Monday, February 15, 2010

The Rights Page

"I’m excited about new opera, anybody’s new opera! And so should we all be. Putting on an opera is an Herculean Feat and I stand in awe of any composer who has forded that particular river...."

Thus spake Nico Muhly, and good for him! The big buzz last couple of days has been the Met's announcement that it has commissioned Nico to write an opera. This is terrific news and I wish him well. Can't wait to see it! (In a few years....)

It would be a brave new world if the Met produced two new operas a season, and revived two recent works (of the last 25 years or so) in addition, American or imported.

Thus spake I. For what it's worth. Meanwhile:


The very first thing I had to do was to obtain the right, or
permission, from the copyright holder, to adapt this work. I turned to
that page in the front of the book that’s full of small print. I saw
what a mess I was in for: The Estate of Reinaldo Arenas. Estates are
notorious! I would have to write to the publisher, and from my
previous experience, any letter to a publisher enters a time swamp and
I wouldn’t be hearing back in any foreseeable future, and after that the
Estate — and I’m beset by the vice of impatience, alas. I saw the name
of the translator: Dolores M. Koch. Well, Reinaldo lived in Manhattan,
and there I was, in Manhattan, and I had a copy of the Manhattan White
Pages; why not give it a try and look up the name there?

And there it was! I called her up and asked, “Are you the
translator....?” And lo, she was!! And she was marvelous: I
immediately felt at ease, lapped up her Cuban accent, and told her
about my crazy idea. She was charmed — she told me the Estate — oy,
that Estate! — was besieged with letters requesting the permission to
adapt the book into a film, and they had not made up their minds yet
whom to award. She explained that the Estate was divided — divided! — into two parties: one lived in Paris, and the other
lived in Queens.

These people, of course, were familiar from reading the
memoir; I would have to be meeting with them, in the flesh! In
addition, Arenas had left behind a Committee for the defense and
promotion of his work, comprised of five more people. Dolores was one.
But fortunately a short time thereafter this committee was disbanded,
so I only really had to deal with the two heirs, whom I duly courted
and met separately, in Queens and Paris, after I sent them some of my
music, and indeed they were enchanted by the idea of an opera — a film
was the obvious adaptation idea, but no one had thought of an opera! It was, moreover, a thrill to meet these amazing people.
The agreement was signed in 1995, indeed before the Estate awarded
the film rights — which was a stroke of luck for me. But I knew that
it would be a long time before any opera I wrote would reach the
stage, as it was unlikely to be commissioned, and I was an unfamiliar

The next step: find a librettist. Oy....

No comments:

Post a Comment