History of the Opera

The rather convoluted history of this work is perhaps best told in the composer’s own words:

“In 1973, while I was an undergradate student at David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University), I was asked by my theory professor, Dr. Gerald Moore, to compose an opera for the music department in the style of P.D.Q. Bach. Although I decided not to attempt to emulate the inimitable style of Schickele’s alter ego since many others had attempted to do so with less than satisfactory results, I thought the idea of composing a comic opera was a great challenge. A friend of mine (J.F. Guin III) came up with a libretto, and I set to work on the score with great aplomb.

“Over the next few months I poured all of my limited creative talents into sketching the opening scene, and finally showed my work to the baritone who was slated to play the role of the heroine’s father. After playing the piano score for him, he hesitantly said to me, ‘They’ll never be able to sing it.’ As he was more aware than I of the capabilities of our stable of singers, I concluded that this attempt was going nowhere. That fact took the wind out of my sails, and I shelved the project for the rest of my college career.

“During the course of the next couple of decades I would occasionally look over the score and sketch a new aria here and there. But with no prospect of a performance, I never devoted myself to the work very assiduously.

“Sometime in the early 1990s I decided to thoroughly rework the libretto and again sketched a few more short segments, but as I was by that time married with children, life intervened to limit any profitable contribution toward this project. The opera again resumed its seemingly rightful place gathering dust on my bookshelf.

“Earlier this year [2004], after having completed the opera Inanna the year before and writing two other works that were somewhat dark and depressing, I came across the mass of material and began playing around with it again just to help put myself in a better mood. Intending to work on it only until a new libretto came my way, I ended up being consumed with the prospect of actually fulfilling my promise to my former theory teacher, despite the fact that the assignment would be turned in 30 years late.

“I decided to score the work for a chamber ensemble (though still a tad large) and only four principal singers. While there are no fewer than thirteen supporting roles, they may be filled by singers who double in the chorus. Several venues which had expressed some interest in Inanna elected to reject the score because of its large personnel requirements, so I was hopeful that a smaller ensemble may find Monte Blotto to fit their needs more effectively.

“As for its description as a ‘chamber-pot opéra gouffre,’ this terminology was chosen because there were heretofore three principal types of opera: opéra seria, or serious opera; opéra comique, which is typically somewhat lighthearted; and opéra bouffe, which is clearly comic opera. Monte Blotto goes one step beyond opéra bouffe. As gouffre is French for ‘abyss,’ I suppose one could say this opera steps off the stage and into an operatic abyss. And regarding the descriptor ‘chamber-pot’ — just consider what normally is held in a chamber pot and I think you will have a comprehensive understanding of just what Monte Blotto is.”

Final work on the opera was begun in the summer of 2004, and the score was completed on 6 October 2004.

Technical Information

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (1 doubling on piccolo), oboe (doubling on English horn), Bb clarinet, bassoon, harp, piano, harpsichord, mandolin, violins I & II (including solo violin), violas, violoncellos, double basses. Percussion battery: timpani, bass drum, tenor drum, woodblock, cymbals, triangle, ratchet, whistle, slapstick, tubular bells. (An electronic keyboard could substitute for piano/harpsichord if necessary.)

Performance time: Total performance time is approximately 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Score: Copies of the orchestral score are available for review on request. Total length: 893 pages. A review score may be requested by writing to the composer.

Budget: Monte Blotto is designed to be a low-budget opera and makes no pretensions otherwise. Because of allusions to other operas in the libretto, it would be entirely appropriate to borrow costumes and sets from other productions with only modest modifications. Juxtaposing anachronistic elements also is acceptable (for instance, using a modified Hansel and Gretel set with a bridge from Madama Butterfly for Tolkien Jew’s hut scene would add to the humor.) Outside of the four principals, the other roles may “borrow” chorus members for their parts. Costuming for the Three Musketeers and Brünhilde, of course, are ready-made for borrowed roles.

Additional information: For additional information about this work, please write to the composer.

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Copyright © 2004 by John Craton (ASCAP)
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