“…give the audience enough red-meat moments that they can’t look away…” Celebrating National Opera Week with Tom Cipullo

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.

Tom Cipullo

Hailed by the American Academy of Art & Letters for music of “inexhaustible imagination, wit, expressive range and originality,” composer Tom Cipullo is the winner of the 2016 Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize from SUNY/Potsdam, a Guggenheim Fellowship (2012), the Arts & Letters Award from the American Academy (2013), and the Sylvia Goldstein Award from Copland House (2013). Cipullo’s music is recorded on the Naxos, Albany, CRI, PGM, MSR, GPR, Centaur, and Capstone labels. Cipullo’s first opera, Glory Denied, has enjoyed numerous productions, and the Fort Worth Opera recording on Albany Records was cited by Opera Newsas among the best of 2014. Reviewers have hailed the work as “terrifically powerful… superbly written” (Fanfare), praising its “luminous score (Washington Post),” and noting “the dramatic tension was relentless (Opera News).” Cipullo’s second opera, After Life (libretto by David Mason), has been called “a finely wrought exploration of the role of art in times of grave crisis ( Washington Post)” and “unfailingly inventive (Opera News ).” Recorded on the Naxos label, After Life is the winner of the 2017 the Domenick Argento Chamber Opera Composition prize from the National Opera Association.

What is your all-time favorite opera?
Cosi fan tutte

What was the first opera you ever saw live? 
The Medium

Who is your opera role model?
Britten – the invention and the level of characterization

If you could have dinner with any composer, opera or otherwise, who would it be?
Rossini – He knew good food!

 What is the biggest challenge in composing opera? 
I think the biggest challenge is to create characters through the music they sing, especially if you’re dealing with a large cast.  The music can’t be interchangeable from one character to the next, though there may be some overlap.  But generally, is Character A’s music something that only he would sing.  Of course, this challenge becomes even more difficult if a character should happen to be deceptive or perhaps an altogether unreliable narrator!

What is your greatest priority in creating new opera?
There really is only one priority when composing an opera – drama, drama, drama!  The composer is asking people to sit in a dark theater after a hard day at work and a big meal.  You have to give the audience enough red-meat moments that they can’t look away or lose interest for a moment.  But of course every one of those dramatic moments must be earned.  Nothing can be manipulated or false.

Have you ever written the libretto yourself? Would you do it again?
I have written the libretti for several of my works, and I very much enjoy doing do.  After the first bouts of fear and insecurity, it’s a very liberating practice.  I can cut without feeling guilty, and I’m always on the lookout for moments that would make good ensembles.  And I almost never argue with myself!

For more information about Tom Cipullo and his catalogue, click here.

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