• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with composer Mark Abel

    Continuing our loving and supportive relationship with contemporary opera, we are bringing to our readers coverage of Californian composer Mark Abel's Home is a Harbor, which has just been released two days ago by the Delos label on CD. The album also contains an exquisite song cycle, The Palm Trees are Restless, featuring the phenomenal Grammy winner soprano Hila Plitmann. Both pieces have been reviewed by Opera Lively [here] and [here], and today we are presenting a fascinating exclusive interview with the composer. It must be said that our initial review of Home is a Harbor had mixed feelings, but ever since, after reading the composer's defense of his piece and after giving it a second listen, our opinion of it has improved significantly. We were already very impressed with the song cycle, and now we've acquired a better understanding of the composer's artistic choices in this piece that is his first opera.

    This is Opera Lively's interview number 192. We spoke for 47 minutes with the composer, who not only addressed his works, but also shared with us his very interesting insights about the business of recording opera, and the general state of the contemporary art form, including how it is evolving in the present, and how it is likely to fare in the near future. This interview, therefore, is of interest not only to those who appreciate contemporary opera, but also to opera lovers in general.

    Artistic Biography

    Provocative, original and accessible, American composer Mark Abel has been praised for his talent with lyrics as well as his musical ability. His signature style blends elements of classical, rock and jazz in a unique musical fusion that combines the depth and sophistication of classical with the direct impact of rock.

    A former journalist, Abel’s work shines a light on timeless issues and those of today, often couched in biting social commentary. His attention to the gestural elements and pacing of classical music, the inclusion of evocative lyrics as well as the use of an accessible tonal language with a strong emphasis on melody elegantly melds poetry and music. Among the subjects he has addressed are the phenomenon of contemporary terrorism, a nonpareil relationship catastrophe, and, in his orchestral song cycle “The Dream Gallery,” the psyches and social milieus of his fellow Californians.

    His new CD Home is a Harbor, released by the Delos label on March 11, 2016, features the world premiere recording of his first opera, a three-act, 103-minute look at modern America through the experiences of a pair of twin sisters. Also included in the package is Abel’s most recent song cycle, “The Palm Trees Are Restless,” in which he sets to music the writings of Los Angeles poet Kate Gale. This is Abel's third release on Delos, preceded by "Terrain of the Heart" and "The Dream Gallery."

    Abel’s life suggests a creative tapestry woven with two primary and powerful strands: Music and journalism. Son of the distinguished reporter and author Elie Abel, Mark Abel grew up in America, Europe and Asia, receiving crucial exposure as a child to the fast-moving global political and cultural events of the 1950s and 1960s. The immersion included an introduction to classical music, which was his consuming artistic interest until his early teens. It was then supplanted for some time by modern jazz and later by rock, the medium through which he first developed his talents as a songwriter. Mark briefly attended Stanford University in the turbulent late '60s but decided to strike out on his own at the age of 20.

    As a guitarist, bassist and songwriter in New York in the 1970s and into the '80s, Abel played and recorded with such seminal figures as Tom Verlaine (Television), Danny Kalb (The Blues Project), Michael Brown (the Left Banke), and Harold Kelling, founder of the pioneering Atlanta fusion group the Hampton Grease Band.

    Abel's interest in rock faded by the mid '80s, however, due to the harmonic and rhythmic restrictions imposed by the pop song format and frustration with the commercial music industry's ever-narrowing scope. He relocated to California in 1983 and made a vocational shift into journalism, eventually becoming the foreign editor of the San Francisco Chronicle (the second largest newspaper on the West Coast), a post he held until 2004. During those years, much changed in Abel's musical world as he began working out more complex compositional ideas, an evolving process that led him back to classical music.

    Influenced by a variety of artists from different genres, Abel’s principal heroes include such classical composers as Ives, Szymanowski, Brahms, Duparc, Strauss, Debussy, Berg, Janacek, Lutoslawski, Takemitsu and Dutilleux. He draws inspiration from jazz figures from his teen years; among them, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, Paul Bley and the great but little-known California pianist Denny Zeitlin.

    For more details, consult the composers' web site at www.markabelmusic.com


    The CD of Home is a Harbor and The Palm Trees Are Restless is already available on Amazon, for about $16. Click [here] to purchase it. It is also available on iTunes, ArkivMusic, and directly from Delos. Delos is donating a portion of album sales revenue to Veterans’ organizations, beginning with Cathay Post No. 384 of the American Legion.

