[The next group of posts were written after the premiere of the opera.]
Opera director and friend Peter Kazaras insisted that I meet with the singers as early as possible. As our performance was a combination of students and faculty it is especially important to have that early meeting. Peter explained that singers internalize their music, becoming a kind of muscle memory. It’s easy to make note changes for instrumentalists: “Clarinet, that is a B flat in measure 47″ and they change the note. Singers have to change a lot more making that change, it has to become part of their musculature, their muscle memory. So seven weeks before the premiere, conductor Scott Dunn and I flew to Mazatlán to meet with the soloists and the chorus.

I made changes to the vocal parts throughout the rehearsals, some permanent and some adjusted to the voice on the part. There were occasional textual adjustments where the wrong syllable was on the wrong beat which required a little rhythmic offsetting. I also decided to add choral parts to one aria and at the very end of the opera. This was tricky business but they all learned their new parts by the premiere.

Conferencia-16webI was blessed to have Raúl Rico as the producer and godfather behind the project. The opera would never have happened had he not believed in the work. His work as the director of Cultura/Mazatlan is terrific, besides the fact that my opera was a part of his season. The publicity for the opera was amazing. There were posters all over town, and even in the customs area as you arrive into the airport had large posters. We heard that there were radio spots all over Mexico about the opera. Raúl called a press conference the week Scott and I were there, and we were happy to attend a room full of reporters and photographers. I told Raúl that my Spanish was not yet ready for the press conference as I hadn’t yet learned past or future, to which Raúl responded: “Perfect!” He nonetheless served as my faithful translator. Scott’s Spanish is better than mine so he fielded some questions in Spanish.


I have been blessed in my recent collaboration with pianist, conductor Scott Dunn who will be conducting the world premiere of my opera, La Paloma y el Ruiseñor at the Teatro Angela Peralta in Mazatlán, Mexico on November 14 and 15, 2014.

Having scored several feature films, I have learned the value of “cutting”——this happens on all levels of the film industry, but in music it means that just because a composer provides good music for a scene, if, in the mind of the director, the music is not helping or doesn’t capture the mood, he asks that the music be rewritten. All film composers, from Danny Elfman and John Williams to beginning film composers, do rewrites. My college professor in music history, Lawrence Gushee, often complained that contemporary music of the 20th century suffered due to a lack of collaboration, or feedback from others (I simplify his comments here). Every damn note was sacred and they wouldn’t consider cutting anything. It’s just not in the culture of concert composers of the 20th/21st century to make cuts. I encourage composers who are reading this to reconsider and learn from Hollywood. And opera. Opera composers regularly revised and cut their operas to make them better. Puccini didn’t have the luxury of workshops where composers could try out their work in private: he had full blown performances and was criticized in the press and from the audiences, and based on that he made changes to all of his operas. The critics and audiences were, in essence, his collaborators. They told him: “this doesn’t work for me,” “this part drags,” “this aria goes on too long.”

My collaborator in the 1990s, John Hall, who directed opera and music theater at UCLA, was a terrific collaborator in our cantatas “Hidden Legacies” and “Flashpoint/Stonewall.” He never minced words: Roger, this is boring; this doesn’t work; you’ve got to be kidding; or just a look he’d give to let me know what I had written wasn’t up to snuff. In the 1980s, I scored three feature films and in every one there were rewrites: “nice music, Roger but it doesn’t work for me. Rewrite it.” And I did, without attitude (with a few exceptions where I stood my ground).

This is all background to the opera we are working on now. Scott Dunn has been a marvelous collaborator. The Mitchell Morris libretto was adapted into Spanish by Placido Domingo Jr. Placido’s work was terrific: he worked hard to fit Spanish into the music that was originally written in English, and avoided changing rhythms wherever possible. And despite his respectful work, I decided to make a completely different version for the Spanish edition. Spanish just doesn’t line up with English. Scott was not as gracious as Placido. He’d say: NO! You need to rethink many of your melodies so that they flow more convincingly in Spanish. Placido was appreciative of Scott’s intolerance of preserving the original rhythms, and embracing the beauty and flow of the Spanish language. Words, notes, rhythms are changed, all done to make a better, more understandable and dramatic work. I had to “get over myself” and take the advice of my collaborator(s).

But Scott’s collaboration didn’t end there. We went over every note in the orchestration, making sure it would effectively accompany and not drown out the singers. I gave him credit on the title page for that assistance.

As rehearsals are going on now, we are constantly making changes, cuts and adjustments to make the opera a better work of art and piece of entertainment. The cast sees all these changes being made in real time and it makes them realize that this is a work in progress. I have made changes to most of the leading roles as well, adjusting and tailoring the music to the their voices and to be sure that they can be heard over the orchestra. Last night we cut a minute and a half from an aria that went on too long.

