“So I heard you were writing an opera?!” He asked.
“Oh yeah…” And I proceeded to walk him through the whole story. Once I finished I tried to read his facial expression. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped. It was kind of a mix of worry with a cocked eye and a tad bit of constipation.
“What?” I asked.
“So you’re going to try and put on an opera at your very conservative school that’s a bible story where the two main characters who are biblical heroes are gay for each other?”
I felt my stomach drop. How in the heck had I not seen that one coming?
I was already way too far into the process to stop now. I’d been working on the opera for almost four months! I had parts of the cast already waiting for music and a very patient music director nearly threatening the safety of my family to get a glimpse of the music I’d written.
The story of the opera, entitled David and Glass, in the shortest form possible is this. It is a modern retelling of the David and Goliath story in a fictional modern nation. The son of King Saul, Prince Jonathan, has been kidnapped and the nation is in darkness. David managed to save Jonathan from what could only be described as a Saw-esque nightmare (violence was another contributing factor to difficulties getting this thing performed).
This is the first and shortest act of the opera. It’s difficult to swallow both musically and visually and I wouldn’t have been surprised if people had left. The second two acts, which are both considerably longer, chronicle the drama post Jonathan’s rescue. Jonathan falls for David and David finds he shares similar feelings.
David becomes a national hero and King Saul becomes jealous of his popularity and begins to manipulate the two heroes into hating each other causing a rift in their relationship before banishing David into exile. Only I’m a sucker for happy endings and where the Bible sends off David alone I said that Jonathan realized his mistake and joined his lover in their uncertain future (according to the bible David would come back to rule). Thus the father is left without his son just like in the beginning of the story and he is crushed by what he’s done.
There’s also significant drama in the discovery of who hired the kidnapping and things like that but that’s the basic outline (for a more complete outline you can check out here.).
And in case you were wondering this story is not a new idea. In fact many believe David was bisexual and Jonathan was gay and they were in love. Check out this verse: “As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” 1 Samuel 18:1.
I jumped through any hoop my rotund frame could fit and I somehow made it. By keeping certain higher-ups in the dark and being completely honest with others I managed to get the opera scheduled and somehow amidst all that I actually wrote the damn thing too! Then as if to add to the insanity the university did it’s first full live internet broadcast of a performance with the opera!
After the scheduling it turned out that we simply did not have the time to produce the opera in full. We ended up doing what we called a “semi-staged concert production”. Concert productions of operas are not unheard of. They simply consist of performing the opera with the singers standing in front of the orchestra and no physical acting, just standing and singing.
In the case of David and Glass our orchestra was still in the pit below the stage and the performers were actually costumed. They entered and exited as their characters would and some scenes were slightly acted. I was so proud of what we’d managed.
The performance went amazingly! By my count there was almost one hundred people in attendance (not a huge number but pretty big for my modest production). The performers did an incredible job with the total two hours of music they had to perform.
After the opera was finished the opera’s leading man approached me as I was hugging my parents and family. He led me to two older gentlemen who I’d not seen before. It turned out they were with the Hampton Roads Artsong Update (the only music publication in the area). The two men who turned out to have been partners for over twenty years were overcome with emotion at the show and were so blown away that they proceeded to write a very (thankfully) complimentary review of the opera.
One of the main points of the review boiled down to one sentence “The commitment of his talented fellow students testifies to the enthusiasm of a new generation of young people who will be part of a new day offering equality to gay people in an ever expanding American dream.” It struck me then, the definitely controversial nature of this opera, the performers, singers and orchestra members alike had dove in without question to the project and dedicated a substantial amount of time and energy for NO PAY.
While they may not have been doing it for gay rights or anything like that, they knew what the opera was about from the beginning and they had devoted themselves to the project, trusting in it’s composition and believing in its subject.
Selections from their amazing performance of the work can be heard on my youtube page http://www.youtube.com/user/ChrisLambMusic/videos. And more information on the opera and my other music can be found on my webpage http://chrislambmusic.com/David_and_Glass.html.