Kentucky Opera: We’re very interested in the staging of these two pieces together. The King’s Man and Danse Russe have different tones, time periods, and subject matter, but they’re meant to be performed together? Why is that?
Terry Teachout: To begin with, they make use of the same performing forces––they’re designed to be performed by the same people, the same instrumental body. They fit together practically that way. But they’re meant to contrast, to complement one another. They’re both historical operas, they’re both about real people, but they take the real people and the historical situations and treat them with great freedom. And of course, one of them is a comedy, albeit a serious one, and the other is deadly serious, so I think as a contrasting pair, but a pair that fits together in terms of the performing forces. We hope they go well together; we’ll find out just like everybody else will, of course.
Paul Moravec: Danse Russe and The King’s Man are conceived as making up an evening of two one-act operas, though they can certainly stand alone. I like the idea of the contrast in tone between the two. The freedom that Terry refers to is that the characters are accurately portrayed in their essence. The details are, shall we say, subject to poetic license.
TT: When you imagine the creation of a work describing the making of a masterpiece [Danse Russe], well OK, that sounds very serious. But it’s a ballet––we all know what happens backstage––and that’s where the idea to make it a backstage comedy came from. Similarly in the case of the King’s Man, we’ve compressed and altered for dramatic purposes. William’s fiancée is much younger in the opera than she was in real life, for example, and we don’t really know what happened at their last meeting. We have their correspondence though, and we know that Ben disinherited his son afterwards, so the rest. . .we take it and run.
KO: For those relatively new to opera and the genre, tell us, is it common to take an opera and put it in the vaudevillian style? Why did you choose to do that with this particular subject matter?
PM: Well, it was Terry’s idea.
TT: It just happened, you know? We had the commission, which we interpreted as writing an opera having to do with Stravinsky. I got the idea to do The Rite of Spring as a backstage comedy and as I started to write the libretto (and Paul and I are always talking to each other throughout the creative process) we both realized that the direction we wanted to go in was something that would be structured more like a musical than an opera. The singers are opera singers, the singing is opera singing, but the structure is what you would expect to find in a musical.
PM: There’s a number that I deliberately modeled after a Stephen Sondheim number, for example.
TT: Which one is that?
PM: It’s the waltz song. I stole all that from “A Little Priest.”
TT: I didn’t know that! I see it now, but this didn’t occur to me.
PM: I always had it in mind as a comic waltz.
KO: Isn’t that the wonderful thing about working with a creative partner? Terry, how does working with a creative teammate differ from your individual work as a biographer and a columnist?
TT: It’s so much more fun. Not just in the creation of the work, but in getting it up on the stage. I spend my life, and you do too, sitting in a little room. It’s a lot more fun to have somebody else in the room, and then to move into a bigger room with a whole lot of other people.
PM: And you know, music rocks. There’s just nothing like it—it’s the ultimate medium.
TT: Suddenly you write words and they have color. Things happen to them. When I write words to be set to music, I sort of have a dummy track in my head, a scratch track of what I imagine, and when I first hear the real music it’s like somebody threw a switch and it came to life.
PM: It’s alive!
KO: Tell us about the challenges that come with working together.
TT: Putting up with him, I guess. As far as I know we’ve never had an argument.
PM: Terry’s very good and patient about laughing at my stupid jokes.
TT: He’s funny! He does imitations you know, impressions.
KO: Like what?
TT: He does a great John Lennon.
PM: Our collaboration has never yet come to fisticuffs, but there is time.
TT: Where there’s life, there’s hope.
KO: Paul, your awards include a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Music and a Composer Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, but your work is consistently praised for its accessibility. How do you strike that balance?
PM: High art can be, and often is, entirely compatible with accessibility. To me, accessibility has everything to do with comprehensibility. I always try to make beautiful things that also make sense to people, including myself.
KO: This year you were chosen as a Guggenheim Fellow. What goals have you set for yourself for this year?
PM: This year happens to coincide with a sabbatical from Adelphi University, and I have two major projects: The Shining (for Minnesota Opera), and Amorisms (for Nashville Ballet). That’s keeping me plenty busy along with the usual work of managing a catalog of about 120 compositions and other business of being a composer.
KO: Tell us about The Shining. People in our arts community would be curious to hear about that project.
PM: Yes, that’s my next project that I’m doing with a librettist named Mark Campbell who’s done several works now for Minnesota––he’s an old hand with them. It opens in 2016 and we’re working on it now.
KO: So it’s in the very early stages?
PM: Yes, it is. It’s a scary project on many levels.
KO: Well put! So Terry, you got your first credit as a librettist in 2009 with The Letter.
PM: That was my first credit as an opera composer as well.
KO: Oh really? Wow.
TT: Absolutely diving in blind, at the deep end.
KO: So how did you form this partnership and make the leap into opera?
PM: Terry and I have been friends for about twenty years and we had sometimes talked about collaborating on something.
TT: We were at lunch and I said you should write an opera. He said I will, if you’ll write the libretto.
PM: When the Sante Fe Opera commissioned me in 2007, it was entirely natural to ask Terry to write the libretto for what turn out to be The Letter.
The King’s Man will have its’ world premiere in a workshop performance on October 11 at 8:00pm along with a full performance of Danse Russe. You can also see both performances on October 12 at 2:00pm. Both performances will be held at Comstock Hall on the University of Louisville’s campus. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here!