When I told Scott I was writing this article, he said it should be called “RB: the art of collaboration.” LOL. True, but finding the right match in collaborators is not always an easy job. Scott has been a terrific collaborator and friend during this whole process. So I raise my hat to my wonderful collaborator. The opera is a better piece of music with his help.


My two favorite patter songs

October 14, 2014

“Pick a little, talk a little” from Music Man by Meredith Willson.

“Not getting married” from COMPANY by Stephen Sondheim.

Both of these are inspirations for my patter song in LA PALOMA Y EL RUISEÑOR where Julián nervously reintroduces himself to Ángela as she returns to Mexico from Europe.


A handheld private recording made by someone, but you’ll get a glimpse into the talent of Armando Piña performing in a recent competition who will be premiering the role of Julián in LA PALOMA Y EL RUISENOR, at the Teatro Angela Peralta; Nov. 14, 15, 2014 in Mazatlán, Mexico.

The work Armando performs here is “Ja vas lyublyu” (Prince’s Aria) from The Queen of Spades by Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky. From
Final del XXXII Concurso Nacional de Canto Carlo Morelli, conducted by Enrique Patrón de Rueda, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City.


I had the honor of working with a most brilliant soprano on the faculty in Mazatlan, Penelope Luna, who will play Rosa in LA PALOMA Y EL RUISENOR. I made a number of adjustments for her voice and talent. And after I heard this Gliere performance, I felt free to go even higher! You will get an idea of her talent by this amazing performance of the Gliere Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra under the baton of Enrique Patron de Rueda.

Conductor Scott Dunn and I are honored to have the assistance of Maestro Patron and Maestra Martha Félix in coaching the chorus and soloists in our opera. Both are brilliant and demanding voice coaches in the opera training program in Mazatlán. It shows in the quality of their students. By the end of the rehearsal, I made many changes to rhythms as well as texts thanks to Maestro Patrón’s perceptive critiques of my setting of Spanish.


Jessica will performing the role of Ángela Peralta in Mazatlán in November. Here she is performing “Era desso il figlio mio” by Donizetti

VI Concurso Canto Internacional Sinaloa 2014

Jessica Loaiza Pérez, segundo lugar, premio del Público y premio La voz Sonfonic.

Orquesta Sinaloa de las Artes
Mtro. Enrique Patrón de Rueda, director

Era desso il figlio mio de la Ópera Lucrezia Borgia de Donizetti


Channeling a countermelody

October 1, 2014

Georges_bizetMany of my faithful readers know that I channel dead composers from time to time. Well, not really, I pretend to and it makes for a good read.

But something eery happened recently that was very likely channeling something or someone. And I have a witness.

Conductor, Scott Dunn sat with me for several days going over the orchestration of my opera [on my computer using notation/playback software called Sibelius] with meticulous detail. While going over part of Act 2, I heard an amazing countermelody. I tried to not say anything. I scrolled to look at the horn part as the countermelody was in the horns. There was nothing there. I played it again. There was a fabulous countermelody in the horns. But there was not a single note in the horn part.

Who’s there? Hello? Was it Lenny? Or was it Georges? Both names I evoke from time to time as the godfathers of this opera.leonardbernstein1

I asked Scott whether he heard it and he said “yes.” I grilled him on the exact notes and what instrument it was in and he got it spot on. I exclaimed “OK OK, I’ll put it in.” So I put in the channeled horn countermelody. We have no idea who it was. But it’s in the music now. And I have a witness.

It must have been Rosemary Brown playing tricks on me again.

[Photos: Georges Bizet, composer of “Carmen”; Leonard Bernstein, composer of “West Side Story”: Godfathers of “La Paloma y el Ruiseñor”.]


Sketches for the scenery

September 29, 2014



The first sketch is for the opening of Act 1 where the opera company is boarding the S.S Newbern.

The second sketch is for the opening of Act 2 where the mazatlecos welcome Ángela Peralta to their city.


Sets are being made

September 28, 2014

la foto It’s exciting to see an opera come to life, bit by bit. Raúl Rico has been sending me pictures of the opera in progress: here is a shot of the set from Act 1 being built. I’m fairly sure it’s going to be a boat!


Biography of Ángela Peralta

September 27, 2014

Angela_Peralta_full_length_portraitÁngela Peralta (6 July 1845, Mexico City – 30 August 1883, Mazatlán) (baptised María de los Ángeles Manuela Tranquilina Cirila Efrena Peralta Castera) was an operatic soprano of international fame and a leading figure in the operatic life of 19th century Mexico. Called the “Mexican Nightingale” in Europe, she had already sung to acclaim in major European opera houses by the age of 20. Although primarily known for her singing, she was also a composer as well as an accomplished pianist and harpist.

