A More Perfect Union


Protone Music; ASCAP
Librettist: Isaiah Sheffer
Soloists: 2 sop, 2 ten, counter-tenor, bar, actor
fl, vn, viola da gamba, harpsichord, perc
Prem: 5/27/04; The Center for Contemporary Opera and NY City Opera's VOX and Friends; 3/15-23/05; Diaghilev Festival, Perm, Russia
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 as seen through modern eyes with comparisons to recent history.

Baroque music conjures up the image of solidity, logic, monumental and eternal truths captured in counterpoint so inevitable that it seems to have always been. Certainly the men who came together in the summer of 1787 wanted to achieve this certainty in their draft of the Constitution. This was not to be easily won, as they argued and fought over issues that still plague us today. How to capture this turmoil in music? How to show the vision of what could be and the struggle of how to get there, using instruments and a vocal ensemble that suited the era? I needed to think beyond the Baroque traditions, to allow these instruments and voices to speak in a contemporary idiom, expressing the passion, rage and exasperation that eventually crafted the great document by which we live.

A More Perfect Union allowed me the opportunity to explore in music the passionate arguments and heated debates that formed our Constitution. Far from being a dry and rational process, the men who came together at the Constitutional Convention had strong ideas and personalities and were not shy in expressing them. To represent the fire of their convictions using the instruments of the Baroque era presented a challenge. I needed to rethink each instrument's potential and move beyond the familiar language. I discovered that the harpsichord could express very bold musical gestures as well as dissonant harmonies without violating its intrinsic nature. The viola da gamba, in contrast, had a quiet assuredness with a voice that was quite different than that of the cello. The other instruments of the ensemble, the flute, violin and percussion, all have become part of the contemporary composer's palette of colors and moved quite naturally into the dramatic world in which I found myself.

Using Thomas Jefferson's actual campaign song as the theme upon which the entire structure was built, I moved back and forth in time, between the granite structures of Baroque musical edifices and the liquid elasticity of contemporary landscapes, connecting the elemental core of our hopes and dreams.

A More Perfect Union is unique in its blend of Baroque opera-ballet and American music-theater, giving equal weight to words, music and dance. These three elements have long been a part of the American musical but to put them to the service of an abstract concept is novel. This opera is not a story. Its characters are regions of the country and concepts, not individuals, and in this way it is most related to the opera-ballet. I do not believe that there has ever been an American music-theater work or opera treating this subject matter in this way.

Posted: May-23-2014
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