Love in Public
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 12:47PM
David K. MacIntyre

The Love in Public Blog - February 15, 2012 first in a series

by David MacIntyre

The Equity paperwork is filed, the contracts are signed, the music is in the hands of the performers, the set and costume design has been conceived and the director is deep in thought. Love in Public, an opera cabaret I wrote ten years ago on words by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is getting ready to hit the stage. Who knew, in 2001 when I started this project, that it would take over ten years and the sea-change of the Internet to make Love in Public relevant for today's audiences? Who said artists are ahead of their time? We have to be, just so we're ready when the world is ready. Who knew that blogging our private, innermost thoughts for everyone to read would become the fashion? Nobody. But in six weeks, we'll be in a rehearsal for Love in Public, so I'd better get this blog rolling.

Love in Public is an opera cabaret for four singers, two dancers and piano set in the present day. It opens at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre on April 19, 2012 for a ten day run. I hope you'll catch it. World premieres of new opera works aren't a dime-a-dozen. Neither is hearing four of Vancouver's finest singers paired with the hottest young director the scene has seen in years. And they're all performing my music. You can't imagine how much fun it is! And how much work it is! For this show, in particular, the journey from paper to performance has had more twists and turns than a Hollywood thriller.

It starts 160 years ago with the first blog. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, recluse Victorian poet, writes her astonishingly intimate forty-four poem cycle titled "Sonnets from the Portuguese" that chronicles her love affair with poet Robert Browning prior to their elopement in 1846. The sonnets, published in 1850, are disguised as mere translations from another source in an attempt to cleverly dodge the gossip of this real-life romance. After all who in their right mind would put such private and intimate thoughts on paper for others to read? Elizabeth did. Breaking all the rules of modesty, she wrote her deepest, most private expressions in rigorous sonnet form because she had to, because she could, because it mattered and, despite Victorian mores and the suppression of suggestive content, she ruled! The sonnets are among the most famous ever written.

In 2001, at the dawn of the internet, I decided to set these poems to music, all forty-four of them, and make an opera from them. Why opera? Because opera is the home of music, poetry, theatre and dance. And only opera singers can transcend the archaic "thee, thou, thine" language of the poetry in any believable way. I set about writing a cabaret for opera voices. Why cabaret? Because I needed four singers to sing forty-four songs and by setting Elizabeth's words to music, I both honor and desecrate them. And if love is to be celebrated, it also must be skewered - an opera cabaret - high-brow meets low-brow. Love crosses all boundaries and constructs, it recognizes neither class nor gender.

First thing you notice is there's a story hidden in the arch of these forty-four poems - the story of a woman on the edge of death who is revivified by the power of love. Such is the story of Elizabeth and Robert. Out of nowhere, she accepts a visit from the young poet who, in their first meeting, confesses that he loves her poetry with all his heart. Naturally frightened, she rejects him. But the stage has been set for a love affair that reaches to the depth of the human heart and concludes with "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways", a line forever altering history.

When I decided to write Love in Public, the power of the idea was so intoxicating that I wrote the first draft in a white heat of one-a-day for forty-four days. Endurance. Little did I know that endurance of those first forty-four days was just the beginning...



The Love in Public Blog - March 14, 2012 second in a series

By David MacIntyre, 

Endurance. When I left off in my blog about my new opera cabaret Love in Public, I was talking about endurance. I had written the first draft of the forty-four sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's mind boggling tour de force "Sonnets from the Portuguese" in forty-four days. A sonnet a day. It was a feat of endurance that I had never done before and never done since. But it had to be that way if I was going to succeed, I felt. I had to find a way into Elizabeth's world of heightened emotions if I had any hope in finding the musical expression of those emotions in any authentic way. So, I decided to write music everyday for forty-four days - a new song every day. The pressure was on.

They say Handel wrote The Messiah in 28 days of fury and when his servant found him after he had written the Hallelujah Chorus, Handel was delirious with joy and completely a mess. I'm not Handel and I don't have servants, but I felt the same way after 43 days of writing music when I had finished the penultimate sonnet of the series and the most famous: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways". I was overcome with joy and completely a mess. I knew I'd landed it! And because I'd been working at top throttle for forty-three days, I knew Elizabeth's world by heart and I could get to the emotional centre of her words in a New York minute. 

After finishing that first draft, I immediately began looking for a singer to sing it. New York soprano and Metropolitan Opera auditions winner Mariateresa Magisano was in Vancouver singing the Marriage of Figaro for Vancouver Opera in the fall of 2001 and she agreed to look at four of the songs. We grabbed a studio at Tom Lee Music with pianist David Boothroyd and she sang through four of them. She got pretty excited by what she was singing and so did I! Then I looked at this mass of music and said, "no singer can sing this show by herself. It's 90 minutes of music!" She agreed.

