For those who are not opera aficionados, an opera’s words are called its libretto. Osher instructor Gordon Williams is not only a writer and speaker on music, but an opera librettist. He wrote the libretto for Journey to Horseshoe Bend, a dramatic-cantata composed by Andrew Schultz and presented at Sydney Opera House by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2003. He also devised new dialogue for the Sydney Symphony’s first performance in 160 years of Don John of Austria, and produced Darwin Theatre Group’s ensemble-piece Dust-Off Vietnam, for which he was also a playwright and actor.
Gordon wanted to facilitate a discussion group that would reveal how librettos help a composer composes. So in the spring of 2020, he taught the course, The Libretto: The Unsung Hero of Opera. His students examined Salvadore Cammarano’s libretto for Lucia di Lammermoor, Piave’s libretto for Rigoletto, as well as Illica and Giacosa’s libretti for La Boheme and Tosca. They also looked at operas derived from preexisting plays, such as Oscar Wilde’s Salomé and Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, as well as the instructor’s libretto for Journey to Horseshoe Bend, which was derived from a novel.
But the real treat for his students was the opportunity to create their own libretto from current events. One student, Audrey Kopp, wrote text expressing frustration that comes with social distancing and the strange times we’re living in currently. When listening to the piece, you’ll notice that it has a Bach-like sound. According to Mr. Williams, this decision was inspired by a suggestion that a fellow student made that the coronavirus opera use some of Bach’s music.
Gordon’s hope was that “class members would gain an understanding of the libretto of an opera as being much more important than people realize; that they’d see the extent to which it’s an engine. So, I figured that rather than just examining how Piave or Boito worked with Verdi or Hofmannsthal with Strauss, the class could write a libretto.”
We’ve included “No more living in fear” for you to enjoy.