The Composer of Blue

On this Seattle Opera
interview, Tesori recounts the legacy of her grandfather, her strategy to
composing, and collaborating with Blue librettist Tazewell Thompson.

JEANINE TESORI is a composer of musical theater, opera, tv
and movie. She gained the Tony Award for Finest Rating (with bookwriter &
lyricist, Lisa Kron) for the musical Enjoyable Residence. Her different musicals
embrace Caroline, or Change (with Tony Kushner), Shrek the Musical (with
David Lindsay-Abaire), Completely Trendy Millie (with Dick Scanlan), Violet
(with Brian Crawley), Kimberly Akimbo (with Lindsay-Abaire) and Smooth
(with David Henry Hwang) which was her second work after Enjoyable Residence
to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Together with Missy Mazzoli, she
is among the first ladies to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Her
operas embrace A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck (Tony Kushner,
libretto), Blue (Tazewell Thompson, libretto) which obtained the
MCANA Award for Finest New Opera, and the upcoming Grounded (George Brant,
libretto) on the Met. Along with her work as a composer, Tesori is the
Founding Creative Director of New York Metropolis Middle’s Encores! Off-Middle
sequence, Supervising Vocal Producer of Steven Spielberg’s West Aspect Story,
and lecturer in music at Yale College.

Seattle Opera: Would you share your story of changing into a composer?

Jeanine Tesori: It’s such an fascinating and mysterious journey for me. I do
suppose that in my case it is my household legacy. My grandfather was a composer. I
by no means met him—he died when my mom was 5. However I’ve his charts, baton, a
poster, and music stand. The stand is correct by my piano. As I age, I really feel an
unimaginable connection to him. He led a band within the Midwest earlier than settling in
Wilkes-Barre, NY. I really feel the power and connection, as a result of typically I do not
know the place the music comes from. 

My ear coaching and
household are vital points of my background. I used to be taught to maintain my head
down, do the work, and produce individuals together with you should you rise. 

Seattle Opera: Do you strategy composing for movie and stage in a different way? 

Jeanine Tesori: Nice query. For me, the strategy is identical and the
expectation is totally different, relying on the medium—be it theater, movie, or
opera. The textual content at all times leads. What’s the textual content saying? What’s the textual content not
saying? The place does it have to breathe? Who is that this character? What’s of their pockets?
What are their weapons? What are their secrets and techniques? What do these characters need?
What’s standing of their manner? Do they emerge in victory or tragedy? That has
at all times been my strategy. The music I write for opera could be very theatrical. It has
a special type of pacing as a result of I come from the theater custom. Proper
now, I imagine opera is in a good looking golden age.

Tesori’s musical Caroline, or Change is at present closing a profitable revival on Broadway. Credit score: Joan Marcus / Roundabout Theatre Firm

Seattle Opera: Writers typically preserve journals or maintain notes that they use to
encourage their writing. As a composer, do you may have an identical course of? 

Jeanine Tesori: I do. However I am very visible individual, I at all times have been. So I carry
sketch pads all over the place. I am at all times jotting and sketching. Surprisingly sufficient, it
helps me work issues out in my thoughts musically. I’ve so many notepads. They
are throughout place and really disorganized.

Seattle Opera: Are your sketches visible representations of your compositions?

Jeanine Tesori: No, it’s a type of meditation. To assist me visualize what I’m
composing, I chart the characters and plots with Put up it Notes on show
boards. That manner I do know what’s occurring in any respect factors.

Seattle Opera: I’d like to speak about Blue, now. Are there any musical
themes or passages that the viewers ought to hear for?

Jeanine Tesori: It is fascinating that you just requested that as a result of there are a number of.
One comes close to the start of Act II—the scene between The Father and The
Reverend. The Father offers his police badge to The Reverend, singing “I lay my
burden down. I ain’t going to check battle no extra.” I actually took that passage
and ran with it. It hit me in such a manner that I wrote a choral piece primarily based on
that theme.

The opposite scene that I
would love individuals to hear for is within the second scene of the Act I. Right here The
Nurse instructs The Father on the proper manner the best way to maintain his new child. This
theme is reprised late within the opera when The Mom asks God to look after the
son in the identical manner, to carry him with the identical care and directions that the
Nurse gave to the daddy. Right here, it’s the Heavenly Father.

Briana Hunter (The Mom) and Kenneth Kellogg (The Father) in Blue. Credit score: Karli Cadel / Glimmerglass

Seattle Opera: It seems that you and Tazewell labored very carefully on Blue.
Historically the composer has prime billing over the librettist. On this case,
you and Tazewell labored hand in hand. What are your emotions about that? I hope
that I’m making sense and never simply babbling. 

Jeanine Tesori: You’re not babbling. I perceive what you’re asking. That is
Tazewell’s story. Once I requested him to put in writing this with me, I knew that it
would delve into components of his life that have been going to be traumatic and painful.
This story is rightfully his. And I feel librettists are ignored manner too
typically. For instance, only a few individuals know Mozart’s librettists. Actual true followers
will know, however not many extra. I work with playwrights. I am a part of a theater
custom the place you personal your work, and the phrase is the queen. 

As a composer, I’m conscious
of the truth that if I haven’t got textual content, I’ve nothing to say. For me, it is
extremely vital, particularly for somebody like Tazewell—a person of colour—for
individuals to grasp that I am visiting on this panorama as a white artist. I am
a customer in these components. The poetry in Blue comes from Tazewell’s coronary heart.

Seattle Opera: I’ve learn that you just steered altering The Father’s function from
musician to police officer. Why?

Jeanine Tesori: It occurred to me that there have been quite a lot of tales about
musicians of colour, typically ending in tragedy. I wasn’t fascinated about writing
one other one. Once I steered that change, it was exhausting for Tazewell. His father
was a jazz musician. Throughout our conversations, I needed to contemplate what I used to be
asking of Tazewell. His response was instantly “No.” Then he thought of
it. The subsequent day he defined that his reply was too fast, and that he wanted
to confront his emotions to put in writing that story.

Seattle Opera: What’s your hope for the individual experiencing Blue?

Jeanine Tesori: The aim for the individual watching is to journey
within the footwear of the characters they see on stage—to vest so closely within the
character’s victories and tragedies that they expertise them as their very own.
That’s what causes the viewers to cry and chortle. The character’s story is the
viewers’s story. I feel that my hope is that the opera is impactful to the
level that an individual within the viewers will always remember what they only noticed.

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