Genesis of an Opera: Language and Music in Our American Cousin
John Shoptaw, University of California, Berkeley
Eric Sawyer, Amherst College

Our American Cousin is the play Abraham Lincoln was watching
when he was assassinated. Our opera treats this theatrical
event from the perspective of the actors and audience members,
Booth and the Lincolns included. In our presentation we will
try to recreate the dialectical interchanges between ourselves
as librettist and composer. We will illustrate our collaborative
process with a pair of choruses and an aria, retracing the steps
in we took transforming a historical spectacle into a musical
drama. The librettist will examine the "rhythmic sound
patterning" involved in shaping his text, itself a dramatic
"setting" of historical and dramatic material. The composer will
discuss the processes by which he converts the music of poetry
into the music of song, both as a general approach and as a set
of specific artistic contingencies, each piece of text presenting
its own challenges of diction, emphasis, drama, and character.