Sunday, March 29, 2009


Many of you have probably heard or used the term Schikanederei at some point in your lives. This is the German spelling. In English, the term is spelled Chicanery. It means "deception, fraud, evasion, and use of tricks to accomplish something." Now, maybe it rings a bell.

I listed the German spelling because of the word's etymology, or origin, because it has its ties to one of my literary heroes. I hate to say it, but I found the whole thing rather interesting as I was reading Emanuel Schikaneder's biography this week. Even though I'm disappointed to hear his name associated with such a negative word, I've still not dropped him from my hero's position because his name is associated with the greatest Singspiel/Opera ever written: The Magic Flute which was composed, of course, by Mozart.

Schikaneder's role in Mozart's life is beautifully portrayed in the movie Amadeus. He's the fellow who locked Mozart in his country home to get him to finish the music for The Magic Flute, and he was one of Mozart's truest friends. In fact, he was one of the few to realize, at the time, Mozart's genius.

Schikaneder was a theater man his entire life. He owned one of the most popular theaters in the suburbs of Vienna, and he focused on popular works for the average Viennese citizen. He directed and starred in hundreds of plays, ballets, Singspiels, and a few grand operas. The Magic Flute was the most famous production he ever produced, and he wrote the libretto while Mozart wrote the music.

The Magic Flute was Mozart's last major work before he died, and it is regarded by music critics all over the world as his greatest accomplishment. It is a masterpiece, and the music is so moving that it brings you to tears just listening to it. I have been in the habit of listening to it every day over this past week, and it soothes me when I write. In addition, it still holds the record for the number of performances given within the first year of release, the first decade of release, and forever, as a matter of fact. No other opera has been performed as much.

Unlike most of Mozart's work, The Magic Flute was recognized as an immediate success by his peers. It was not only popular with the masses, but people like Salieri and Beethoven recognized it as genius. It is a shame that Mozart died soon after. Only in his mid-thirties, he had so much left to give the world, and he was getting better with each and every composition.

The one criticism of The Magic Flute is the libretto which was written by Schikaneder. Although, after reading it through many times, I do not understand why it's criticised. The major criticism is that he "flip-flopped" the plot of a famous fairy tale of the time, and his use of words were weak. In defense of these decisions, "flip-flopping" a popular fairy tale is actually pretty genius. It gives the audience something different than they expected, and it actually works in the Singspiel's favor, especially at that time. It was different, and there is nothing wrong with that. To me, that is creative thought, not a flaw. And insofar as his use of common language, what was wrong with writing for the average person instead of the elite? In fact, they were his audience.

So, in my opinion, Schikaneder deserves as much credit for being Mozart's great librettist as does Da Ponte, and that is why his picture hangs on my wall of heroes. But what happened after that is a little unfortunate, and that is what led to the word we now know as "chicanery." After Mozart's death, Schikaneder had a theater to run, and it was common, in those days, to produce new work after new work. In other words, there was no revival of old pieces. People wanted to see new operas and Singspiels just like we want to see new movies today. Someone had to write them, and because he was a librettist and owner, Schikaneder usually wrote all of the productions along with whatever composer he had hired at the time.

The problem, however, was that he had to write between four and eight operas/Singspiels per year, and that's a lot of writing. In addition, he owned the theater, he hired the actors, he directed all of the performances, and he managed his production crews. He did all of this as well as serving as financial manager. So, he was a very busy man. As a result, his librettos began to grow weak, his rhymes were horrible, and his plots were bad. There just wasn't much behind the story.

To make up for this, Schikaneder used elaborate stage sets with mechanical devices that were cutting-edge theater technology. He knew that, by making the scenes look great and by doing fantastic things on the stage, he could overcome the weakness in his writing. You see, it's not that he couldn't write well. He proved that he could with his collaboration on The Magic Flute. He just did not have the time to devote to it, and he was too cash-strapped to hire a full-time librettist whom he would have had to share his profits with. Even though he was selling out every night, it seemed that he could not control his personal spending, and his lavish lifestyle always kept him from having financial security.

