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William Banfield's Response to Karren Alenier's Original Libretto Notes

In an attempt to respond both to your original vision stated in your libretto notes and to the new direction that has taken place since working with both Nancy and myself, I am crafting this essay. As I see the project now, Jump is a new music opera on the life of Gertrude Stein. The verse play by poet Karren Alenier is now moving to a public piece, an opera, and it will speak differently based on a collaborative vision. The transition from verse play to opera is sometimes a tricky and touchy landscape to tread, but the reality is that once the music gets hold of the words, things change. One sustained note, a chord, a series of harmonies, dissonances and resolutions will set up audience and character moods that will carry the "Jump" baby in all kinds of directions not before conceived. This re-incubation period begins once the word-maker lets loose of her work to the composer.

I understand your intention to have the energy of the work based on the dynamics of language and I will do what I can to preserve that. However, I think something additional is operating now within the revised libretto. Character development became important. This occurred when you wrote arias for the characters in Act 1. For me, the revised text in Act 1 suggests that the music should revolve around a trio of characters Gertrude, Leo and Alice. What happens between these three characters in Act 1 is powerful and needs to be carried through the libretto and resolved in some fashion. So I urge you to further develop the character of Leo Stein particularly in Act 3. The interactions of Gertrude, Alice and Leo are important relationships that I as composer need to explore. Once the melodies, songs, and melodic materials jump up around the text beginning in Act 1, there is very little you and I can do to control the emotional wrestling that the music takes us through and that begs resolution. This cannot be explained. It is why opera is so powerful.

I am setting up themes and instruments to represent the various characters. This becomes part of the strategy for taking the listeners through this work of theater. Once I get insights from you and directions from Nancy, I need to be allowed to "go into the room," so to speak, and complete the opera. This process I'm sure is very familiar to you as an artist.

In Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, I am creating a chamber opera based on a libretto and story by poet Karren Alenier. There are three acts depicting three periods and places in the main characterÝs life. What interests me is telling the inner stories of the three characters "Gertrude, Alice and Leo" who make up a drama in the midst of these contextual externals (art party scene, car scene, victory party scene) and the external rhythms of the Steinian language/poetry as reformulated by Alenier. The inner story will be told by strong, direct and non-symbolic but realist songs where the character sings (tells) the inner story. Secondly, I want to develop a texture of minor characters and musical themes that act in support of the principal characters. These other "persons" around the central characters are actually involved at times with the principals, other times they are just backdrop sounds, textures, movement around the characters in ideas and moods, and psychological references. The supporting cast and the supporting orchestral texture is another important relationship for me to develop, to give shape and relevance to without disturbing the primary, inner story. Thirdly, the entire work is a "sound statue" erected in homage to Gertrude Stein as an artist and her ideas concerning contemporary artistic expression, and the plight of artists to stand up and "be." My biggest challenge is to find, then maintain a sound, musical language world for them all to work this out in.

Composer William C. Banfield
July 10, 2000

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