Next month OperaDelaware and Baltimore Concert Opera are going to do productions of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and my 1996 sequel, Buoso’s Ghost. Our works are like children—it’s best when they grow up and leave the house. (Unfortunately, some stick around on the shelf and don’t pay their fair share of the rent) I’ve been lucky about Buoso. It’s been fairly popular, with performances over the years at places like Pittsburgh Opera Center, Opera Memphis, Indianapolis Opera, Saratoga Opera and more recently at New Jersey Opera and SUNY—Potsdam.
I’ve been asked to conduct the Schicchi / Buoso double bill and, to keep with the metaphor of our older works as our grown-up children, I find things that I wish I had done differently with their upbringing. Frankly, now in 2018 I have to get to know Buoso in the same way I have to get to know Schicchi, to study the beat patterns, dramatic flow, orchestration, and vocal challenges that will be part of the rehearsal process. It’s a bit of an ethical obligation to get it right as performers and audience members will assume that your word on the piece is definitive. Someday, somebody in the OperaDelaware cast will say “I remember when Ching did it this way…” and that will seem like wisdom of the ages.
Here’s a piece of composerly business advice I’d give which goes back to the history of Buoso. The advice is: “Get it in writing.” Once when I was running Opera Memphis, I got permission to produce an adaptation of a famous author’s work, only to have the rights bought out from under me by a film company. This was twenty years ago and to this day, a film based on this important American novel has not come out. I had a similar case as a composer—I started work on a project with assurances from the opera company and the author’s agent that everything was great, only to have the agent change and the verbal permission was immediately revoked.
Back to Buoso’s Ghost. It was originally workshopped at the Chautauqua Opera. The assumption all along was that the work would go on to be premiered there. But the administration—which had been there for years—changed, and all of a sudden, it was somebody else’s project. Like a couch belonging to an evicted tenant, Buoso got put out on the curb. So, even if you’ve got friends and assurances, the advice is, get it in writing or you might not get it at all.
I promise to follow this up next month with pictures and a report from rehearsals at OperaDelaware.
In the meantime, here’s a little teaser I did for OperaDelaware for a season announcement. My cat, BINGO, was annoyed.
Buoso’s Ghost is being performed at OperaDelaware on April 29 and May 5 and at Baltimore Concert Opera April 13 and 15. It is also playing at University of Central Florida April 13 and 14. In addition to being a composer, Michael Ching is an opera consultant at E.C.Schirmer and can be reached at MrBillow [at] gmail [dot] com.