While the masses loved the theatrical effects, the critics could see what he was doing, and they claimed that he was using special effects to cover up a poorly written libretto. This, they called Schikanederei or chicanery. And that is where the word comes from.

Although I hate to admit that one of my favorite writers bears such a bad reputation, I cannot ignore it. I only wish that, instead of having a hand in everything, he would have stuck to writing librettos only in collaboration with the great composers of his life, just as he did with Mozart. Had he done so, we probably wouldn't have a word like chicanery in our vocabulary. Had he done so, we probably would have had many more wonderfully-written magical tales set to music.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I'm sitting here on this late Sunday evening relaxing to Mozart's "The Magic Flute," and I thought, what the heck, I've already talked about Da Ponte, Metastasio, Opera Seria, and Opera Buffa, so I might as well write a little about Singspiel. And for those of you wondering why I'm spending time writing about opera on a writing blog, it's because it's all about the writing! Opera is poetry sung, so it's fitting. Plus, I get a kick writing about those things I'm interested in, and, since I love musicals and opera, I love writing about musicals and opera.

Like I said, it's all about the writing. I'm no musical genius, although I did take many years of piano lessons in my day and am helping my son learn how to play himself. I never became a great pianist, and when asked to play today, I reluctantly say, "No," because I'm just not comfortable playing. I'm not like my son or wife, for that matter, who have ears for music and can play without the music or practice. But, in regards to opera and musicals, I'm a huge fan of the poetry and stories being told, and I think they have as much merit for study as does the poetry, short stories, and novels of the great writers.

Many of you have probably never heard of Singspiel before, although you've probably heard one if you are a music lover. Mozart composed several, but "The Magic Flute" is probably his most famous one. In fact, it's considered his best opera ever. But there were others who were influenced by it tremendously, including Wagner and Beethoven. Going back to Mozart, his first opera, "Bastien und Bastienne," was a Singspiel which he wrote at the old age of twelve! His "The Abduction of Seraglio," another quite famous opera, was also a Singspiel.

So, then, what is it? Well, if you listen to either "The Magic Flute" or "The Abduction of Seraglio" you'll find yourself, after the overture, listening to spoken dialogue instead of an aria or the more formal recitative you'd hear in Opera Seria. Singspiels are also typically written on a comedic theme (but not all, mind you), and the music tends to be simpler and more "folksy." Typically, this was opera for the people -- words they could understand coupled with music they could sing to when they were at home. Call it "pop" opera.

I may have made a slight mistake in my last post when I called Opera Seria the predecessor to the modern musical that we see on Broadway. The Singspiel is certainly closer. It relied more heavily on acting, awesome mechanical sets, spoken dialogue, and singing. And how many of you don't break out into your favorite song from a musical every now and then? It happens quite frequently in my house, so it probably does in yours as well! Don't be ashamed of it. Just admit it! We all love musicals!

Anyway, as you know, many musicals are set to fairy-tale type stories, and that was the hallmark of most Singspiels. So, simply put, the Singspiel probably was the predecessor and/or example that most writers used to base their work upon early on in Broadway's history. So, although opera is defined as a high-brow art, it's not, nor has it ever been, always the case. The average Joe loved going to the opera just as much as anyone, and the Singspiel was the one that he went to after a long-week's work. By far, Singspiels drew more people as a result and were some of the longest-lasting operas of all because the people decided when they grew weary of the opera rather than the wealthy suitors, financiers, or emperors.

The writers of Singspiels were librettist just the same. I think, in many cases, they were more creative. Instead of re-hashing an old mythological story or romantic/epic play, Singspiel librettist came up with original ideas based upon never-before heard-of stories. Fortunately, for them, too, they were the wealthier of the librettists because they got a percentage of each show's revenue, so they did not have to rely upon someone giving them money to work their craft or a position from the King or Emperor. They were free to write what they wanted, and this freedom usually came with a bonus of excellent material!

