Is it opera? Or music theatre? Or both?

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Blog reader Wendy Gleim, who’s hosting the private post-performance party for composer Philip Glass and his Book of Longing posse at her Ashley Avenue home on Friday, sends along an excellent feature from the Toronto Globe and Mail about Glass from last week, written just prior to that city’s world premiere of Glass’ new work for the Luminato Art Festival last Friday. Book of Longing is based on a recent book of poetry and drawings from pop culture icon Leonard Cohen, but Spoleto’s got it classified as music theatre, not as opera. Yet the last time Spoleto premiered a complete new work for music and voice – 1990’s Hydogen Jukebox, based on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg – they filed it under opera. Writer Robert Everett-Green helps explain why:

“My main goal was to make the words comprehensible, without anyone having to look at words on a screen,” Glass said. It wasn’t that difficult, he added: “They set very easily. My view is that almost every poem in the book could be looked at as a lyric. I think Book of Longing could be seen as a book of uncompleted lyrics.” The score calls for four singers: soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass-baritone. Each will stay in the middle and lower part of the voice, Glass said, not because that’s what pop singers do but because it’s easier to make the words clear when the voice isn’t pushed to the limits of its range.

Maybe best not to mention that last bit to Emmanuel Villaume or John Kennedy...

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