The Resistance of Mr. - an opera for man alone
Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 1:44PM
David K. MacIntyre

April 13, 2013  

by David MacIntyre

The Resistance of Mr. is a new opera I've created with writer Stephen Miller for man alone and piano. Currently in workshop with Vancouver Opera's Young Artist Program, The Resistance of Mr. is about a highly successful, well-connected man (baritone) who speaks out against the authorities once too often. Suddenly, he finds he's being followed and then, without warning, he's arrested, jailed and tortured. His Kafkaesque trial is a sham and he's sentenced to death for "living an open life". The opera concludes with his last words.

I've been working with baritone Aaron Durand and pianist Michael Onwood for the past couple of weeks and it's been an extraordinary experience for all of us. It's a rare and wonderful occurance for the composer to be alone with the performers for a series of workshops like this - no writer present, no dramaturg, no conductor, no director. Wonderful! Direct communication through the score. This opera has been singing in my head for nearly two years now, so it's good to hear Mr.'s voice embodied in a sturdy voice like Aaron's. He's a singer with a future.

The fact that we're alone was pre-ordained. When we set up the workshop, it was already known that librettist Stephen Miller was previously booked for Hawaii. Too bad. We decided to go ahead anyway and Skype him in for at least one session and we did! How great is that? I brought my computer to rehearsal so Stephen was able to see and hear Aaron do his first run of the entire opera and his performance was singularly superb - especially for the first time through. Stephen was happy, so was I! This music sits right in the pocket of Aaron's voice and he sounds fantastic.

I have one more session with Aaron on Monday, April 15. Then, on Tuesday, April 16, we'll perform The Resistance of Mr. for an invited audience who will give me notes about what's working and what's not. Hopefully, we'll have a spirited conversation about this opera, about what it's saying and how it's saying it. Stephen will be flying back that night, so he won't be there. I'll record it for him - along with the notes I get from the audience critique.

I look forward to reporting back here after Tuesday's performance. There are a number of things I'm hoping to find out from the audience: Is the story clear? Is Mr. redeemed at the conclusion? Is the music engaging? Is the music of his character and contemporary society? Does the trial scene where Mr. plays all the characters (including the Judge, Officer of the Court, Defense Attorney and Prosecuting Attorney) work? What is the best way to describe the feeling of the trial scene? Are we moved by his last words at the conclusion? Does the journey feel complete?

Stephen and I have thought about writing a companion piece for The Resistance of Mr. in order to create a full evening show. Another 30-40 minute piece would be a good idea, but not for the same actor/singer. We've discovered with Aaron that Mr. is a big sing, so that will influence the companion piece, for sure. There's an imaginary woman Mr. sings to in the opera, so perhaps the companion piece is about her? We'll see. But for now, we'll see if Mr. has legs. The audience response is key to discovering that.

I'll be back after Tuesday night.


Update on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 1:05PM by Registered CommenterDavid K. MacIntyre

The performance of The Resistance of Mr. happened on Tuesday, April 16 for me and eight thoughtful friends from opera, theatre, dance and music who gave me the best notes imaginable. After the performance, I sat there writing furiously as they were talking about the show and it was a thrill beyond imagining. They were insightful, direct, controversial and complimentary. How often does one get critique, focused critique, immediately following a performance? Not often. So the session following the performance was extraordinary in all ways, so thank you to David, Heather, Jeremy, Bill, Chris, Katrina, Basia, and Catherine the Great.

But before I get into what the audience said, I have to comment on the oustanding performance of Aaron Durand who brought Mr. to life in all his complications and huge heart. Aaron dug deep and gave a marvelous performance. He played Mr. as an arrogant middle-aged man who is successful and well-connected in the community. That's what makes his demise so horrifying. If it can happen to him, what about the rest of us who aren't so well connected? Aaron found his expression of Mr. through the music, where it's positioned in opera, and through it, he found his way. All Mr.'s thoughts, history and drama is embedded in the music, so for a singer, it's the route to the essence of the character. That's what I love so much about writing opera - it's a chance to write a character through the music for these amazing artists with huge voices who interpret notes on a page as clues to the characters they're playing. For the composer, it requires both musical and dramatic skill and that's what gives me joy doing this work - from my private studio to rehearsal hall to stage - it's a chance to live with people through the music of their character. The magic of music and musicians - nothing is more satisfying to me.

The good comments from the audience were that "the music fits Aaron's voice like a glove", "in a great tessitura" and he was commended for his excellent diction - they understood every word. That the music was "driving, moving and intense" was encouraging to hear. As for the drama, they liked the way the story unfolded - especially the idea that his companion's story would follow - because they were engaged by the journey. They had some very direct and demanding comments on the need more clues about Mr.'s character (and "the woman" he talks to in the opera) that were spot on, so once I've told Stevie (my librettist) about these notes, I will reveal them here. I'm seeing him on Monday, so I'll give an update sometime next week. They were very insightful.

Thanks to Aaron Durand, baritone, Michael Onwood, piano, of the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program at Vancouver Opera; and special thanks to Adrianne, Dani, Les, Kinza, Tom and Jim from Vancouver Opera for supporting the first workshop of The Resistance of Mr. It was a gas!


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