So, there it is. Opera and Broadway are one and the same in reality. It just goes to show you that there's something about a good old musical or Singspiel that makes us happy. The theatrics, the music, and the story are fun, and you can't get around it. The next time you take in a Broadway show, just remember that you're participating in an event that has been making people laugh, cry, and sing for hundreds of years. It's an awesome feeling!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Metastasio and Opera Seria

I have, hanging on the walls of my office, pictures of my literary heroes. They serve as inspiration during times when I need a boost. They also hang there as reminders of great stories, superbly lived lives, and art as art has never been created. Chief among these heroes are two librettists from the 18th Century: Metastasio and Da Ponte.

I've written about Da Ponte before. He was a the librettist for Mozart, writing three of Mozart's most famous operas. I was introduced to Metastasio through Da Ponte because Metastasio was Da Ponte's hero. Da Ponte grew up knowing that he wanted to be a poet and librettist because, as a child, one of three books he owned was a collection of the famous Italian's poetry. When Da Ponte arrived in Vienna, his first concern was to meet with the elderly Metastasio. After making the right connections, he finally dined with the old man and shared a wonderful evening of poetry and opera with him. A few days later, Metastasio died.

Metastasio is still revered in Vienna. In fact, when Sherry and I were in Vienna a couple of years ago, we toured a few cathedrals. On display in one of the cathedrals was the tomb of Metastasio. They were refurbishing his coffin for the anniversary of his death, and it was on display. Unfortunately, at that time, I had no idea who he was. It wasn't until a year later that I put the two together. Had I known I was looking right at the place of his burial, I would have taken pictures.

Metastasio was born in 1698, and he was apprenticed to be a goldsmith when he became a teenager, but fate was good to him. When his father could no longer afford to raise him, he was sent to live with an uncle who took time to introduce him to the arts. In no time at all, it was apparent that he was a poet at heart.

At the early age of fourteen he wrote a tragedy which he called "Justin." Although it wasn't worthy for production, there was no doubt to his uncle that he had a gift for the flow of verse that could be turned into music. Metastasio also knew this, and he worked tirelessly to refine his craft. And refine it, he did.

Italy never had a poet like him. He had vivacity of imagination and refinement of feeling, combined with every charm of versification and expression. His style was as graceful as a painter and as delightful as a musician. His verse was perfect for the opera, and, soon, he was sought out by Italian composers to craft operas for them.

What I love about him most, though, was the fact that he did not want to be a lofty poet by writing sublime poetry. He wanted to be a poet of the opera. He dedicated his life to this art, and he became, in a very short period of time, the most famous librettist in all of Europe. His operas were to make Italy proud, and his poetry formed the basis for what was to become the national art of his home country.

It is strange that, today, he is not mentioned among the great poets and artists of his time. Most people have never heard of him , but during his lifetime, he was considered the greatest of the greats. He wrote over 1,800 works, 28 of which were grand operas. In fact, most of the operas during the 18th century were Metastasio's! You see, back then, there were no copyright laws, so any musician could write music to his work, and, boy, did they!

He wrote a style of opera called Opera Seria which was in vogue up until the late 18th Century. Opera Seria was a distinctive style of opera which had a very nationalistic tone to it. It has been called the "rhetorical opera" because it took, as its subject, stories from Greek and Roman tragedies. The operas consisted of arias (songs that were sung as songs), recitatives (songs that mimicked human speech when sung), and chorus (songs sung by a group of people). These operas usually told a story and had a moral to teach to the audience. Although the characters were not as vivid and lively as the opera we know today (Opera Buffa), the poetry and story was more important to the opera than the music was, and that is why the librettists of that time were put on a pedestal. You see, Opera Buffa focuses upon lively characters with powerful voices, and the music is the emotional driver.

