This is Part 4 of a multi-part series of posts. I suggest that you start with Part 1 if you have the time and really want to appreciate the full effulgence.
One afternoon about a year into my tenure as composer-in-residence at The Public Theater, Joe Papp called me into his office, sat me down and announced, “It’s time you did a work of your own – a musical. As part of your education, I’m going to give you the works of three playwrights. Read their plays and choose one that you think you can convert into a musical.”
He went on, “By doing this, you will have the opportunity to both study and work with the masters. Have it finished in six months.” Whew! A rather heady assignment for a 26-year old man-child who was already pretty busy with everybody else’s works as well.
The three playwrights he gave me were William Shakespeare, Aristophanes and Euripides. Fortunately, I had aced a terrific course in college on the works of Shakespeare, so I did not have to read all his plays, so I went back to my study notes and picked a few possibilities. The trouble, of course, with Shakespeare was the language. It would have to be a modernization of his language for a musical and who would want to mess with the master’s words. It would be like writing pop songs from the works of Beethoven.
So I turned to the Greeks. Long story short, after about a month of plowing through Aristophanes, I turned to Euripides who I had barely even heard of. There I found not only a master playwright, but one of the great creators of the art of the playwright and a weaver of tales that have fascinated me since.
Weeks later I returned to Joe’s office and announced that I had, at last, made my choice. It would be Euripides’ Iphigenia In Aulis, the classic story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and how, when King Agamemnon, mired with his army on the shores of Aulis because he had no wind to sail his ships to Troy to bring Helen back, decided to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to the gods to get his necessary wind. He then plans a ruse and orders his queen, Clytemnestra, to Aulis with Iphigenia in tow for she is, he lies, to marry Achilles, his greatest of warriors. Settin’ her up to let her down and definitely a tragedy!
But musicals are rarely tragedies – usually they have happy endings – so it was my choice to write the show as an opera, and a rock opera to boot. (more…)