    Mark Abel has recorded four other CDs:

    Terrain of the Heart, three song cycles for soprano and piano - Delos (2014)

    The Dream Gallery, Seven California Portraits - song cycle for soloists and chamber orchestra - Delos (2012)

    Songs of Life, Love, and Death, art songs, obtainable from CD Baby (2006)

    Journey Long, Journey Far, obtainable from CD Baby (2008)


    The Exclusive Opera Lively interview with Mark Abel

    Copyright Opera Lively, all rights reserved. Links to this interview and short excerpts are authorized as long as the source is quoted, but full reproduction without our permission (use the Contact Us form) is not. This is Opera Lively's interview #192. Photo Credits are Tom Zizzi except for the Hila Plitmann photo which is by Neil France.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Thank you for doing this interview. Congratulations on recording and releasing your first opera.

    Mark Abel – Oh, thank you.

    OL - Let’s start by talking about Home is a Harbor. First of all, why did you want to write an opera?

    MA – I’ve been interested in opera for quite some years but didn’t feel until recently that I had quite consolidated what I wanted to do stylistically to the point where I would undertake something like that. But I’ve written a number of song cycles that have been recorded in recent years – some of them conventional and just voice and piano; others with orchestra – so since vocal music is kind of my specialty it would have been inevitable that I was going to attempt this at some point. I just happened to be ready for it as of a couple of years ago; I went for it, and there you are.

    OL – Nice. So, how did you pick the subject matter for this opera? Did your background as a journalist inform your choice of a topic?

    MA – I’m kind of a student of society and what’s going on and changing about American society, and have been my whole life. I’m sixty-seven, so I’ve seen a lot of things transpire. The area where half of Home is a Harbor is set in is the Central Coast of California, where I happen to be living right now. I had been coming to this area as a tourist for over twenty years so I recognize baseline qualities of the area that are touched upon in the composer’s notes that I wrote for the opera. It’s almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles and has a fairly small population. It’s very scenic here. It’s much less stress-laden than the Bay Area or LA. It’s still a lovely place where you can find a kind of more “normal” and unspoiled version of America. For California, it’s not that easy to find, these days. It seems to me that provided a good backdrop to the start of Harbor, which is a kind of coming of age story, and also, of young people trying to make their way in a society that has lots of challenges. So, I wanted to start them out from here. I thought it worked from a dramatic standpoint and then went on from there.

    OL - OK. If you had to synthesize in one paragraph the message you are trying to convey with your piece, what would it be?

    MA – I think it would be that there is an essential decency to most Americans that is something very precious and needs to be hung on to and not leveled by the continuing onslaught of consumerism and materialism, and, as we are speaking right now, very divisive politics.

    OL - Tell us about your advocacy for the Veterans of the foreign wars and your idea of donating part of the income generated by your opera to Veterans’ organizations.

    MA – My feelings about the Veterans are based more on my knowledge of American foreign military policy than on direct contact with them. As you know from the work that you do, the vast majority of young people who enter the military go there thinking that either they are going to solve the world’s problems, or they are going to learn how to channel their aggressions, or they are going to get a nice sum of money to help with their education, and they usually have little cognizance of the fact that they’ve been out on a mission that was devised by politicians, and that often those politicians are dead wrong about what they are trying to do.

    Unfortunately for the young people, the ones who survive mentally and physically intact, is that they are kind of pawns in a game with rules that can be changing constantly. One president wants to do one thing, another wants to do another, and the folks in the military are left to carry out orders which may be good ideas or bad ideas, and they have to suffer whatever those consequences are.

    Just talking about the war in Afghanistan, since I worked as a journalist, I’ve been following that situation for a long time, back when the Russians were embroiled there. The U.S. continuing to try to be involved in a military solution in Afghanistan is such a useless proposition -- as anybody who studied history would know and could have told any of the presidents who served. But Americans are still getting killed over there for reasons unknown to me.