Metastasio was a poet first. He wrote from the heart, and his work was compelling, emotional, and spine-tingling. He could engage the audience from the start, and he could make the manliest of men cry. His words were magical to say the least. He was so popular that he was brought to Vienna and given a lifetime position as Poet of the Opera which he held until he died. And just to put it into perspective, Da Ponte took over as Poet of the Opera when Metastasio died. By that time, Opera Seria was giving way to Opera Buffa, and the influence and recognition of the librettist would slowly give way to the composers. Again, the reason this was the case was that, in Opera Buffa, the music drives the emotions of the opera, not the poetry.

Today, fortunately, Opera Seria is coming back into vogue. People are looking for a different kind of art in their opera, and some 220 years later, the tide is turning once more back to Opera Seria. As it gains popularity, I am sure that Metastasio's name will appear in more biographies and books dedicated to this great poet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Writing Process

Mozart is considered the most genius of all musicians. He was playing the piano proficiently by the age of four, and he was composing works of art by the time he was seven years old. I look back at all of the music he composed, and his operas stand out the most to me. Part of the reason why is that I spent time in Vienna studying him and his music. Fortunately, Sherry and I were able to spend an entire week in that grand city absorbing great music night after night.

The movie, Amadeus, is one of my favorite movies of all time. I find myself watching it over and over again. While a beautiful film, it is historically incorrect, but I think that most people are aware of that by now. The one thing that it does portray accurately, though, is how the man wrote his music. I actually toured his home where he would play billiards while writing music. What I found most fascinating was his ability to compose an entire opera in his head before writing it down. In the film, he was seen telling the manager of the Italian Opera that the opera was in his head, but the director of the film made Mozart look a little crazy when they portrayed that scene.

The truth was, though, that he would "write" the music in his head first, and then he would pen it on paper, and it just flowed easily when he got to that point. There is a legend that he wrote Don Giovanni in three days. That legend is only partially true. He and Lorenzo Da Ponte collaborated on that opera for months before it went to production. Da Ponte, it was said, wrote the libretto in three to four days, and Mozart wrote the music in three or four days. What is not understood, however, is the fact that they actually had the libretto and music written long before that (in their heads), and those who witnessed them writing the libretto and music only saw the end product being produced. Mozart, in fact, cut it so close that the ink was still drying when he got the music to the conductor on the first night of rehearsals.

For me, the writing process is very similar, and a lot of people just don't understand it. Sometimes, my wife doesn't understand it either. I will think about something for months, ponder it, make a few notes, write a paragraph or two to get the voice down, and then I will do nothing as it seems to everyone else. While I am writing in my head, I do things that are mind-numbing. I play on the computer, I search the Internet, I watch TV shows on the Internet. Anything that doesn't make me think because I'm thinking about the piece that I am writing. Others think I'm just putting it off and being lazy. The funny thing is, I'm working very hard in my head. Oddly enough, Mozart and Da Ponte were accused of the same thing by those at the Italian Opera. Instead of spending hours holed up in ther workrooms, they were meeting by the fountains, having coffee at the cafes, and spending time at other operas.

A client of mine right now almost forgot that I told him up front that this is how the process works for me. I had two-and-a-half months to write a book, yet I did not start writing until three weeks before deadline. The reality is, I was already writing in my head after sinking my brain into the material. Now, he is amazed at how quickly I'm writing each chapter. What would have taken someone else a day to write, I wrote it in two hours, and he was amazed. In fact, we spoke on the phone yesterday because he was so happy with the first chapter, and when I told him how long it took to write it, he was flabbergasted. He just couldn't believe it. I reminded him, however, that I'd been spending these weeks researching the subject and going over the information in my head over and over to a point where I had it written in my head. So, nothing held me up on the project, it was just my process of writing, and I will still beat the deadline because the book is in my head.

