“…[entails] learning all the jobs of the gifted people who will spray Febreeze on your work if you fail.” Celebrating National Opera Week with Daron Hagen

In honor of National Opera Week (Oct. 27 – Nov. 5), E. C. Schirmer explores the creative process behind writing and producing new opera. Join us as we commemorate the creativity, diligence, and hard work of the composers, librettists, and producers who bring those operas to life.

Daron HagenDaron Hagen (b. 1961) was recognized in 2014 by the American Academy of Arts and Letters with an Academy Award citing his “outstanding artistic achievement and acknowledging the composer who has arrived at his or her own voice.” A Lifetime Member of the Corporation of Yaddo, a Trustee of the Douglas Moore Fund for American Opera, and Chair of Composition for the Wintergreen Festival Music Academy, he serves as a Distinguished Mentor for Composers Now, and has served as artistic director of the Seasons Music Festival, and as president of the Lotte Lehmann Foundation. Hagen made his debut as a stage director with Kentucky Opera and has directed productions at Symphony Space in New York City, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the McCarter Theater in Princeton (New York Stories, The Antient Concert, A Woman in Morocco). Hagen studied composition with Ned Rorem at the Curtis Institute and David Diamond at the Juilliard School, then worked extensively as a copyist and editor for numerous concert composers and Broadway shows, including Elliot Carter, Virgil Thomson, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Disney. He taught for a decade at Bard College, and served on the faculties of the Curtis Institute, the Chicago College of Performing Arts, New York University, and the Princeton Atelier, among others, before turning his attention solely to teaching privately and creating.

What is your all-time favorite opera?
Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten.

What was the first opera you ever saw live?
The Medium by Gian Carlo Menotti.

If you could choose one artist to perform one of your operas, who would it be?
Whomever I am making Opera with right now.

Who is your opera role model?
I cannot think of one.

If you could have dinner with any composer, opera or otherwise, who would it be?
Depends on who’s doing the cooking!

What’s something about composing opera that people don’t know?
Most of writing an opera occurs in a darkened theater rehearsing another Opera and solving problems creatively as a director or conductor; it entails sitting on a piano bench coaching singers, learning the traditions of the Theater, and reading history. Composing Opera entails years and years learning all the jobs of the gifted people who will spray Febreeze on your work if you fail, so that they don’t have to.

What is your greatest priority in creating new opera?
Connecting with the audience.

What are some of the differences between your first opera and your most recent one?
Every one of my nine operas tackles the musico-dramatic challenge in a distinctly different way. My first big Opera was Shining Brow in 1992: it was entirely acoustic and intended for a 2000-seat Theater. There are now five versions of that Opera available in different instrumentation’s, durations, etc. I’m working on one right now that has no fixed instrumentation or duration and thoroughly integrates electro-acoustic sounds with acoustic.

For more information about Daron Hagen and his catalogue, click here.

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