog. So far, I have almost 4 minutes of the opera. It’s a fraction of the total time I have calculated for the work (2 hours, give or take) but nevertheless it’s a good start. I’m amazed at how the music flows directly from the text in such an easy way. This is, of course, due to Richard's wonderful libretto. It's a complete joy to work with it! Absolute rapture! To be honest, I was terrified at the beginning, but with every measure I write I get more and more confident. At some point, as I promised, I will start uploading small fragments of the work; mere computer sequences, of course, but at least good enough to have some sense of how it will sound in the end. However, I'm afraid it's too soon for that at this moment. Well, that's all for now. Back to work!

Creative Commons License Photo by Roman Boed. Used in accordance with the terms of its license. Image has been transformed and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

We have a libretto!

Finally! After several months, we can now officially announce that work on the libretto has concluded. Our very special thanks to every person that contributed along the process. Richard and I are very happy! The composition of the music will begin in the following months, as I still have to finish a few commissions. After that, I'll post once a month with details about the status of the work. I will also include links to computer-generated excerpts from time to time. We still have a long way to go! Thanks to all of you for your interest and support!

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RUR | The Opera is now R | The Opera

For some time, Richard and I have been aware of the existence of other projects named RUR around the world. There is, in particular, another opera on the same subject by Czech composer Jan Jirásek, which is to be premiered in Prague in 2016. This comes as no surprise to us as Capek's play has been in the public domain since 2009. In addition, it makes perfect sense that a Czech composer has decided to turn the material into an opera. Apart from the obvious similarities that will arise due to that fact that both librettos are based on the same play, we have every confidence that ours is an essentially different piece. Moreover, as I’m not familiar with Jirásek’s work, there’s no possibility of my being influenced by his particular style. Finally, what Leonard Bernstein called the “infinite variety of music” ensures against the possibility of any resemblance between the scores of both operas.

Contrary to what others might think, Richard and I are neither concerned nor discouraged by the appearance of other projects based on RUR. As a matter of fact, we both celebrate the fact that there are other initiatives destined to promote Capek's legacy, in particular, the ideas about love and humanity he exposed on RUR. Nevertheless, we have thought it wise to change the name of our project, so that it doesn't get mistaken with Jirásek's work – or with any other adaptation of RUR. The name of our opera, from now on, will be simply R. We know you might find this a little intriguing, so Richard is going to write an explanation about this choice. You will be able to find this as a new entry in the menu shortly.


Draft 5.4

There still isn’t any news about the theatre, but that’s not really critical at this phase of the project, after all. Nevertheless, we wish to secure a date in the following months.

Draft 5.1

Work on the libretto has been going on for two months and we're now at version 5.1, which has been presented to friends and colleagues for their comments. Also, steps have been taken in order to secure a date for the premiere in 2018-19 at a local theatre. The name of this theatre can't be revealed at this moment but will be made public once dates are confirmed.