Bluegrass Opera

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Bluegrass Opera

Today’s Column by Bert Daniel
Sunday, October 11, 2015
I grew up listening to grand opera. Like most forms of music it’s pretty enjoyable if you make the effort to understand it. I was very fortunate growing up in that it didn’t take any effort on my part to understand opera. Opera was all around me. My mom had studied voice at the Juilliard School in New York and I grew up listening to beautiful arias from Lucia di Lammermoor, La Boheme and La Traviata. When the Metropolitan Opera came for performances in Atlanta, we would drive the 160 miles and stay at the Hyatt Regency on Peachtree Street. I loved riding in the cool elevator they had there which had views of the open air lobby for hundreds of feet.
On the night of the performance we had to dress up and get there early. The orchestra would play a few tuning fifths. The only other sounds would be people coughing in the relative silence. A kid like me would start to feel bored but then the music would erupt from the orchestra pit as they ripped into the overture. The stage curtain would rise and the performance would begin. Performers dressed in fancy costumes sang such beautiful music in a language I had absolutely no understanding of, but I loved it anyway. When I got a little older, I learned to read the story line and libretto translation before each act so I had some idea of what the elaborate extravaganza all was about. Sometimes after a performance we would go backstage and say hello to Mom’s old friend Irene Dallas, who sang mezzo-soprano for the Met. Irene had her own dressing room and there was a lot of show biz stuff going on back stage.
Suffice it to say, I’ve seen and heard a lot of good opera music in my day. But now Bluegrass music is what I mostly listen to. That got me to thinking. Maybe there should be a Bluegrass opera. Maybe there already is, I thought. So I looked through as many Google hits as I had time for and unfortunately I didn’t find very much. There is an opera company in Kentucky I found, but they seem to be into the kind of opera and musicals we are all familiar with already.
If ever there was a music genre suited to dramatic portrayal, it is Bluegrass and Old Time. Verdi could only have dreamed of the murders, lost loves, betrayals and feuds that are the heart and soul of so much of what to him would have been “alternative music”.
It would be pretty easy to come up with a story line for a Bluegrass opera using existing material. My friend Andre Ferrera made that observation recently and I am obliged to give him credit for the concept. All Andre and I need now is more composers and librettists to help us flesh this thing out.
We probably want to start with a male protagonist named Willie and a female protagonist named Maggie.

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