A One-Act Opera
“Never Mind” will highlight the challenges of any artist preparing for performance, but in particular the challenges faced by a young African American vocal artist working today, in the early stages of her career, performing a well-known work at a major venue, and all the pressure that entails. Through recorded voice-over, the work will explore her emotional state as well as the contrasts that arise in her mind between the words that she is singing in her solos, compared to her own spiritual beliefs and world view.
While this is a stand-alone work, “Never Mind” is also part of an opus that includes four other one acts —one for each of the other soloists in the same performance of the Messiah. Each act shows a singer one-half hour before the same performance of the full Messiah begins, and the internal battle each faces. The final act has all four soloists on stage, with a mini-Baroque orchestra, conductor, and small chorus, performing a severely collaged performance of the entire Messiah, with the audience joining in the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
The first of the one-act operas in “The Messiah Complex” premiered in 2010, entitled “The Man in the Mirror.” In this piece, the tenor is in his dressing room warming up, and the voices in his head range from aggrandizing (“You are sensational!”) to demoralizing (“You should have been a lawyer.”) Ultimately, he finds his inner strength and, fully dressed, he faces the mirror and sings, beautifully, “Comfort Ye,” and “Every Valley” with great humility and meaning, before exiting to go onstage. The second one-act, “My Make-Up,” features the alto soloist, already dressed as the scene opens and applying her makeup, warming up vocally and on her part; the voices in her head are struggling with the question “How can a Jew sing about Jesus?” bringing to the fore the deeper spiritual issues of who or what is the Messiah.
The complete “Messiah Complex” will include “Never Mind,” for the coloratura soprano, “Who’s Listening” for the bass, and “The Complex,” for tutti, including all four soloists, instrumental ensemble, and chorus. In the final act, we are hearing all the voices in their heads, realizing that some of the inner voices are actually the other performers; at key points in this act, the conductor turns to the audience, conducting them to sing a rousing “Hallelujah!”
“Never Mind” will premiere in a four-performance run at St. Clement’s Church in Oakland in February 2024, just weeks before Easter when many music lovers enjoy performances of the Messiah. Each act is intended to be performed as a solo work, as a series on a festival, or as part of an evening-length program with all five acts. In addition, we will create a high-quality recording of the voice-overs and instrumental parts of each piece, to allow other singers to perform the works in recital or in master classes.
“Never Mind,” in particular, will provide The Singer’s Gym with opportunities to present outreach performances in schools and community centers, focusing on the involvement of Black and African American musicians in the world of classical music, and the particular challenges that those artists have had to overcome, from the American contralto Marian Anderson who sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after being denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin; to composer Florence Price, who became the first female composer of African descent to have a symphonic work performed by a major national symphony orchestra.