Contemporary music is alive and well and as my father has remarked often, opera houses are commissioning a surprising amount of music—why is that? You’d think with limited budgets and a fluctuating economy that opera companies would do the tried and true stuff—avoid taking chances. And yet, they are. People, and particularly donors, love to be a part of the creative process and have a say in the direction opera is going. I think that’s a big part of it, but it also seems to be our way of making the art form relevant. I’ll never forget the feeling waiting in the wings before curtain call in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic. At the very end of the show, when all the music has stopped, one hears the voice of a Japanese woman asking for water, a looped pre-recorded track. Eventually this dissipated into silence, which seemed to last an eternity. The audience could hardly breathe. The awe and shock felt in the room was so palpable it reached all the way backstage. Sometimes I had to wait in another area just to avoid the intensity of that moment.
Although we have many extraordinary composers writing right now, it’s my feeling that very few compose well for the voice. When NYFOS asked me to contribute to the blog this week, my gut for whatever reason wanted to explore this topic. I wanted to mention composers whose work is moving and has a knack for unleashing and accentuating the voice’s unique powers. And when I heard the music of David Bruce, I was struck! Here was a composer who had that open channel to the heart and somehow understood how the voice could help him illuminate that. I was so struck that I went out of my way during a recording job in London to see the premiere of his opera Nothing at Glyndebourne. I walked away with the feeling that it was the best premiere I’d ever seen. (More info can be found here.) It was so good that I have trouble even putting it into words—everything cohesive, potent, organic, raw and ‘operatic.’ I was riveted and never once thought about an interval or a pattern or orchestration. But since this is NYFOS, it makes much more sense to share with you a clip from Bruce’s song output. My buddy and fellow mezzo-in-crime Kelley O’Connor sings this ravishing song “Bring Me Again”, the last in the cycle That Time with You, premiered in 2013. You can’t help but feel warm listening to it.