Tips for Composers and Librettists
In this month’s ArtistLink, opera professionals who receive a great deal of score and libretto submissions offer some suggestions to composers and librettists on how to present their work for consideration.
1. Avoid sending an unwieldy volume of materials.
In general it is not necessary to send a company or publisher the full orchestral score -- it is expensive for you and inconvenient for the recipient. If you have a neat, bound score that you would like to send, you should include a title page that lists of all of the cast by character names and voice types; the choral requirements by divisi; the orchestra requirements; total running time; and a brief, well-written synopsis. Page numbers for acts or any other important musical sections are also useful.
2. Include a good recording of selections with each track clearly marked.
Artistic administrators receive many recordings from artists (singers as well as composers and librettists) that they cannot or choose not to listen to because of poor sound quality. It is worth the investment to rent a hall or recording studio and hire artists if you want your work to be seriously considered. Additionally, the first 10 seconds of the recording should be the music you feel best shows your talents.
3. Consider carefully the scope of the opera, especially in relation to the organization you are approaching.
Gordon Ostrowski, director of opera studies at Manhattan School of Music, receives numerous submissions for the NOA Chamber Opera Competition. He says, "Composers and librettists would do well to listen to the needs of producing organizations and target productions to the style which you see being produced by that organization. I get submissions all the time that are completely beyond our resources." This is especially true for educational institutions that often do not have the resources to do operas with large male casts, for example. More and more educational institutions and young artist programs are performing new works and can be excellent resources for emerging composers and librettists seeking young singers and new opportunities.
4. Polish the entire package.
This includes you. You are the spokesperson of your opera as a business. Learning to be a good public speaker is an asset not only in the beginning stages of your career, but as you continue in your success and are asked speak for donor events and press campaigns. You should bear in mind that opera singers spend hours developing the art of presenting themselves and being dynamic, charming, and well-spoken in a variety of situations. When dealing with artistic administrators and donors who are accustomed to networking with opera singers, it behooves you to step into their world and acclimate yourself. Networking is a skill and whether or not is it something that comes naturally to you, it is something that can be acquired with practice. Which ties into the next point...
5. Make friends with singers.
There are countless examples of singers who champion the work of composers and librettists and create opportunities for them. They are also incredible resources for guidance as to how to write for the voice. Many of the operas written in the last decade that are performed regularly enjoy success because they were written by people who understand the voice.
Musicians spend a considerable amount of time alone perfecting their craft through study and practice, and curiously little time honing the equally important skills of marketing and networking. There are no guarantees to success and as is the case in many art forms there will always be stories of unlikely achievement. But these recommendations can help you walk through the door when opportunity knocks.
Many helpful resources for composers and librettists are listed in OPERA America's Career Guide for Opera. To access the Career Guide, simply log in to www.operaamerica.org with your username and password. Company representatives: If your company's opportunities are not yet listed in the Career Guide, e-mail Artistic Services for information on how to add or update your information.
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