I don't know if this is a gift or not. It certainly has not hindered my writing at all. In fact, I think it gives me much more depth. Since I don't have to worry about the content while writing, because it's already there, it allows me to be so much more conscious about word usage, richness, poetics, etc., while I actually write. If this is a gift, I am very grateful for having it. I'm not saying that I'm in the same league as Da Ponte or Mozart in regards to their genius, but I do know what it's like to write in my head only to produce it in a very short period of time as others see it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Calling Me

Sherry gave me this leather-bound notebook several years ago. Inside, she wrote a sweet note letting me know that this was mine, and I should write in it whatever I felt in my heart to write. I used it once, at the birth of my second son, when I wrote some poetry to commemorate the occasion, but beyond that, the book has sat on top of a dresser untouched. I even took the poetry out and stowed it away in a folder. So, now, the book is empty again.

Recently, the book has been calling me. Every time I look at it, it seems to be telling me to write in it, and I'm being told what to write. It's driving me mad. I mean, I have my slate full with books, screenplays, and poetry to write for other people, and here I have this book calling me out to write for ME.

I know this sounds crazy, as if I'm saying the book is possessed, but it does want me to write in it. How many books out there talk to people? I wish it were an old leather-bound book. Maybe I could convince myself that the spirit of some old writer lives in it and was calling me to my Calling. But it's new, so there's no history to it. There's no old writer. There's nothing but me.

Of course, I'm not hearing voices, so don't think I'm going crazy. The voice is there, but it's coming from me. It's that soft whisper inside calling out from my soul to tell me what to do. Perhaps I'm finally getting in touch with my true self, and this is my mind's way of telling me that it's OK to come out of the literary closet and finally take a chance at writing something fantastic in my own name.

I've missed out on these opportunities for a long time. I used to write solely for myself (when I was still developing my voice) until money and responsibility got in the way. Then there was the fear of rejection. Not literary rejection, by the way, but the rejection of being me; being the person who I really am. I have spent a lifetime being someone else, and that someone else is nowhere close to resembling the real me.

The truth is, I don't fear literary rejection. When I write from the heart, there is no rejection because it's powerful writing. I see it day in and day out with my clients. I hear the kind of feedback in a week that most writers want to hear in a year. Still, it's not my BEST writing. That, I'm sure, is reserved for something I produce on my own terms. Writing for other people is gratifying, but I'm writing on their terms, in their voice, and on their subject. It's just not the same.

But here I am staring at this book, and it continues to call me. Is this the time when I should listen and write the libretto/musical I've always wanted to write? Is this the time when it should happen?

I've been learning a lot about myself over these past few months, and the one thing I have discovered is that, not only have I hidden myself for the longest time, but I've done so because I've spent a lifetime worrying about what other people think of me. And for good reason. It's one thing to fear rejection because of the quality of a manuscript, but it's another to fear rejection for coming out and being the person who I really am. This book is calling me to do just that.

I think it's time to listen to my heart. At 38 years old, I think it's time to stop worrying about what other people think of me because of my art. I think it's time to listen to the book.

I do very well as a ghostwriter, and I have no complaints. But I really don't want to be 45 still writing under someone else's name. It's my turn to step onto the stage of life and play that part called "me." It's my turn to write my own material without fear of what people think of me. It's my turn to be me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What is the Difference Between a Musical and an Opera?

What's the difference between a musical and an opera? I've been asked this question a couple of times since I posted my essay on librettists, and since it seems to be such a confusing issue, I thought that I would answer the question, although I don't think we're going to come away with a black and white answer like I'd like to have. There's just too much grey in between the two genres, but I'll give it a try.

Broadway is fun, I'll give you that. When I go to a Broadway show, I can't help but think of the golden age of opera. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, opera and stage productions were the only form of entertainment for the people, and music became vogue in the late 1600s, so people wanted to hear music more than see a stage play. Today's flocking to musicals by the masses is very similar to the flocking of the masses to operas.

