An Opera For All Ages
(American Music Theater for Small Ensemble and Special Guest Artist)

Nicole Paris and Augusta Read Thomas in Santa Fe in Summer 2017. Photo by T.A. Paris-Cage

Nicole Paris is a world-class talent. I am inspired by her beatboxing and, for the past three years, through a series of detailed workshops, we have been collaborating on an opera that I am composing in which Nicole plays the lead role. Our time together is energized and creative. We laugh a great deal when working together.  Because we trust each other, we are able to explore sound together and work hard to find just the right atmosphere for each scene in the opera.

In the opera, Nicole, the special guest artist, beatboxes and sings. The other vocalists sing and, from time to time, develop a wide variety of vocalizations akin to beatboxing. As such, the opera organically unfolds a sound world where different musical traditions crisscross and are deeply integrated.

I see opera as embracing diverse musical traditions, artists, and audience members.

Playing trumpet as a child and throughout my undergraduate degree at Northwestern University, I used to play, scat and sing along with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, who were (and remain!) idols and heroes along with Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan, and countless others...Frank Sinatra…James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Pure Prairie League, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Michael Jackson…

Having been listening to jazz and scat for 40+ years, when the Opera for All voices Consortium offered this marvelous commission project, I thought of an artist that I had been admiring for a long time: Nicole Paris.

In a moment of bravery, I asked my manager to reach out to her agent to see if Nicole might meet with me for an afternoon to talk about a possible collaboration. Long story short: Nicole accepted the meeting. I flew to St. Louis and told her about the opera project. Right then and there, we improvised together. [Nicole generously and patiently taught me some of her amazing beatboxing fundamentals.] A friendship and collaboration was instantly born. Nicole is an exemplary musician. She has an excellent ear for sounds of all kinds and a beautiful singing voice in addition to her virtuosic beatboxing talents. Nicole is one of the most radiant, kind, lovely people on the planet.

We shared five creative workshop sessions in Chicago (which we called “sandboxes”) along with some of my other longstanding collaborators and close friends (the four members of Third Coast Percussion, Constance Volk, Jessica Aszodi, Ben Melsky) and I started to work toward composing this opera.

Then….my other longstanding collaborator and friend, Leslie Dunton-Downer, joined the project and composed the magnificent libretto.

Then my other friends joined the project: Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Kyle Sackett, Emma Hospelhorn, Andy Hudson, John Corkill, Daniel Pesca, Tara Lynn Ramsey, Juan José Horie Phoebus, Seth Parker Woods, and Michael Lewanski.

The September 2018 informal workshop reading was the result of 16 months of collaborations and effort made collectively by the creative, commission, and administrative teams.

All art that I cherish has elements of order, mystery, love, and passion. For me, music must be alive and jump off the page and out of the voice and instrument as if something big is at stake. My favorite moment in any piece of music is that of maximum risk and striving - whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, or eccentric — the moment of exquisite humanity and soul.

Having dreamt for 20 years for a chance to write an opera, I feel blessed to be able to make this chamber opera. My collaboration with Nicole and Leslie and with all the artists in this opera has been and will continue to be one of the most important partnerships in my creative life. I hope to have an opportunity to compose a full-scale opera in the very near future.