    And then they come back home, the ones who survive, and they get a certain amount of medical care. But the ones who don’t do well or become addicted to drugs or are so injured that they can’t pursue whatever career they might have wanted to go into, are left in a not-good state. In the context of the opera, I depicted the boyfriend of one of two twin sister protagonists as somebody who ends up homeless. There are services for homeless Veterans, but sometimes the Veterans don’t even know that they exist, or their thinking may be too muddled to take advantage of it.

    So, I created him as a kind of reminder of the plights that quite a few thousand people suffered – and still do. We kind of tend to avert our eyes from this in America, so I just wanted to make a statement about that. The story about the Veteran only accounts for maybe a third of Harbor altogether, but I wanted it to be there and give people something to think about.

    OL – Very interesting. So, you chose to pick twin sisters as your leading characters, simultaneously struggling with the superficiality of the art world and the unethical business world. Being Home is a Harbor a relatively short opera, do you feel that these simultaneous storylines might negatively impact on character arc and theatricality? I frankly felt that things were a bit rushed, and would like to hear how you defend this choice.

    MA – I think you’ll need to give me that one again, Luiz. I’m not sure of exactly what you are asking.

    OL – OK. You have twin sisters. They figured in scenes that happened simultaneously in their lives, in two different settings. Right?

    MA – Yes.

    OL – So that multiplies in a sense the number of characters, and as the space is limited – about 100 minutes…

    MA – 103, yes.

    OL – Right. So I wonder if with less time for each character, you get in a situation where the character is a little more rushed. I frankly felt that it went a little too fast, especially in the third act. I want to hear you defend this idea of splitting, and whether that impacts on the theatricality of your opera.

    MA – Sure. OK, I’ll say a couple of things. I did not want the opera to be too long, and I was also trying to confine both the musical and the dramatic content to an area with set boundaries. We are talking about roughly five years in the lives of two young people who are going to go on after this opera – if they existed in real life – and have new chapters and new developments in their lives. I tried to – as the liner notes indicated – have them often talk in a kind of conversational shorthand, and tried not to make too much of the developments that they go through beyond what you hear in the opera. There are a lot of people who get sucked into a lot of things – the financial crisis that embroils one of them is part of it.

    Yes, I could have made the piece 45 minutes or one hour longer, but that was not really my intent. As far as the character arc, the criticism you were trying to voice in your review about the last scene, I’m afraid I don’t understand what your issue with it is, because the two girls have been knocked around, they’ve come back to their hometown, they are sitting in a restaurant having a glass of wine and commiserating about what has been going on for them in recent years. And they don’t come to too many conclusions, except that life goes on, and they are going to try to buck up. And then they leave the restaurant out into the rain, and the music that you hear towards the end of Act One Scene Three reappears, and then out of the rain comes the homeless Veteran, former boyfriend of one of them, which they are totally shocked to see. They don’t know what had happened to him, and he proceeds to tell them in a fragmented way as best as he can what his dire situation is, then he goes rolling away in his wheelchair, as somebody out in the rain thinking in an addled way might do. Then there is this warm scene where they are talking about what is bothering them and what they want to do about it. I guess I just don’t understand what you perceived as some weakness in that scene.

    OL – Well, I guess you have efficiently countered my criticism.

    MA – [laughs]

    OL – Maybe it wasn’t as rushed as I thought, now that I listened to you defending it. It was a nice defense! [laughs]

    MA – Thank you. I want to just reinforce what I was saying earlier. This is a slice of life with these characters. This is not everything that has happened in their life. Maybe if I was a very well-known composer working on commission and was told that I had an eighty-piece orchestra to work with, perhaps that would have spurred me on to have the piece run longer.

    But as I’m sure you know, the recording of an opera is a very expensive proposition and very difficult to do, and I kept the orchestra small for that reason. That was an excellent exercise to put myself through. So, this is a piece that has parameters, but I like to think that it works well within the parameters that I set up for it.

    OL – Very nice. You are very convincing. I think I should give it a second listen. OK. So, your style mixes rock – which you played as a young man – classical, and jazz. Tell us about this fusion, and your musical evolution over the years.

    MA – Sure. Well, I started out very young listening to classical music that was mostly put on the turntable by my father, who was a pretty well-known journalist. He had a good taste in classical but it was mostly of the 19th century -- and a little before and a little after that. So I would say that the composers I got the biggest exposure to when I was very young were Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven. Not very much Wagner, no Verdi, not too much Schumann, a little bit of Schubert, but it was basically core 19th century repertoire. I was very fond of those three composers I’ve mentioned and I still am.

