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What is a new opera workshop?

On Wednesday, April 10 at Merkin Hall in New York City, listeners will have a rare opportunity to experience a new opera in its early stages of development. An exciting collaboration between the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis and librettist Joan Ross Sorkin, The Reef is based on the novel of the same name by Edith Wharton. One of the early stops on this new opera's journey is BOF's workshop performance, a dynamic and collaborative process where music and text first come to life. 

What happens in a contemporary opera workshop can look slightly different depending on the company and production, but it generally begins with rehearsal sessions, during which a cast endeavors to put together a polished performance of the new piece. These rehearsals are led by a conductor and coaches and attended by the creators, in this case the composer and librettist. The goal is to refine the music and text  adding, cutting, and rearranging material to create the strongest artistic product. Workshops can culminate in a public performance of all or part of the new opera, as is the case with The Reef.

A workshop can last from a few days to multiple weeks, depending on the length and complexity of the production in question. The cast will prepare and perform the music with piano, since a fully-orchestrated score is rarely complete at this early stage. Any resulting performance will have little to no costumes or staging, with singers referring to scores in a concert-style performance that retains a close focus on the music and text.

The excitement of an opera workshop comes from the fully changeable nature of the piece taking shape. The proverbial ink is still wet on the page, and as the composer and librettist get the first invaluable glimpses of the sound of their work, they can make revisions in real time. They consider a huge variety of details, including the piece's overall dramatic pacing, the length of its acts, and the musical and dramatic demands on its performers. A workshop shows opera at its most vital, where the unbound creativity of its composers and librettists can result in future masterworks that further develop the meaning and relevance of the genre.

BOF's workshop performance of The Reef is your chance to witness a new opera taking shape. Don't miss it!


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