Uploaded on May 6, 2011
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SCHWARTZ'S 'SEANCE' IS A 'WICKED' MISTRESS
Actor turned filmmaker Michael Stever, & 'Wicked' lyricist/composer Stephen Schwartz discuss the epic challenges in bringing 'Seance On A Wet Afternoon's' haunting story to the operatic stage.
Written By Michael Stever
Nobody can ever accuse Stephen Schwartz of not consistently exploring his muse, and following the 'Road Less Traveled' where creative endeavors are concerned. After an exhaustive 3 year process, Schwartz, executive producer Michael Jackowitz and The New York City Opera have finally unveiled 'Seance On A Wet Afternoon.' This much anticipated follow up to Schwartz's 'Wicked' is completely removed from The Great White Way, and has sat down in the heart of another New York City Arts institution, the historic Lincoln Center.
Patterned after the 1964 British film directed by Bryan Forbes starring the great Kim Stanley & Richard Attenborough, and based on the novel by Mark McShane, 'Seance' concerns a mentally unstable medium named Myra Foster. Convinced she has yet to receive her proper due for her talents, Myra conjures up an elaborate kidnapping scheme with her husband so she can help the police solve the crime and in turn receive her much deserved moment in the spotlight. The moody, haunting film features tour deforce performances by both Stanley and Attenborough, in addition to a richly atmospheric score by the legendary, late John Barry. For Schwartz's operatic debut, powerhouse soprano Lauren Flanigan as Myra and Kim Josephson as her husband Bill are both phenomenal as their fiercely neurotic co-dependence highlights the dark underbelly of things to come. Novices to the world of opera will also find Schwartz's 'Seance' the perfect vehicle for inspiring interest in the classics.
Having been invited to film an exclusive sneak-peak rehearsal in New York City with the Chelsea Symphony back in 2009, I knew that Stephen Schwartz was by no means taking on an easy path with this particular undertaking. As the smoke cleared, and the paranormal chills settled I asked Stephen about the difficulties and challenges he faced with this particular foray into the supernatural.
Stever: Where the 'Opera World' is concerned, did you find the challenges that presented themselves to be unique for 'Seance?'
Schwartz: I began thinking I would use a similar writing technique to that which I have learned works for me for musical theatre: Have a very clear outline and then begin musically by following the "path of least resistance" --
with the aria or area that is clearest to me. I found I couldn't do that with an opera. Instead, I had to have a complete libretto before I could begin composing (although some of the libretto changed as it got "lyricized" or as parts of the story developed during the writing process.) Other than one or two musical motifs I worked out in advance, I basically started at the beginning and wrote sequentially, again a different process for me. And I wrote every note of the piano/vocal score out by hand, as opposed to working out songs on the keyboard and, once done, playing them into the computer for transcription purposes.
I also had to take into account the nature of legit voices, so that I tried to consider such things as vocal passagios to make sure things were set where they were comfortable for the singers (and also set in such a way that as many of the words as possible could be understood, despite the vowel distortion that sometimes must occur in legit singing). And of course I knew that the voices, unlike in contemporary musical theatre, would be unamplified, and therefore the music had to be composed so that the voices could be heard and understood without relying on microphones and mixing boards.
Lastly, there was the challenge of orchestration, so important a part of composing an opera, but not a task expected to be done by the composer of musical theatre. Orchestrating a complete two-and-a-half hour opera for an orchestra of 50+ took me an entire year, and even then it wouldn't have been possible for me without the mentorship of Bill Brohn, who had orchestrated Wicked for me and had extensive experience in classical orchestration.
Stever: Were you inspired at all by John Barry's score for the film?
Schwartz: I was inspired by the moodiness of Barry's score, though I don't think mine bears any resemblance to it. Well, perhaps a bit in the orchestral Prelude to the first act. I have admired many of Barry's scores, particularly that for The Lion In Winter, but I don't feel that he is one of the composers who influence my career.
Stever: Have you ever consulted the advice of a medium?
Schwartz: I did do research, needless to say, but not to the extent of actually attending a seance myself.
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