|The Unidentified Flying Opera Company: Perfection
Perfection: A Space Opera In One Act
Perfection: A Space Opera in One Act premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on April 4, 1995, as a featured performance of the "Arts Are Magic" Festival, sponsored by Washington Very Special Arts. The opera has been subsequently performed in both private and public schools throughout the Greater Washington area. During the summer of 1995, Montgomery County Public Schools Television, "Your Education Channel," produced Perfection: A Space Opera in One Act for cable television where it is broadcast frequently on Montgomery Cable Channel 60.
Perfection is true opera. The words are sung, not spoken. True to form that it is, however, Perfection is also truly accessible. The songs reflect a variety of musical styles and traditions, and were written for children to enjoy.
That the Unidentified Flying Opera Company features artists of unsurpassed musical talent is evident to anyone who sees Perfection. It must be noted in addition, however, that the members of the company are also of great humanity, believing in the creative potential of every human being and the perfecting power of love--major themes of the opera. Children who face unusual challenges are especially encouraged to participate in this program.
The story takes place far, far away on the planet Yo-yo. Yo-yo rolls up and down in the sky like a giant yo-yo. Meteor showers mark its rotational reversal, every second Spring.
As is usual for people on Yo-yo, Perfection matures within ten days of her birth into a school-aged child. She has trouble speaking but is received warmly by her new teacher Ms. Oldspecs, her classmates, and the class pet, Pet, a many-headed "blues-bird." One little girl, M'Luna, gives Perfection her rubber-band ball. To everyone's astonishment and joy, Perfection can speak perfectly so long as she holds it. A pirate space-captain, Dangerous Phil, intrudes on the class. He steals many things, including Perfection's rubber-band ball. He kidnaps Perfection, taking her with him to his spaceship.
Phil's ship is destroyed in a meteor storm. Phil and Perfection return to the class. Perfection reveals what she has learned--the true identity of the pirate captain.
Wearing a classic career suit, she usually floats in from nowhere and alights on my shoulder. Perched, she'll cross her legs and coolly sip nectar from a teacup.
I was surprised, therefore, when she came by ambulance, wearing scrubs. Eyes burning in the naked space between a light-blue surgical mask and a matching surgical cap, she burst out of the rear double doors. There was a strong smell of ether as she came at me with a wadded washcloth.
When I regained consciousness, my muse was gone. The operation had been a success: a complete libretto sat on my desk. I felt pleased with the way that my muse had responded to the emergency. I'd been given less than two weeks to write my opera.
I flipped through the pages. Above the words were pencilled-in capital letters, combinations of the first seven letters of the alphabet. Left of some of the letters were marks for accidentals--flats, sharps, and naturals. And there were arrows--some pointing up, some pointing down.
Steve took a peek. "Only you know what this means," he said, "Come play it in."
"Couldn't I just sing--"
"No. I need to record the rhythms. Don't worry. I'll set the metronome real slow. You say this part's in four-four?"
Through my earphones I hear woodblocks. Clop, clop, clop, clop. Clop, clop, click, clop. The click means I can start.
Reading my strange notation, I play passage after passage on our synthesizer keyboard--right hand only, melody pure and simple. I try to play as mechanically as possible, avoiding interpretation, trying to keep the rhythm strict. Our synthesizer and our computer work together, digitizing and storing what I play, transcribing it into standard music notation, and depicting the music representationally through graph displays.
We go at it for several days. Each passage requires more than one take, sometimes many takes. Steve edits constantly, viewing displays and working tonal and rhythmic corrections from the computer keyboard. At last we have a bare-bones vocal score. Our work has only begun.
We discuss the music, discuss what I'm after: What's the mood here? In this part how much impetus do we want? This tempo okay? Organ or piano? Solo or duet? Major? Minor? A gospel treatment here? Are you sure?
And now it's Steve's show. He creates fully orchestrated musical arrangements, selecting his synthesized "instruments" from a palette of hundreds of conventional and exotic sounds. He chooses violin and "magic bells," french horn and "the machine," tuba, guitar, "space cowboy," "grim reaper," "angels," piano, "cyber space," and many more. Painstakingly, he overlays the sounds, playing-in one at a time, tune after tune, building our soundtrack. But Steve is a guitarist, not a keyboard artist, so the work goes slowly. Too slowly.
Enter Carlos, world-class pianist and true friend. He sits at our keyboard. He rolls up his sleeves. He spends over ten hours this day and six hours the next playing brilliantly executed on-the-spot improvisations of our music. We print one of Carlos's improvisations. It's so dense that there's hardly any white space left on the paper!
Son David creates computer art, most notably a constellation, cows, a cosmic ice-cream cone, a clock, our flying opera-hat, and lightning bolts. Steve supplements David's computer art with a little of his own, generating backgrounds, a planet, meteors, and the words to the prologue. Steve then animates the art, which is later combined with live action for what may be an opera first.
We have only two days for shooting the action and three days for post-production work. Done. So what have we got for you?
On the one hand we have traditional opera. We have singers representing a mix of vocal types performing arias, recitatives, and songs for more than one voice. We have scene changes. We have a chorus. Unlikely and highly melodramatic is our plot.
Time for me to find someone who gets cable. Hope you enjoy the show.
—Lesley Choy, Writer/Director
The Perfection Virtual Media Museum
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