Tricking You Into Opera:  An Interview with Nick Hallett

Composer/Vocalist Nick Hallett is a busy man.  On top of his regular work composing for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, he has just put the finishing touches on Scene 2 of his opera ‘To Music’ which will be performed at the upcoming Story Binge II on December 15 (tickets here).  We sat down with Nick to talk about ‘To Music’, his desire to subvert traditional narratives and the place of comedy in a tragic world.

EIO: Could you tell us what your piece is about.

HALLETT:  I think of To Music as a mapping of the creative process, but it also tells a very real story. It deals with a composer in his studio, and what happens when he’s trying to work and what distracts him. It’s also about and what keeps all of us composers from making music, and what music we make as a result of the distractions in our lives.

EIO:  The composer in your opera meets an admirer online. Do you feel like you’re making a comment about the future of online relationships?

HALLETT:  I’m interested in how the online experience affects the creative process and, at the same time, how it affects us on a very human level. It’s more about comparing how technology has changed our musical world and our world world.

EIO: What about the creative process you and Josh Thorson (video designer) are engaged in?

HALLETT: My agenda as a composer is to free up the voice from text. In order to do that in opera I tend to rely on video projection and what kinds of information the cinematic image can bring to the operatic stage. I collaborate with artists in the same way that a traditional composer works with a librettist.  Josh’s process is one I admire deeply and we have been working together for decades now.  He completes the storytelling process.

EIO: Do the singers still sing text?

HALLETT: Here and there. You’d be surprised by how little text was in scene one. I just trick you into thinking there are lots of words.  Perhaps I’m trying to avoid having people think they’re watching something experimental.

EIO: So it is experimental but you don’t realize it.

HALLETT: Well, I’m trying to introduce traditional narrative into an experimental matrix.

EIO: How would you describe the idea of traditional narrative?

HALLETT: Traditional narrative sets up a scene, introduces characters, creates conflict, stakes rise…theater! Opera tends to be different because of Music. I’m interested in creating an opera that mimics the storytelling devices of cinema and theater.

EIO: So people are going to be watching the second scene at Story Binge II. What are they going to be walking away with?

HALLETT:  There’s very little interaction between people in the opera and I imagine if people walk away with something specific it’ll be questions like “why don’t people connect with each other?” And “How do these people seem so alone and isolated?” I am trying to deal with reconciling this with music that has voices singing together.

EIO: Why did you decide to make this opera a comedy?

HALLETT:  I’m composing all this work with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company about what so often seems like the end of the world, so it makes me happy that I get to think about my little comedy—still a satire, still social commentary. It’s no less political because it’s funny. Did you see Dave Chappelle on SNL? George Carlin? Louis CK? What else do they make jokes about besides the most depressing stuff?

See the latest scene of To Music at Story Binge II at Merkin Concert Hall on December 15, 2016.