But, we should not limit musicals to just Broadway. Broadway is the Major League of musicals. Just about anywhere you go in the country, you're bound to be within a hundred miles of a theatre where a musical is being performed. Branson, Missouri, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, Los Angeles, California, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Las Vegas Nevada, etc., etc., all have major theatres designed and specified for the performance of musicals. Many of these cities are "tryouts" for a Broadway production, and even in New York, there are the Minor League theatres where musicals are performed. So to limit this genre to one street in New York is not really grasping the whole picture. They are very popular.

Opera was the same way. Almost every European city with a substantial population had an opera house. Vienna, Austria, was the Broadway of opera back then, but there were some very respectable Minor League opera houses in Venice, Florence, Rome, Salzburg, etc., where one could see a very high-level opera. It wasn't a "high-brow" activity as it has become today, unfortunately. For whatever reason, opera has been taken over by the wealthy, and the musical has replaced opera for the masses.

But is there really a difference between the two? Yes and no. You see, I told you there was a grey area. For example, here's the complication. Puccini wanted to take Ferenc Molnar's play "Liliom" and make it into an opera. Molnar objected. Many years later, Rodgers and Hammerstein were given permission to do just that, but instead of being called an opera, it was called a musical. The same text was used and the same strategy was integrated, but one would have been an opera while the other was called a musical. Confusing, eh?

Well, just to let you know, there are some minor areas where the two do differentiate. For instance, in an opera, music drives the drama, whereas in a musical, the text typically drives drama. In opera, music is the key element for emotions, narrative, etc. In a musical, the text plays such an important role in these functions. But, again, remember, I told you that this was not always the case. There are many operas where the libretto (text) was much more important than the music. In "Opera Seria," the text (arias, recitatives, and chorus) was what drove the opera, and the music followed the text. During the early 19th century, "Opera Buffa" became more popular, and that is where we saw music overshadowing the libretto. However, in the late 19th century, there was a movement by young librettist who wanted to return to a text-driven opera. They were partially successful in doing so, and I truly believe that they laid the ground for the modern musical.

Probably the major difference between the two is the acting and dancing component. You will rarely find the leads in an opera dancing and acting. They are there to sing, and to sing well. In a musical, mostly because of advances in technology (microphones, headsets, speakers), the singers are dancing and acting at the same time. Again, though, this isn't always true. And even some of Mozart's operas were very engaging for the leads.

Beyond that, about the only other difference that I can think of is that some musicals have spoken dialogue in them whereas operas rarely do. Again, there are examples of operas that do have spoken dialogue, and there are many musicals that do not, so this is not a clear-cut answer either.

So, where does this leave us? Nowhere, actually. We should take it as it is. Musicals, for the most part, are operas. Operas, for the most part, are musicals. I believe that this is more of a sociological question than anything. Looking at it from our time-frame, opera is highbrow and musicals are for the masses. That's a societal division that has been artificially set up. Because, if you look at it from the eyes of 18th and 19th century audiences, opera was for everyone. It was not a high-brow art. So, after all this discussion, perhaps that is what it all boils down to.

Either way, support the arts. Go see the local high school productions, donate to the arts for community organizations, and go see a musical. You'll enjoy every minute of your experience.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Don't Hire a "Word Mechanic" -- YOU Lose in the End

Sherry and I just changed my website around a little bit. I have been concerned that the home page was too focused upon Rhetoric, and that it was scaring away some potential clients. And, because I am a writer, I feel like my site needs to have lots of writing on it. I know, I know... traditional thought among website designers tends to focus more upon graphics and less upon writing, but for the writer, well, it makes sense to fill pages with words -- more importantly, my words.

Now, if you look on my home page, you'll see that I make an important point to potential clients: you can hire someone who writes from the heart with poetic rhythm, or you can hire a "word mechanic." I also ask people who see this home page to think about their project, and I encourage them to do their due-diligence when seeking the best writer they can get. And for good reason.