    But by the time I got to adolescence I was getting rebellious; not bored with classical music particularly, but I was growing up in the very early sixties, which was a very turbulent time in this country, as you recall. I got interested first in jazz in the early sixties, and then the kind of brief folk music movement that flourished then, but later it kind of morphed into folk rock, and later psychedelic rock and other derivations.

    I consider myself extremely lucky I came of age as a person and a listener in the nineteen-sixties because that was really the golden age of both rock and modern jazz, in my estimation. I was lucky enough to see many of the greatest musicians in both of those fields in live performance, and absorb what they had to offer -- which was a lot.

    I think the nineteen-sixties was frankly a decade where classical music really took a back seat and it wasn’t making too much of an impact on American culture. Understand, Luiz, there was a lot of ferment, but classical was still in the grip of post-Webern consciousness and it definitely lost a lot of its audience.

    So I later left school and became a rock musician for a long time, but never lost my interest in classical. By the late seventies I realized that there wasn’t a heck of a lot more that I was going to be able to derive from either the rock or the jazz experience. I feel that rock peaked out creatively by the early seventies and -- some people won’t agree with me about this -- but I also feel that jazz kind of reached the end of its evolutionary timeline approximately around 1970. Most of what you hear today is a rehash of stuff that was done previous to that.

    It was inevitable that I was going to go back to classical music; so I did. I spent many years filling in the many, many gaps in my knowledge of composers I didn’t know about. During the years I did that I worked for a living mostly as a journalist, mostly in the Bay Area, mostly at the San Francisco Chronicle.

    I went to a lot of concerts. In the mid-eighties I decided that I wanted to start writing in a different vein, a more demanding vein, so I started doing that, thanks to computer technology which happened to come along just at the right time for me, but it was a long road, completely self-taught. I had to work out my ideas, I had to teach myself orchestration, and at the same time I was holding down some very demanding jobs in the newspaper business. So the gestation period of what you hear today went on for quite a long time. But I was gainfully and demandingly employed that whole time, so that’s my excuse [laughs].

    OL – Very nice. Regarding classical, you quoted Shostakovich in your opera – and not only that but the liveliness of Home is a Harbor did remind me of something like Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

    MA – Ah, it’s funny you say that, because Lady Macbeth is one of my favorite operas.

    OL – Right! So, are there other operatic sources of inspiration? You did mention the classical composers who inspired you, but particularly in the operatic repertoire, other than Shostakovich, was there anything else that tickled your fancy?

    MA – Yes, let me talk about that for a minute, because my primary – or just about all – of my operatic influences are from the first half of the 20th century. Probably my favorite opera is Salome; Lulu is probably my second-favorite, then Elektra and Wozzeck coming after that. I also like very much the five operas of Janáček that are frequently performed. I did quite a bit of investigation of Alexander Zemlinsky at one point. I love Eine florentinische Tragödie and Der Zwerg; also Die Gezeichneten by Franz Schreker, the great offerings of people like that.

    Opera post World War II, there is not much I’ve found that does anything for me; I don’t know if I want to delve into that. The greatest works of the early 20th century have not been topped in my opinion by anybody since, so there is still a lot to learn from those people, and I’m learning it slowly, but my trajectory is probably going to get more complex and with more ease in working with dissonant materials. It’s just something I had to work through in organic fashion because I didn’t get a conventional musical education. I didn’t go to conservatory; I’m not in academia. These have all been decisions that I kind of made ad-hoc, along the way, so I’m just going with it and trying to adhere to my own personal standards of whether I’m going forward or repeating myself, which is something I think about quite a bit.

    OL – We share many of the same interests. I’m a big lover of modern – but also contemporary opera. Just, curiosity-wise, I wonder if you have ever heard Written on Skin by George Benjamin.

