In Progress — A Window to a Door


From New Shorts composer, Leaha Maria Villarreal:

What is opera?

When is a work ‘operatic?’ When does an aria become an art song…and vice versa? And what about rock operas?! What’s the deal with those?

These questions & more swirled in head as I mulled over my commission from Experiments in Opera for their ‘New Shorts’ concert. Because, if we’re lucky, we’ve stood in awe at the Metropolitan opera house, its chandeliers glistening, the curtain rising. As composers we ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over Wagner’s Tristan chord. I thought of all the famous pieces and I couldn’t help but think ‘what does any of that that have to do with me?’

I decided I needed a story. That’s when Room fell into my hands.

Emma Donoghue‘s novel tells the tale of an abducted young woman and her five-year-old son from the child’s point of view. As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but wonder not about our protagonist Jack but about the courageous  Ma. What were her days like before his arrival? The subject prompted me to do some research, yielding material on the Fritzl case in Austria and the Jaycee Dugard memoir A Stolen Life. You quickly back up on safer shores: these stories throw you into dark waters. With both the fact and the fiction I was fascinated with themes of strength and resilience.

I realized I had a character for my opera.

A Window to a Door focuses on just that: a young woman who is held by an unknown captor. The lament of our protagonist slowly unfolds over a backtrack of shudders, scrapes, and hums, accompanied by violin and contrabass. As viewers, we only know what is immediately apparent. We experience what the character experiences. The moment is everything.

So what is opera? It could be anything, which is incredibly liberating. I can’t wait for the next one. For right now, it’s a girl in a room searching for hope.