Writing is just like any business. You can get a quality product at a premium price, or you can get a poor product for cheap. The question is, what is the best value? Well, that's the point I'm trying to make on my home page. For writing, value comes from the effect that the work has upon the audience. If you can get someone to read the work, and that person is motivated to act upon the purpose of that work (buy a product, read the next book coming out, hire a company for services, or just finish the book), then there is all kinds of value. This is what good writing brings to the table, and there is really no way to quantify it differently.

"Word mechanics," though, are the people out there who can write. Meaning, they have the ability to come up with an outline, write a thesis statement, and put sentences together to make an essay or book. This type of writing is dry, and it has no soul. It doesn't motivate the reader to read the work, and rarely will the reader be encouraged to act upon the goal set out from the start. It's just a boring read.

Poetics (i.e., use of poetic devices) can be incorporated into every genre out there. For example, a well-written business proposal should be full of poetic devices. Writers who write from the heart generally use these elements to draw the reader into the narrative. It is usually accompanied with a strong, unique voice, a style that focuses more upon the message and audience than third grade grammar rules, color, and life. I tell people that, when I write, I want the audience to feel, see, taste, smell, and hear the words. I want them to imagine that they are living in the story. When readers get that, they get it, if you know what I mean. They will bite hook, line, and sinker every time.

One of the most powerful components of poetics is cadence or rhythm. To keep someone interested in finishing a work, the writer has to be musical. The words have to flow like notes on a sheet of music. Why do you think that I love opera so much? It's the perfect combination of music and poetry. And, it's the hallmark of great writing. If you read something from a "word mechanic," there is no cadence. It reads like a textbook... boring, long, and difficult to get through.

So, remember, if you're looking to have something written for you, find a writer who masters writing from the heart and pulling words from the soul instead of seeking a cheap "word mechanic." While it may cost more upfront, if you truly believe in your project, then it will pay many dividends in the end.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Librettist

You know, I'm inclined to believe that this may be the most rambling, disorganized post I've written yet. However, it matters not. There is no way to attack this topic without a little informality, and I intend to do it some justice. What I'd like to write about today concerns the "librettist."

Sherry and I went to Vienna, Austria, two years ago and had the time of our lives. Per our normal vacation routine, we made few plans except the fact that we had a hotel booked in a good part of the city, and we had tickets to a Mozart concert. Little did I know at the time that the tickets were for the day we arrived (I thought they were for the next day), so we were both suffering from jet-lag during the concert. We had an outstanding week in the city, though, and we saw many exciting things. We even took a day trip across Austria to Salzburg where Mozart was born.

I've always loved music, and one of my biggest regrets in life is quitting piano lessons when I got old enough to make that decision (I was teased into submission by classmates). I can still read music like a champ, but it will take lots of work to get my hands and ear back. Teaching my son, Ian, piano is helping me, but I no longer have ambitions to be a great pianist. I could have been, I believe. At least, I could have been a good technical player from a sheet music point of view. I always had an ability to understand the notes and hear them in my head, but I could never play by ear which is what the really great pianists can do. Ian can play by ear. In fact, that's pretty much how he prefers it. It's amazing to me to watch him play. If I can just give him the technical knowledge over time, I think he'll do well if he keeps playing.

I've never been a huge fan of popular music, per se, and I've always loved classical music. Now, classical music to me is just a generality for all music played by orchestra and all of the periods included, not just the "Classical" period. So, when we were in Vienna, "The City of Music," we saw a performance almost every evening. The most memorable evening was when we were able to get tickets to the famous Vienna State Opera House to see Mozart's Don Giovanni. It was an incredible performance, and I ate it all up. I just loved it, and it seemed so familiar, even though it was the first opera that I've ever been to.

Granted, I've been to several Broadway shows before with Sherry, but traditional opera was something new to me. Broadway shows are different, but I really don't know how to explain it. Perhaps they are the same, but opera has, in my opinion, an artistic, poetic side to it that Broadway does not. Broadway feels like opera-diluted to me. The poetry just isn't there, although the story lines seem more developed and focused.

