Bumper Cars
The Steiny Road to Operadom
a travelogue of the new opera
Gertrude Stein Invents 
A Jump Early On
with Karren Alenier

For Prior Installments Click Here

While the world premiere of an opera represents the culmination of hard work and leaps of faith, new productions are usually harder to arrange and seem to require an innate sense of timing and the ability to read minds.   

The Steiny Road recently got the following email response from a seemingly interested director of opera programs:

    "I have been so long getting back to you on this, I'm afraid. But I have now read through the libretto, which I find to be very clever. I can't listen to the CD right now, but look forward to being able to do so. What follows are just some preliminary thoughts. 

    The biggest plus for us is that it is a chamber opera of a suitable length and scale to be presented in an occasional series we have been doing for the past several years. An orchestra of 8 is ideal, as is the cast of 9-11 singers (why the options here? I don't see any clues in the libretto). I could wish for even more women in proportion to the men, but this combination is not impossible.   

    Another possible plus is the jazz element. We have a relatively new jazz program here, and I am always looking to build bridges between different areas of the school. On the other hand, a score that is completely composed, albeit in the jazz style, might be of less interest to these people, who work mainly with improvisation. 

    There are two negatives, however, which may be more or less serious. One is the problem of selling the piece which (like Stein herself and the milieu which you capture so effectively in the text) is pretty abstract. While [our partner theater group] leans towards less conventional forms of theater and their shows can be quite out there in terms of subject matter, their audiences tend to go for the visceral rather than the intellectual. I have been surprised before by the difficulty of selling even shows that would seem to fit the space like a glove, and so would be chary of this one. As we do this on a profit-sharing basis, ticket revenues are important. 

    Which brings me to my second negative: cost. You have clearly set up a huge underpinning of commissioners, supporters, website, and publicity to launch your joint work. I can't imagine it would come cheap. Our budget is extremely limited, and the bulk of it must be spent on the bigger productions of the standard rep. I really doubt that we could afford the kind of royalties that would give you an adequate return on your investment. 

    I am sorry if I have been wasting your time, but I would be delighted to hear if you think I haven't." 

Raise your hand now if you think the Steiny Road Poet was not willing to work out a reasonable royalty deal with this opera entrepreneur. And how many of you would consider that an opera about an artist facing her critics is abstract?

Gertrude Stein was a specific artist with critics that started with her favorite brother Leo. Sure, maybe the American public who did not go beyond interest in Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas could be considered abstract but you do not have to try hard, even today, to find those people who are narrowly aware of Gertrude Stein's literary achievements or only think of her in terms of the 1960s urban legend that Alice Toklas was that waay cool lady who published a recipe with marijuana in her brownies. Then there were the Nazis who killed Jews and homosexuals. Stein managed to stay alive in southern France near the German border. Are these situations abstract? 

So after responding by email that something could be worked out regarding the royalty and hearing nothing after two weeks, the Steiny Road Poet picked up the phone at the hour the opera director had instructed he was available for calls. He responded, "I find it annoying that you are calling and can't you read between the lines?" Had the director sent back the vocal score, no skills in reading between the lines would have been necessary. Then the feel good response would still feel reasonably good.


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©2006 Karren LaLonde Alenier
©2006 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Karren LaLonde Alenier, an award-winning Lindy Hopper,
is the author of five collections of poetry,
including Looking for Divine Transportation,
winner of the 2002 Towson University Prize for Literature.
Much more at www.steinopera.com
For Prior Installments Click Here
For more of her commentary and articles, check the



Scene4 Magazine-International Magazine of Performing Arts and Media

may 2006

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