Backstage at a World Premiere

Florida Grand Opera gives the world premiere of David Carlson's opera, Anna Karenina, on April 28, 2007. Secretary-Treasurer and Florida Classical Orchestra member Jeffrey Apana tells what it's like to be in the pit.

How does an orchestral musician prepare for a world premiere?

Normally, when we perform an opera for the first time, we can get a recording of someone else's production to listen to, or get a copy of the score to read through and see how our part fits into the bigger picture. That's certainly not the case with a world premiere...a lot of what we do before the first rehearsal (and maybe even during the first few rehearsals!) is guesswork and seat-of-the-pants playing. There were a few parts that were different than I guessed (a lot faster!) and there was a lot of woodshedding for me to do after the first rehearsal. And with everyone trying to figure out how their individual parts go, it took a few rehearsals before we started to get an idea of how the opera will eventually sound. I have to admit, the opera sounded pretty bad at the first rehearsal, but that was more how we were playing it and less the composer's fault, and the opera is starting to grow on many of the orchestra members, myself included. And it will be a completely different piece when we hear the vocal parts.

Playing a new work is a lot different than playing Mozart.

You can't let your concentration lapse for even a second. In a Mozart opera, if we lose count of rests, we understand how Mozart should sound well enough that we can pretty successfully guess where to come in (especially if you've played the opera dozens of times already). Not the case in modern music. Even some of the old rules such as the second oboist doesn't play unless the first oboist is playing don't hold up! 

New music is not necessarily only for geeks. 

We listen to a lot of modern music every day...just turn on the TV or go to a movie. Actually, as we were rehearsing Anna, I was thinking how the orchestral parts resemble a film score...a lot of what we do is create colors and moods for the singers to work their magic above. There a moments in the opera that remind me of Peter and the Wolf (written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936), and there are moments that remind me of Superman's Fortress of Solitude (music by John Williams in 1978). Interestingly, the most popular opera simulcast in movie theaters this year by the Metropolitan Opera was the new opera by Tan Dun, The Last Emperor (beating out even Mozart's Magic Flute).

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