There was something about the component that has driven me to research opera in more depth. I've learned so much about it over the past two years that I've almost driven myself to insanity studying the components of what it takes to produce an opera as well as the history of the golden age of opera (from Mozart to Puccini). What I found was poetry and music combined in such a way as to make the perfect art.

We all know the story of Mozart. We know how he lived and how he died, and we know that he produced three of the greatest operas ever. There are myths behind some of the operas that may or may not be true. One suggests that he wrote one of his operas in a week, turning in the final score with wet ink still drying on the night of the first rehearsal. However, what most people don't know is that the opera music itself was only half of the opera. Someone had to write the libretto for the opera. The libretto is the poetry behind the music. It is the story, and the librettist was considered the poet of the opera. For Mozart's three great operas, the man he collaborated with was Lorenzo Da Ponte.

While in Vienna, I became obsessed with Da Ponte and librettists in general because of my love of poetry and my infatuation with this new pure art that I had discovered. I bought everything I could find in English about Da Ponte there, and when I returned home, I bought every book about him, and I've read them all at least twice. As a result, I'm probably one of the experts of Da Ponte out there by choice. I even went so far as to begin a historical fiction about him because he led such an extraordinary life. It's an unfinished work right now, but if I can get my heart into it and breath more life into his character, I may find a way to finish it.

My study of Da Ponte led me to other great composers such as Wagner and Puccini. Wagner was one of the few composers who wrote his own libretti. He was gifted in that way. Puccini, however, relied upon many librettists to write his operas, and he had a very tumultuous relationship with many of them. The stories about these collaborations are fascinating, and the animosity between poet and composer, the quarrels, and the successes are ripe for a book in itself.

Through it all, though, I've had the most unusual fascination with these librettists for whatever reason. It's certainly not because I grew up studying opera. I read their words, however, and I read about their lives, and I seem to have a bond with them. It's like I can feel their emotions, their joys in success, and their frustrations in failure. I've never collaborated with anyone for a musical project, yet I feel the desire to do just that. It's very strange. Those emotions were extremely strong when I was in Vienna.

Since I love history, it's not unusual for me to have emotional reactions in historic places, but those feelings usually leave me alone after I leave the place. Time usually takes its toll, and I lose the interest. But in this case, it's never left me. These librettists have found a place in my heart. This is the reason why I want my next big trip to be in Italy. I want to go to the birthplace of opera and visit the museums of the great composers and librettists. I just feel compelled to do that, and I can't explain it.

It's not that we don't have songwriters and musicians today. Like I've said, we have Broadway, and then we have a plethora of songwriters who collaborate with bands. But it's not the same as the collaborations between composer and librettist during the opera's golden years. While we have some beautiful songs, they are just songs. They are not poetic narratives like the opera. And Broadway, while very close to opera in that it is a narrative, just does not share the poetic nature of opera. It's not the same art, and it doesn't evoke the same emotion.

Again, I don't know why I have this fascination. It's probably because I see a pure art staring at me, and I connect to it. But I am drawn to it very strongly, and I have a deep respect for the art, especially the art of the librettist -- the poet of the opera. Today, the composers get all of the accolades and attention, but back then, much of that attention was shared with the poet. For great music, they knew, could only be great if accompanied by poetic narratives. The words, to a degree, were just as important as the music and performers. At least that's how it was perceived during Puccini's time.

What's next for me, then, in this saga? I don't know. Perhaps I'm meant to finish that historical fiction on Da Ponte, or perhaps I'm meant to do something else. As a poet, I'd love to collaborate with someone and write a libretto for an opera in English. But that opportunity will have to come together on its own as if fate brought me and the composer together. I've really never had an interest to write a play, but an opera would be something I'd never pass up. I know that sounds odd since opera isn't that popular anymore, but I can't refuse my own interests. As a realist, however, I doubt it will ever happen as I do not know of any composer who needs a libretto, so it will probably go down as a dream that never happens. Such is life.