“Come With Me” is an original micro-opera composed by me, Alexander Frank.
Watch the film above, or directly on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J81nDpFl2Ys
Buy the music here: https://smokysunday.bandcamp.com/releases
I had the idea of filming an opera for YouTube in 2009, 8 years before the idea was realized with “Come With Me.” I wanted to personalize opera. The “You” in YouTube is what this opera is about. I wanted to demonstrate that opera doesn’t need a concert hall, and orchestra, or even a conductor; that a few friends with a piano, microphones, and a video camera can produce something every bit as compelling as you would see in an opera house.
This is modernization of opera in a way that I believe is actually meaningful to the survival of the artform. “Come With Me” pushes the boundaries of contemporary opera – not with an avant-garde score or staging, but by taking opera off the stage and into your screen, much like Menotti’s “The Old Maid and the Thief” did on the radio. Where are the operas for the screen? Current efforts toward that end, such as filming the classics, or live-streaming stage performances from the Met, are great for what they are, but they are hardly a meaningful modernization of the artform; they exist safely within the artform’s established framework, and existing opera fans are the primary market.
“Opera” still means going to a concert hall and sitting quietly while the action takes place a hundred yards away (and a few stories below, if you’re in the balcony). I’ve been to the opera – I love it. But look: I also think these things, these trappings, are not critical to the opera experience. They are a central part of a certain type of experience, but it is not the only type of experience sought be the general media-consuming public – on the whole, it seems to be a relatively unpopular type of experience, given the continuous and never-ending death-throes of the classical music genre in general.
“Come With Me” is the realization of my synthesis of what these 2 trends, personalization and modernization, can bring to opera. These singers aren’t on a stage – they are walking around Jonathan’s house. This audience isn’t a hundred yards away – they are with the singers, observing the drama unfold from inside the room. That’s the modernization that filming allows. Further setting this opera apart is the personalization – the ‘you’. This is no high-budget, all-star adaptation of La Boheme. This is a group of friends with a camera posting their creation to the internet. This is a sampling of the talent that is lying dormant around you. The cost and effort of realizing new, vibrant opera in a traditional format is prohibitive to any but the established composers and houses who can afford to take a bath on ticket revenue because they do not realize that people only come to concerts to hear music they already know, that when the only venue for new music is live performance, the genre has hamstrung itself. Releasing new opera directly to the internet, which it can be watched freely, downloaded, and played on repeat – where the established audience can grow to love it and, crucially, still exist in a viewable format long enough to attract new fans – is such an obvious improvement in the opera distribution channel that I hope to see hundreds, thousands more 15-minutes operas posted from all over the world in the future.
Call it what you will – Micro-Opera, DIY Opera, YouTube Opera – “Come With Me” is not the final statement in the format – it is just the beginning.
The Libretto and the Music
Some of the musical motifs in this opera I had sketched out when the idea of a YouTube opera first came to me in 2009, such as sections from the first half of Jonathan’s aria and the ‘don’t hinder me’ section of Marguerite’s aria. The characters didn’t have names at that point – there was no plot to tie the music to until I got serious about seeing this idea through to completion in May 2017. I knew who would star in the opera (me, my wife Emily, and our friend Maria), so I sketched out a few different plot synopses for 1 male and 2 female characters during a trip to my cousin’s wedding in Kansas. I had 3 plot requirements, which were 1) a complete dramatic arc in 10 minutes of singing time, 2) intense drama/emotion, and 3) nothing romantic. The sibling relationship was a good fit for points 2 and 3, and I wrote out the synopsis of what would eventually become the libretto for “Come With Me”.
I decided to write the libretto myself because I had a very clear idea of how the music would go, and figured it made the most sense to write my own words to the songs which I would be composing shortly afterward. Sure enough, by the time I had written the libretto (with editorial help from Emily), the music was 80% there. The process of composing was brief and straightforward, consisting mainly of transcribing the existing melodies and figuring out the harmonic progressions to go beneath them.
I wanted to compose in an instantly accessible style. There is nothing musically challenging for the listener, in the score. For this project, specifically, I wanted each aspect of the work – the words, the music, and the acting – to be individually undetectable. The viewer should forget that he/she is watching “An Opera”. The final product is just a story, like a short film or an episode of a television show. Of course, the music is absolutely critical to the success of the piece; at only around 500 words of dialogue, it would absolutely not work as a play. Music allows for an economy of storytelling impossible in spoken works – the music tells the audience what is happening, how each character is feeling, what their desires are, even as the characters say comparatively little in English.
This entire project was more like 3 projects for me: composing, performing, and filming. It was a lot of work, the end result is worth it. I hope you enjoy.