5 questions to Monica Harte (soprano, co-founder and general director of Remarkable Theater Brigade)
On Friday, October 19, the Remarkable Theater Brigade is back at Carnegie Hall (Zankel) for another night of opera shorts—its fourth annual edition—featuring works by Seymour Barab, Ben Bierman, Richard Burke, Randolph Coleman, Carlisle Floyd, Bern Herbolsheimer, Christian McLeer, David Morneau, Graham Robb, and Patrick Soluri. We talked to Monica Harte, co-founder and general director of Remarkable Theater Brigade.
One could (mistakenly) think of the 10-minute opera genre as a student exercise, but your program features very experienced composers. What is so appealing for them to write in this form?
Often with longer, heftier projects, composers take their time weaving through different emotional and musical ideas. With the opera shorts, all of the passion, hilarity and tragedy seems to happen at once, which I imagine is very fun for composers. Working within certain boundaries or time-constraints can be incredibly inspiring.
Furthermore, the composers and their various styles are really the highlight of this series. The performers are phenomenal, but we want to emphasize that it is the composers who take the final bow in Opera Shorts.
What are you looking for when you are selecting these shorts?
Variety is important. We seek out contrasting musical styles and different moods. We want the tragedy next to the comedy, the seria and the buffa. The idea of concentrating what could amount to a whole opera season into one night is exhilarating. The contemporary aspect is refreshing, as well. Don Giovanni is wonderful, but it’s nice to hear new musical ideas infused into opera that are also accessible.
Is there an overarching idea throughout the evening or any kind of thematic cohesion?
I would say if anything, the overarching idea is the variety itself. There is a short about the 1920 World Series, one about a Scottish prince, a short about a schizophrenic puppeteer. Clearly, the narratives vary as does the music itself. But there is more to it than simply finding completely contrasting storylines. We really want to emphasize the living talent that exists in the realm of opera. Carlisle Floyd is a legend, and his participation—as well as the other composers—is really the essence of the evening.
Putting up an opera is a serious undertaking. What is the biggest challenge in producing 10 in one night?
It’s 10 times the production… we have 10 composers, 10 casts, 5 directors, 5 pianists and varied orchestration. Each piece has to create the experience of a full story line. And of course, we have numerous artists who all want the audience to have a great time. So there is an ensemble feel that needs to be created for each show.
Do you sometimes feel that the success of your series is due to the (almost hackneyed by now) reduction of the attention span?
I don’t think it’s an attention span issue. I think it’s a desire on the audience’s part to experience all that opera can offer—the serious, the farce, the romance, the tragedy—without committing to one particular style for the next 3 hours. Obviously we live in a fast-paced world so one way to accommodate that is to include a lot of different moods in the show. Audiences can certainly handle long operas, but this is a different approach that revitalizes the genre a bit.
For ticketing and information, visit Carnegie Hall’s website.