The genesis of Requiem for Frankie Silver was like looking at my rear view mirror while trying to watch the road ahead. The things glimpsed in the mirror, however, proved to lead to an unforeseen, astonishing result: a music drama!
Kirk and I agreed to commission Craig Carnahan to compose a choral work for Sonomento, without any clear idea of what that would look like. We knew that it would be choral music that made a statement about social injustice. An old idea from twenty years ago popped into my rear view mirror: adapt Sharyn McCrumb’s novel, The Ballad of Frankie Silver. Years ago, I had been envisioning an operatic treatment. A work of that size is ambitious. Our neophyte company, Orpheus Music Project, did not have the means to produce a full opera as our first major undertaking.
I was still set on using this story. Then, other crazy ideas appeared in the rearview mirror: Delete the novel’s contemporary saga of Fate Harkryder from our adaptation and combine Frankie’s story with a Requiem mass, memorializing her premature passing. With two major components nailed down, a choral setting of a requiem mass and a compelling story about social injustice, we still needed a device for conveying the intricate plot line without sets, costumes and staging. Introducing narration into a modified concert presentation proved to be the answer.
Now it was clear to me:
The work would be presented in concert format with minimal staging
The main characters in the story would sing their roles as in an operatic ‘reader’s theatre’ presentation
The chorus would comment on the action through the emotional language of the Requiem mass liturgy
A scene by scene narration would move us through the plot line
We would use the same storyteller to narrate as Sharyn had in her book, the court clerk Burgess Gaither
Sharyn would agree to write his narrative voice herself (and this was unforeseen!)
A music drama is born … thanks to my magical rear view mirror!