In 2003, Vancouver Opera hosted a workshop for four invited composers who were working on operas and I brought in Love in Public. Since there were four singers available to us, I decided to create an arrangement of five songs from Love in Public for four singers. It was a fated decision. With four singers, all that music could be distributed and no one would be overloaded. I could take the audience on a journey of love with 2 men and 2 women while creating a new genre called opera cabaret at the same time. The workshop was a hit. The singers loved it, the audience loved it and I had the inspiration to re-write the whole show for four singers instead of one. The second draft of Love in Public was completed on April 20, 2004.

One of the singers from that workshop with Vancouver Opera was a young soprano named Robyn Driedger Klassen. I think she's a star in the firmament of Canadian opera singers. As the years passed, she kept singing songs from Love in Public at various events like the Vancouver International Song Institute and people always got excited by what they heard. "Can I have the music?" singers would say, wanting to sing the songs that Robyn was singing. "No", I replied, "I don't want to release any songs until the whole show has been performed in a fully staged production".

People thought I was crazy, but here we are! It's 2012 and from April 19-29 - almost eight years to the day of finishing the second draft, Love in Public will debut in a full theatrical production directed by Peter Jorgensen. Singing the role of The Soprano is that very same Robyn Driedger Klassen, the singer who kept Love in Public alive all those years in-between. And playing piano is David Boothroyd, the very same pianist who played that first session in 2001. Endurance and patience has brought me here. In two weeks we start rehearsal. I can't wait!


The Love in Public Blog – April 15, 2012 - 3rd in a series

by David MacIntyre

On April 11, 2012, Peter Jorgensen, the man in charge of staging the world premiere production of Love in Public wrote his status update on his Facebook page: “We finished staging the show this morning. It's unlike anything else I've ever staged or performed in. You should come...”

And just to make sure I wasn’t reading crazy, Robyn Driedger-Klassen, the soprano star of Love in Public, posted her status update later the same day: “We finished staging this wonderful show today! As our director, Peter Jorgensen says, it's unlike anything I've ever done before. You should definitely come see it!”

And today, to seal the deal, Love in Public mezzo star Megan Morrison’s status update reads: “For two weeks, we've followed the threads of 44 complex sonnets and their beautiful songs - in and out of love, confusion, frustration, giddiness, and back to love in all its sweet, sad, and generous shapes. So yes, this will be quite unlike anything you've seen.”

What can I say in the light of their independent thought? I’m delighted they feel this way. I hope audiences will think its unlike anything they’ve ever seen, and in a good way. Love in Public is a rich and fascinating meditation on love and I’m certain that people will recognize themselves in the work that emerges.

Using Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 44 Sonnets from the Portuguese as my libretto (and adding a short greeting from Robert Browning as an overture to get things going), I’ve created an opera cabaret for four singers and piano. In my distribution of the sonnets to the two women and two men of the singing ensemble, I’ve implied an underlying story about the singers themselves – their relationships and personal lives as revealed in the sonnets they sing and who they sing them with. Through the rehearsal process, we’ve been investigating these relationships and some extraordinary things are emerging. The singers’ love stories are rich – one couple is in a ‘complicated’ relationship from the very beginning, while another ‘early in love’ couple is sitting on a devastating secret. And the two dancers represent young love – romantic, ideal love. So, with at least three, possibly four love stories happening simultaneously, and audience on three sides watching it, Love in Public implicates us all. We’re all part of this gigantic love story.

Love in Public happens in the 21st century where blogging and public displays of love, intimacy and romance are as normal as Twitter. No one is left out. We all have our own love stories and we’ll probably see ourselves in the show. That’s a good thing. There's something for everyone. It’s a contemporary look at love using music, poetry, theatre, dance, lights and opera voices to get there. If you love beautiful singing, Love in Public will deliver.

Audiences will notice a couple of important things about Love in Public. First, it doesn’t look at love from the straight perspective only. Love recognizes neither age nor gender and it is freely available to all, so it’s important that all people be able to see their stories. Second, it doesn’t look at love from the romantic side only. Love makes us crazy and makes us do crazy things - and it's not always pretty. Love in Public looks at love in all its guises – broken hearts and all.

As I’ve watched the cast pull this show together, I’ve been overwhelmed to see how much they have to do. But it’s been a fantastic ride – learning a whole new language and finally getting to talk about Love in Public to someone other than myself!

As we prepare to open the show, I’m struck by the enormity of the subject. Everyone is implicated in love because like death and taxes, it’s one of the few subjects one can say is truly universal. It’s the primary motivation to keep going in this complicated world.

I believe that an audience begins their relationship with an artwork the moment they buy their ticket. Something happens when they commit. They begin to think of what they’ll see, what they’ll hear and how it will affect them. They make plans for the evening. They begin to wonder. They imagine. I’ve written three blogs about Love in Public and if you’ve been following along, then you’re ready to buy your ticket and start thinking about love. Perhaps you’ll ask that cute guy down the hall to go on a date, or maybe its time to treat your partner of thirty-two years to dinner and theatre. Whatever your circumstance, Love in Public is a good investment. Beautiful singing on a universal topic – you can’t go wrong.

And if we can get a few thousand people thinking about love over the next two weeks, Vancouver will have an astonishing Spring!




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