    MA – [laughs] I was kind of hoping that you wouldn’t bring that up, because I bought the recording of Written on Skin when it first came out. I have to say that the piece has not done anything for me. But that’s not because I’m unfamiliar with George Benjamin. I remember when he first appeared on the scene with Ringed by the Flat Horizon, which I heard conducted by Kent Nagano. I bought his first recording on Nimbus and liked it. I tended to classify him at the time as a Messiaen acolyte, but somebody very talented. Then I didn’t hear any of his music for a long time until there was a hue and cry about Written on Skin. I think you and I will just have to agree to disagree about it. [laughs]

    OL – Fair enough. [laughs]

    MA – I know that you are extremely fond of it [Editor's note - indeed, see Luiz Gazzola's book about it, available by clicking (here)], and I will continue giving it a try. I have not heard Into the Little Hill, but I intend to at some point, because my dear friend the soprano Hila Plitmann has performed that a couple of times, including last year in New York and has also performed it in the UK with Benjamin conducting, I think. The jury is still out – just like the jury is still out on me, I’m quite sure. [laughs]

    OL – [laughs] Right. So, you are strong in contemporary art songs, which listeners of the Home is a Harbor CD will have an opportunity to sample given that you included your excellent song cycle The Palm Trees Are Restless, right after the opera. Let me be the Devil’s Advocate again. I feel that the vocal writing for The Palm Trees Are Restless is sublime, with strong musicality in the vocal lines. On the other hand the parlando/arioso vocal lines in the opera sound less ambitious to me. Please tell us about the difficulties in writing for the operatic medium, and what challenges you might have encountered.

    MA – OK, I think that observation of yours is interesting. I’m sure there is quite a lot to it. I have written quite a few art songs and undoubtedly I can tap into more inspiration more quickly and probably more spontaneously doing that. I actually wrote The Palm Trees Are Restless in two weeks, which is record time for me – I usually write very slowly. I wrote it during a break that I had taken after writing the first act of Home is a Harbor, which was exhausting. It’s interesting; the two subsequent acts I was able to write much faster since I had gotten clear by that point about all the parameters of the piece. But your constructive criticism about the vocal lines not being as adventurous in Home is a Harbor – I’m not sure how to respond to that, exactly. I was feeling with it a much less spontaneous form, trying to get a credible handle on the story arc, and working in things that I wanted to work, and I am going to have to ponder what you have said about it. However, I am happy with the vocal writing in Home is a Harbor and feel that it fits the action that is going on.

    As you know, I consciously avoided long display-type arias -- which I don’t tend to like in general, anyway. But I did keep some of the vocal writing to the same shorthand you might say that you see in the written dialogue, in the libretto. But, you know, I think that there are some very poetic vocal moments in it. I think Tchaikovsky once said to Madame von Meck, “I must defend my composition a little bit,” something like that.

    OL – That’s nice.

    MA – Sorry.

    OL – OK. Often first operas, especially the ones that get commissioned by an opera company, benefit from extended workshops involving the composer, the stage director, the singers, the conductor, etc. Do you think you would benefit from something like that?

    MA – I think I certainly could benefit, but as I’m sure you are aware, the opportunities to get involved in processes like that are very, very difficult. It’s a very difficult world to break into when you are an outsider, and I’m definitely an outsider. That outsider status has also kept me on the outside of the art song world, although in my opinion my songs are competitive, shall we say, with those of the people who tend to dominate that field.

    This is about context, it’s about politics. Sure, I would love to workshop Home is a Harbor. It would be a great idea. The opportunities to do it haven’t presented themselves yet, but the piece is going to be shopped to various places when the recording is out and being noticed. Perhaps someone will want me to do that; perhaps someone will be happy with it the way it is right now, approximately, or perhaps it won’t speak to them. That’s certainly the way things normally go, but I felt motivated to try to realize this piece the way I hear it right now, and I’m ready to deal with the consequences of that decision. I just hope that someone likes it enough to take it on in some form and I would be thrilled to be part of a process like that.

    OL – Hm, hm, wow. So, not having that opportunity, which is as you said very understandable, how was the creative process? How did it go for you? What kind of opportunity you had to work with the singers?

    MA – Well, my creative process is very solitary. Four of the seven singers on Home is a Harbor I had worked with before, so I knew what they were capable of and had relationships with them.

