Creative Research

By Kirsten Barker

Why Opera?

Operas have a long history as what is called “high art” and are typically associated with power the upper class and social elite of society. By writing an opera about systemic transformations, we are subverting the expectations of a genre historically associated with elitism. It surprised us to learn that Exxon-Mobil has a long history of sponsoring the Metropolitan Opera, which is increasingly problematic in our rapidly changing world. By having a student-written opera and focusing on grassroots change, our hope is that utilizing “high art” will encourage people to become more informed about difficult topics through unexpected mediums.

Our Collaborative Process

Co-writing a libretto, the words for an opera, was way more difficult than we thought it would be. As violinists, we are both familiar with the collaborative process of chamber music. However, working side-by-side in a non-musical capacity created the discomfort of instant feedback that was focused on ideas, not sounds. The physical distance between our respective summer residences was another factor that led us to brainstorm ideas together before draft words individually. We would then reconcile the differences in text and discuss how our vision had evolved. Throughout the process of brainstorming and writing our libretto, we have needed to remain open to one another’s ideas. As we have invited other people to join our project, this openness has been incredibly beneficial–everyone has had something to add to our collaborative work.

A chamber opera, even a short one, would definitely be an overwhelming logistical task for a single individual. By sharing administrative tasks and acting as creative sounding boards for each other, we have been able to remain organized throughout the entirety of the project while keeping up with our personal commitments.

Collaboration With Mentors

Kaylyn and Karley receiving feedback from Rebecca McFaul at our January workshop
(Photo Credit: Andrew McAllister)

As undergraduate music students, we had no idea how to commission music, apply for grants, or write a libretto. We didn’t even know what was logistically involved in an opera. However, we did know that mentors across the arts and sciences would be necessary for our project–we used pre-existing connections to ask for guidance from experts in writing, performance, and science communication. Our mentors have shared their time and professional networks, giving us incredibly beneficial feedback and opportunities.

Why Does Our Process Matter?

Our opera is an example of just one collaborative process. We have been able to learn from other people and ideas across time and space in our attempt to contribute something meaningful to the world. By building on what we already knew and inviting others to share their expertise and ideas with us, we created something that transcended our expectations.

Because this chamber opera was inspired by other interdisciplinary collaborations, we know that other projects are both possible and necessary. It is obviously difficult to start projects and flesh out ideas, but some of our initial inspiration came the Fry Street Quartet’s “Make It Yours” campaign, which led us to begin with what we knew. By using existing knowledge and specialties to build networks with people across disciplines, a variety of issues can be addressed. Solutions will not be found by remaining isolated, but by collaborating with others who care. This entire project has taught us that two friends, one idea, and a lot of determination can go a long way. To quote Emily Dickinson, “Forever–is composed of Nows.” Now is the time to begin collaborating and changing the world around you. You’ll be amazed just how far one idea can take you.

Laurana and Kirsten presenting their project at Utah’s Research on Capitol Hill (Photo credit: USU Office of Research)

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