I never liked opera.
I loved symphonies and concertos and tone poems and anything else played by an orchestra. A trumpet player and proud of it, I had no use for people who played music without an instrument, especially those who warbled and screeched across the stage wearing silk stockings, powdered wigs, or Viking helmets.
Then my buddy Tony—known to the music world as composer Anthony Plog—asked if he could write an opera based on my children’s story How the Trumpet Got Its Toot, a tale that Aesop might have written if he had been a brass player. I said yes. I had no idea what I had agreed to.
The piece was premiered by Utah Opera. Kids and families loved it. They laughed. They cried. They stormed the stage to get the trumpet’s autograph. I watched it all, amazed.
Tony expanded his horizons to include more vocal compositions, and he asked me to help. I wrote the text for a cantata, Magdalene, and an oratorio, God’s First Temples.
Then he suggested that we work together to write a new opera. Still an orchestra player at heart, I felt like a Dodger who’s been asked to join the Yankees. But this was Tony, so once again I said yes.
Santa’s Tale, another opera for children and families, is the story of how an ambitious elf tries to take over the North Pole, and Santa, with the help of his sidekick Blitzen and a little girl named Molly, rallies to restore the spirit of Christmas.
Tony and I are just finishing Santa’s Tale. We’ve been invited to Seagle Music Colony, an opera development program, where the piece is due to receive a workshop performance that will be streamed to opera companies and college opera departments across the country.
In the meantime, figuring I’d better see what other writers had done, I attended the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and I watched a few more Met performances that were streamed in HD to movie theaters around the world, including one near where I lived. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed them.
Then came coronavirus, and my wife and I, like most of you, have been stuck at home with assorted books, puzzles, computers, phones, and a TV. A friend sent us a link to the Met’s website, where great performances from their archives are being streamed, one per day, for no charge. We found ourselves glued to the TV each afternoon, watching legendary performances of classic operas: Carmen, La Traviata, Eugene Onegin, Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
We’re still watching, and our hours at home have been transformed into a crash course on opera. I’m soaking it all in, talking with Tony about new pieces we could work on together—another kids opera and maybe even a large-scale production like the ones at the Met.
I am a writer. I was a trumpet player. Now, unexpectedly, I’m combining the two in an old art form that, to me, seems brand new. I promise, though—no warbles or screeches. No Viking helmets.
You have to draw the line someplace.