A New Kind of Libretto
During our first meeting, I confessed to Ellen I didn't have any experience writing for opera. To my surprise, she said that would be OK. As she told me about her vision for the project, I was struck by the combination of opera, an ancient form, and the "choose your own adventure," social media-inspired interactivity of today. But through Ellen, I learned opera had never stopped innovating and reflecting the current times. She lent me the librettos for Black Water, based on Joyce Carol Oats' novel inspired by the Chappaquiddick incident, and The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera about the 1985 hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro. The heightened reality of these librettos mixed with recogonizable themes and incidents brought new life to familiar stories. I took this under consideration when I planned the story of what Ellen wanted -- a story of a woman reflecting on her life and where it should go next. From there, I filed a Sailor Moon notebook with ideas about how the story could be structured. I bought a 64-count box of Craylola crayons and sketched an outline of the story structure with each scene represented by a different color box. After many failed sketches, I emailed this crude drawing to Ellen. Looking back, I really have to give her credit for believing I had any idea of what I was doing because my chart looked like something a toddler would draw to keep herself occupied on a car trip
Ellen had sent me an mp3 of the music she had written for the first scene and I listened to it on a loop as I wrote. I sang each line (quietly, for the sake of everyone within earshot) and thought I had an idea of how the scene would sound but I could not have envisioned what Ellen had in store. A little while after I submitted the first scene, she sent me a revised script that showed how she re-shaped and re-structured the lines to fit her music. I was blown away by how much the scene was transformed, for the better. I went on writing, now knowing I didn't have to sing as I wrote because Ellen had something much more exciting in store for anything I'd submit to her. This made writing a lot more organic and a lot more fun.