Ángela Peralta was the daughter of Manuel Peralta and Josefa Castera de Peralta. She showed an early talent for singing and music. At the age of 8, she sang a cavatina from Belisario by Gaetano Donizetti with great success, and went on to study at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música in Mexico City. At 15 she made her operatic debut as Leonora in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore at the Teatro Nacional in Mexico City. Accompanied by her father, and financed by a wealthy patron, Santiago de la Vega, she then went on to study singing in Italy under Leopardi. On 13 May 1862, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan with an acclaimed performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. She sang Bellini’s La sonnambula before King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy at the Teatro Regio in Turin where she received 32 curtain calls. Between 1863 and 1864, she sang in the opera houses of Rome, Florence, Bologna, Genoa, Naples, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, St. Petersburg, Alexandria, and Cairo. The Second Mexican Empire invited her to return to her country to sing in the National Imperial Theatre, and in 1865 she accepted the invitation. In 1866 she sang before Maximilian I of Mexico and Charlotte of Belgium and was named “Chamber singer of the Empire”. In December 1866 with the downfall of the Second Mexican Empire imminent, she returned to Europe, performing in New York and Havana along the way. In Madrid, she married her cousin, Eugenio Castera, and for a while retired from singing, although she continued to compose songs and piano pieces. Her most well-known work is Álbum Musical de Ángela Peralta. Her marriage was an unhappy one due to her husband’s mental illness which manifested itself in the first year of their marriage. (Castera was later committed to a mental hospital in Paris where he died in 1876.)

On a visit to Mexico in 1871, Peralta established her own touring opera company for which she frequently sang her signature roles – Amina in La sonnambula and Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor. (In her lifetime, she sang Amina 122 times, and Lucia 166 times.)

In the mid-1870s she began an affair with the Mexican lawyer and entrepreneur Julián Montiel y Duarte, which caused a scandal in Mexico City. The city’s social elite boycotted her performances and hired hecklers to harass her during performances. Her reputation recovered following her performance in Linda di Chamounix, but she kept her vow never to sing in Mexico City again. In 1883, with her reputation (and economic situation) again in decline, she began a tour of northern Mexico with her troupe of Italian opera singers. The tour began in Guaymas and proceeded to La Paz, Baja California Sur. It was in La Paz that she sang for the last time on stage – the title role in Maria di Rohan – with the performance taking place in a theatre improvised from a disused sand pit. On 22 August, the troupe arrived in the port city of Mazatlán, where they were to perform Il trovatore and Aida. The city of Mazatlán prepared an elaborate welcome for her. Her boat docked at a pier decorated with garlands of flowers, and she was greeted by a band playing the Mexican National Anthem. When her carriage arrived, her admirers unhitched the horses and pulled it themselves to the Hotel Iturbide, where she once again saluted the crowds from her balcony. However, within a few days, she and 76 of the troupe’s 80 members were to die in the yellow fever epidemic that swept the city shortly after their arrival.

Ángela Peralta died in the Hotel Iturbide in Mazatlán at the age of 38 on 30 August 1883. She married her lover Julián Montiel y Duarte on her deathbed. According to an eyewitness account of the marriage ceremony, she was already unconscious when it took place. One of the singers from her company, Lemus, supported her by the shoulders. When asked if she took Montiel y Duarte as her husband, Lemus moved her head to make it appear that she was nodding her assent. Before her burial in Mazatlán, her body lay in state, dressed in one of her opera costumes and her best jewels. In 1937, her remains were disinterred and brought to the Rotunda de Hombres Ilustres (the Rotunda of Illustrious People) in Mexico City’s Panteón de Dolores. Both Mazatlán and San Miguel de Allende have theatres named in her honour.

Voice and repertoire
A Mazatlán opera-lover and journalist, who watched Peralta rehearsing in the Teatro Rubio on 22 August 1883, wrote in his diary:

“She is a woman with an agreeable presence, slightly obese, with bulging but very lively eyes. She has a wonderful voice that produces notes from the very highest to the lowest with astounding ease; she sang several variations with such delicate notes, like the trill of a goldfinch…”

Peralta’s wide-ranging repertoire included: Leonora in Il trovatore, Violetta in La traviata; Elvira in I puritani; Marie in La fille du régiment; Amina in La sonnambula; Adina in L’elisir d’amore; and the title roles in Aida, Dinorah, Linda di Chamounix, Maria di Rohan, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Norma. She also created the leading female roles in three operas by Mexican composers: Ildegonda (1866) and Gino Corsini (1877) by Melesio Morales, and Guatimotzin (1871) by Aniceto Ortega del Villar.

[From Wikipedia entry on Ángela Peralta.]