    Ariel Pisturino and Babatunde Akinboboye recording Home is a Harbor

    But as far as the process itself, it is a very private kind of thing, and probably the most unusual aspect of what I do in that way is that I tend to write the lyrics at the same time that I’m writing music. I don’t do what Mr. Benjamin and most others do taking a libretto that has been written by somebody else and figuring out how they are going to integrate music with it. I like the freedom of being able to go in a different direction or change a musical line or a vocal line to fit some of the musical ideas that I have going. That’s just the way that I learned how to write and it probably harkens back to when I used to be a rock songwriter. I had a lot of experience fitting vocal lines to music.

    I am going to editorialize here for a minute. This practice of having composers hardly ever write their own libretti is kind of amazing to me. I don’t understand it. Most composers are very intelligent people and very literate, and I don’t understand why more of them don’t try to write their own texts. There is a whole industry that exists with librettists being paired up with composers, sometimes in workshop situations where the two of them don’t necessarily have anything in common at all, and they end up working together on a commissioned opera that may or may not gel at the end of the process. I just don’t understand it.

    Maybe it is easy for me to say that because the vocal lyrical idiom I’m trying to work in is the natural language and not a high-flown language. It’s just very puzzling to me. I would possibly work with a librettist in a certain situation. Kate Gale, who wrote the poems that I set for The Palm Trees, and I were originally going to work on a libretto together. But I found that I could work better by myself. No knock on her; she is very talented, but maybe I’m someone who is not very good at collaborating that way.

    Jamie Chamberlin recording Home is a Harbor

    As far as singers are concerned, because I’m kind of a maverick and a fairly isolated figure, virtually everyone that I’ve worked with has been someone that I met just by cold-calling them. Seeing them performing somewhere, just walking up to them and saying “Hey, you sound great; I’m a composer, I’m working on a piece; would you care to come over and hear it and/or record it?” So, these relationships have all been developed in a sort of humble circumstance, in a way; not through connections with some well-known person. These are people that I’ve met on my own turf and their own turf and we find things together.

    Hila Plitmann recording The Palm Trees are Restless

    Hila Plitmann is the only one I’ve worked with who is very well-known. Everyone is trying to make something happen for themselves and you find out whether you are compatible or not. I’ve actually been very lucky; I found some excellent singers; not particularly well-known outside California, but excellent ones who like my music and like working with me. It’s been a wonderful experience.

    OL – You did say that you’ll be shopping it around after it comes out, but are there already any plans to stage Home is a Harbor? Any hints that it might happen?

    MA – There are no plans right now. The recording of this is something of a gamble, as you probably deduced. I’ve got a finished product which could obviously be revised, but I feel comfortable showing this piece in the form that it is. And as I mentioned before, there are an awful lot of commissioned operas where the company doesn’t really know what they are getting until it’s delivered. Some of them are successful and some of them are not, but they are stuck with them anyway and have to perform them. So, I’m offering a piece that has a certain kind of appeal, and I’m OK with whether people like it or don’t like it. I imagine that the shopping process will go on for quite some time. I hope that eventually it works out, but it’s just something that I decided to do. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that.

    OL - Do you have an opinion on the challenges faced by contemporary opera to bring audiences to the theater and be produced on stage while facing competition from the established works of the repertoire?

    MA – Yes. I think we are in a very interesting period right now. There is first of all the dynamic of the established repertoire still being hung on to very tightly by certain opera companies with generally aging audiences. But I’m saying you can feel in the air that’s starting to change right now. There are a lot of smaller opera companies being formed by younger people that are trying to develop opportunities for new work to be heard, and I think there will be a lot of struggle about this in the next ten to twenty years as the generational change is effected. Wealthy people are still willing to throw ridiculous amounts of money into the continuation of a traditional repertoire that has been played over and over again. There are options other than keeping the kind of core repertoire a company like the Met specializes in. It’s very expensive to mount those kinds of productions that you see in HD in your theater, as excellent as they are. I think that effective opera can be staged much, much cheaper. Everybody else knows that also; that’s no big insight on my part.

    Serious art of all kinds, not just music, is really under attack in this society right now by the trivia associated with people’s obsession with their smartphones and all the things that you and I know well enough. It’s a very challenging and trying time to see whether what’s left of serious culture in this country survives into the next few decades or so.

    OL – I have a question that you’ve largely already answered but maybe we should ask it anyway to see if there is anything to add. Regarding Home is a Harbor, looking back, would you have done anything different? Will the opera still change and evolve with re-written parts?

