If the opera Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On could be started over from the beginning, what would the Steiny Road Poet have done differently?
Hearing this question, the Poet is reminded of a scene that occurred in World War II between avant-garde writer Jean Cocteau and cabaret singer Edith Piaf. Here is the Poet's account of that incident:
THE ABSURDIST MAKES A REQUEST
1939 Piaf and Cocteau take
shelter under the keyboard
of an upright piano. She
clutches her sheet
music, he casually
a napkin across his knee. The singer
huddles in her mantle with hood
as if ready
Calmly he pinches
his cigarette between thumb
and long finger. Pointing
he shrugs at her, "Do you
think you could start over?"
Terror glazes her eyes.
"The song, mademoiselle,
only the song."
BLESSING THE ROADSIDE SAINTS
Before that terrifying question of starting over can be answered, the Poet must take stock of the positive outcomes of this opera project. Commissioned in June 2000 with the premiere occurring June 2005, the Poet can name many blessings:
Lots of interest in the subject matter by the collaborators and audience alike.
Five well-received public workshops.
Music that not only pleases most listeners, but stays in memory despite its complicated rhythms.
Collaboration with an artistic director who not only played the role of dramaturg, but found music directors and pianists who knew how to work with this composition that resides in the gray area between opera and music theater.
Private contributors and the co-commissioning Word Works board of directors who believed enough in the poet-librettist to share the burden of the creative development expenses.
A positive review by the one New York Times critic who knows and appreciates the world of Gertrude Stein.
RIDING THE ROLLERCOASTER
Collaborating on any creative project is an emotional rollercoaster. In selecting a creative partner, one has to go on instinct, recommendations, and the work already accomplished. How the two partners will get along is anyone's guess. As in any close relationship, building trust can easily be undermined by unforeseen incidents. Misunderstandings, especially when geographical distance factors into the equation, can easily happen and are often hard to fix. In the early days of getting to know one's creative partners, it's a good idea to eat and play together to build rapport that is separate from the work environment. In this way, the creative partners become a family and are willing to put up with eccentricities that irritate, just as one does in biologically created families.
In all honestly, Bill Banfield and Karren Alenier have had a rough ride with each other. We have different work styles, values, and approaches to how we make our artistic decisions. Bill once accused me of filling the libretto with extraneous poems of mine as a way to make myself more important than Gertrude Stein. I chalk this up to misunderstanding probably on both sides. Furthermore, it's probably a misunderstanding that will rear its head again from some critic who will be puzzled why I chose to use my poems over Stein's. Between Bill and me disappointments ran the gamut from missed product deadlines and, worse, missed public presentation opportunities like participating in the 2004 New York City Opera Vox Program. Still the bottom line is the music thoroughly pleases me, that Bill's treatment of the words features the words, and that Bill gave me good guidance to make my original libretto fit for the stage and for music.
In looking back at these four years that it took to birth Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On as an opera, I know that I feel the same way about working with Bill as I do about my adolescence—turbulent time, period of character building, years of intense learning, emotional highs and lows, and much to be thankful for, especially that I made it through the gauntlet without losing my mind!
NEED A TAXI, LADY?
The next question is more interesting—would the Steiny Road Poet write another opera? Stay tuned for the next travel advisory.