The Singing Lesson

Surreal farce or comic madrigal

The Singing Lesson is a surreal comic farce with simple and straightforward direction, set design and costumes, but with histrionic and exaggerated acting. The piece symbolises, in a comedic tone, the development of identity of an artistic person, the passing of knowledge from teacher to student, and the way that the old necessarily gives way to the new.

Although the opera is called The Singing Lesson, it might also be referred to as a “life lesson”. It’s a short story about how sometimes we must apparently vainly and hopelessly learn from ourselves, while the most difficult part is realising that you will never learn anything, really. The deeper you dig into the true soil of matters (or your profession), the more obvious it becomes that you are turning into a sillier and dumber creature. Over time you start seeing yourself in a twisted way, you start to envision a rather surreal picture in your achievements and your image… in fact, you are getting distorted in front of yourself. It is somewhat similar to this nanoopera, where former (or maybe still active) opera singers turn into some transformed creatures, vainly striving for perfection andwallowing in desperate delirium of their visions.

Director Marija Simona Šimulynaitė

I had in mind music with the nervous eccentricity of Milton Babbitt and the insatiable rhythmic drive of Gerald Barry. I took great care over the pacing of the music / drama; the entrances of the different characters come ever closer together, so that one has a sense of an acceleration in the action, up to the point where all the singers are on stage. The music is divided, therefore, into three pseudo-baroque dances, an Allemande, a Courante, and a Gigue, each one faster than the last. In the coda, the music relaxes again, and the harmonies become more defined and stable.

This is my first attempt at composing a serial piece, and I deliberately set myself some difficult compositional constraints, to force myself to write music that is not always “comfortable”. Fixing the pitches in specific registers (vertical sets) and mapping the rows onto the vertical sets created jumpy, unpredictable contours. Only in the coda do I relax these constraints and allow all the pitches to sound in any register (i.e. octave equivalence). The three four-note harmonies that dominate the coda are simply the three tetrachords of the note-row.

Composer George Holloway