As part of our #ForArtists offering, we’re inviting past Festival artists to share their experiences, and tell you how their opera became a reality. In today’s blog, Laure Meloy reflects on One Art’s transatlantic journey, and how it changed her life.
In the 1990s, I was fresh out of music school, temping in New York City and trying to fit in gigs in the evenings and weekends. The Manhattan-based company American Opera Projects asked me to be part of an evening of opera ‘readings’ – that is, concert style, barely rehearsed, public run-throughs of short scenes from new operas and works in progress. The composers get a chance to hear their music performed live and – perhaps more importantly – potential sponsors hear the works as they develop. On this particular evening, I had a few lines to sing in a scene from Patience & Sarah, an opera based on the novel by Isabel Miller. After a quick rehearsal in the afternoon, a group of opera singers stood, photocopied scores on music stands, in front of a small audience in a dance studio in SoHo, and read through our scene.
Two fortunate things happened that night: Patience & Sarah got picked up by a sponsor, which led to the opera being completed and premiered, four years later, at the Lincoln Center Arts Festival. And, more unexpectedly, I met my future husband and father of my eldest son.
OK, so far, so romance novel. But wait, there’s more. My husband wasn’t a New Yorker. He wasn’t even American. He just happened to be visiting New York that weekend, and just happened to know a friend who I had begged to come to the reading. If it hadn’t been for Patience & Sarah, I wouldn’t have moved to England, I wouldn’t be living there now, and I wouldn’t be mother to my eldest son (who I was pregnant with during the Lincoln Center premiere, but that’s another story…)
Why am I sharing all this personal information? Well, in 2014, I commissioned the composer of Patience & Sarah, Paula M. Kimper, to write some art songs based on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. I chose Bishop’s poetry to set into art songs because of her villanelle, One Art. Like many fans of her work, it is my favourite. The art of losing certainly isn’t hard to master, and I can see many parallels in my own life to the cities, continents, and so on that Bishop catalogues in her verse. A line in that poem: ’Places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel’ reminds me of that life-changing moment many years ago: wherever it was I was ‘meant to travel,’ I’m here now.
The songs were premiered in 2016, and the London premiere of an opera/cabaret/monodrama about Bishop’s life, called ONE ART, took place at the 2019 Tête à Tête Opera Festival. I had started searching for an appropriate venue for the premiere while devising the monodrama, and was encouraged by another singer/producer to approach Tête à Tête. Although I was nervous about putting the work forward, I needn’t have been – Bill Bankes-Jones is true champion of new opera!
Being a part of Tête à Tête – the similarities to American Opera Projects, both in mission and ethos, are not lost on me – means that opera continues to change my life and the lives of others: I was inspired and astonished at other performances I attended at the 2019 Festival, and honoured to see that my own got a nice mention in The Stage. I am now developing ONE ART into a new iteration involving several other artists, at least two of whom I met through TAT Fest – a great place to connect with other new opera enthusiasts, obviously, and an ongoing supportive community, especially during this last challenging year. So…we never know what events in our life will lead to, whether we’re starting out in SoHo or Bloomsbury. In the end, it doesn’t really matter where it was you meant to travel, just where you’re going next…
P.S. I spent Lockdown 2020 writing up this, and other stories from the life of an itinerant opera singer, into the book From Aïda to Zaïde: scribblings of a mad soprano. This, and more information about the next stage of ONE ART’s development, can be found on my website www.lauremeloy.co.uk / Instagram: @lauremeloy / Twitter: @lameloy / Facebook: /lauremeloysoprano
If you’re interested in making opera in the USA, you may be interested in operaamerica.com