    MA – Luiz, I probably haven’t got to that point yet. [laughs] I’m sure that there will be things that will present themselves over the next year as soon as people start becoming aware of this recording, but as of right now I don’t think that there is much I would have changed, and I have to say that I am very happy with the instrumentation that I’ve devised for it. That was an experiment, also. The use of the organ was an experiment, and I’m still absorbing the lessons of the experience. I guess that’s really the straight answer. I haven’t figured yet what to change! [laughs]

    OL - Are you encouraged by this first effort? Do you plan to continue to write operas after this one?

    MA – Well, I would like to, and I think I could. The lessons I’m learning from this experience I’m sure will be brought to bear fruits in any further attempt along those lines. I would have to get a commission or some grant or support to justify doing that, and I’ll tell you why. I spent a little less than two years writing Home is a Harbor, and it took literally a full year to find the conductor, find the orchestra, record the piece, mix the piece, master it …

    I’m also the producer; that took a long time. … I mean, most of 2015 was eaten up in producing the thing. So, that’s a big chunk of time. If I was going to devote three years to another project like this, it would have to be one where I thought I had some very firm support from somebody else, because that time expended takes you away, of course, from writing other pieces of music. I need to keep writing and not get too far away from it.

    OL – Hm, hm. So, OK, now a couple of final questions, a little different, but tell us about you as a person. What’s your take on life, and how is your personality like?

    MA – [laughs, pauses] Hm … well … I think I’m a nice person, generally speaking. I like to be out in nature. I live in a tiny little place called San Simeon, California, which has a population of about 500, and it’s a very unspoiled area with still a lot of open spaces and sea life and seabirds. The contact with nature keeps me in balance. I’m actually a pretty good people person as well. I was in charge of a whole network of foreign correspondents at the San Francisco Chronicle, and had to learn in my early middle age that I did have people skills and management skills. So, those come into play every once in a while, especially when you are trying to produce an opera recording in a recording studio at a very high rate per hour. I try to treat people with respect and have learned various things about how to get the best out of them. Some people warm to me; others don’t. I don’t know if there is any difference with me as with anybody else in that respect, but I’m trying to stay open to personal growth, which is very important to me. I need to keep this creative part of my life going and heading in some positive direction. I just hope to be doing that for the rest of my life. It’s very important. I am not going to retire from creativity at some point.

    OL - What are some of your extra-musical interests, adding to the ones you’ve already mentioned?

    MA – I’m very interested in film, although not much in current films. I’m kind of a devotee of the European art house scene of the fifties and sixties. To me that was really a peak of content in filmmaking. From time to time I get out to see contemporary films that are well received. I love to explore areas that I’ve never been to; just get in my car and go somewhere, and California does have a lot of spots like that. So, I’m trying to still discover things and figure out what it is that needs to keep me in that state of mind. I think I know what it is: I know when I’m feeling stale and I’m producing some stale stuff, so I just try to slap myself upside the head and get out and take a walk or drive.

    OL – OK, very nice. That’s what I had. Do you want to add anything that you’d like to be in the piece?

    MA – No, I don’t think so. I really enjoyed our talk here. Thank you so much for your interest in my recording. It means a lot to me. I’ve read a bunch of the interviews you’ve done with other people, and they are in a quite high intellectual level, and I really give you a lot of credit for it. I don’t know how many people help you with Opera Lively but there is a lot of excellent content, and that’s not easy to do. You have an awful lot of knowledge, so I’m impressed by that.

    OL – Oh, thank you so much; very kind of you. As you’ve seen, in our interviews the style is always that of giving the voice to the artist. It’s not like we see in other publications, where people write an article on the interview. I don’t do that. I want the artist to have the microphone, so to speak.

    MA – Yes. Your interviews are very interesting. You are doing the right thing. I appreciate it very much. Wonderful talking with it you, Luiz.

    OL – Likewise. You defended your piece so well that my opinion of it has improved, and I will listen to it again. You are very convincing in what you said. I appreciate your time. It was a fascinating talk. It was pretty interesting and I think our readers will love it.

    MA – Thank you, Luiz. Take care.

    OL – Have a good day. Bye.


    Let's watch this very nice video with samples of Home is a Harbor:

    Similarly, the song cycle The Palm Trees Are Resteless also has a demonstrative video clip:


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