Among the participants of the 2018 Opera Creation Workshop is a young author named Frank Siera who has just written his first opera libretto. Composed by Willem Jeths and directed by Marcel Sijm, the opera is entitled Ritratto. Its premiere will take place at the Dutch National Opera in 2020. A look back at the creative process of today's opera!
What does it mean to write the libretto of an opera nowadays?
Ritratto is my first opera libretto, although I have already written texts that have been set to music. For me, the text is the basis, because it contains the message we want to convey to the public. Then it is up to us to decide how to deliver this message! In the same way that a sculptor works from the material to which he gives shape, the story is the raw material on which all the other disciplines build. The first question that must be asked is: what do I really want to achieve?
Does this question arise in terms of communication with the public or artistic issues?
By that I mean: In what state of mind should the audience leave my opera? What means will I use to achieve such a reception? What are the most opportune words to deliver the message that I think is important?
What relationship do composers and librettists have today?
To go back to the origins of the opera project Ritratto, you must know that it was the composer who suggested the subject. But what is surprising is that this subject fits perfectly to my pen. I am used to using real stories to write from, and Luisa Casati, the heroine of our opera, really existed. So we started laying the foundation for this story, always keeping in mind what we wanted to communicate to the public. Then I started writing, sharing the progress of this work with Willem Jeths every now and then. Once the first version was finished, we gathered around a table - the composer Willem Jeths, the dramaturg Klaus Bertisch, the director Marcel Sijm, and myself - and we had a long discussion and debate. After several adaptations, the libretto was born, at least the one from which the composer began to work. My work however is not finished: I remain at the disposal of Willem Jeths who may ask me anything to better understand the meaning of a certain sentence.
And as for the choice of voices, do you have your say in that?
Yes, I express my opinion on this subject, but since it is the first time that I write for opera, I feel like a beginner. My young age however does encourage me not to be afraid to express my ideas, but also to trust the others' expertise. I am the only one in the team under 30 years old. Although I am very happy to have the opportunity to have this experience, I must admit that opera remains to be a new world to me. As for my text, I have a pretty clear idea of what I want, but for the other disciplines, I'm not sure I'm in the best position to make decisions.
What qualities does an opera need today?
In my opinion, the form of opera is better capable of delivering a message than any other. However, this form makes sense only if it puts itself in service of the subject. Some say about opera genre conventions: "This is the way it is and that’s that” without thinking about the meaning of the project. My only concern is: to make sure the audience comes out of the room with a new spirit, to make sure manages to reach us.
So you always have the audience in mind?
Absolutely! This concern of the audience must prescribe whatever the artistic expression of the message will be: should it be an opera, a music theatre performance, a painting or a film. Or should we label it at all anyway? It is also easier because it limits the possibilities and forces us to make choices. When the opera knows how to reach the audience, it reaches its goal! There is no need then to question the legitimacy of the operatic genre in our present society. If the meeting with the public is not a missed rendezvous, what is the point of worrying about the future of opera? But I do realise it is not easy, which is why it is also a challenging genre.
By taking part in this workshop, what are you looking for?
I want to explore my role and my place in the world of opera. As I said before, I'm more familiar with the world of theater, and opera is still a novelty in my life. So here I am still in the discovery phase, and of course I want to know this world better, but that's not the only reason for my coming. I need to understand what place I can occupy in the world of opera and what role I have to play, not only as a librettist, but above all, as a person who wants to put a message across.
Interview with Frank Siera, comments collected by Aurélie Barbuscia
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