Weekend Update

What a weekend! It’s Wednesday and I’m still tired.

Thursday, Dave and I went to the American Mavericks opening concert at Davies — works by Copland and Harrison and Ives, the last being the wonderful Brant orchestration of the Concord Sonata.

Friday night was the second performance of The Manga Flute. A very full house and a great performance. Dave and I watched it from the back row of the balcony, where the visuals are less effective but the sound is better. The supertitles are party obstructed from there, but I thought you hardly needed them — the sound of orchestra and singers is better blended up there and it was easy to make out the words. Of course, I can usually remember what people are singing on any given line, so I’m not necessarily the most accurate judge of that.

The performance was very polished — the whole show zipped along happily, acting was sharper, everybody’s characters seemed a notch or two more focused and intense than they were on opening, the music (both singing and orchestra) was confident and full of detail and nuance, and set changes and other cues were crisp. Lovely.

Saturday night, Dave and I headed to the Castro Theater to see a beautifully restored print of Children of Paradise. It’s a favorite of Dave’s. Me, I like parts of it enormously but other parts seem kind of silly to me, and the whole movie strikes me as being at least a half hour too long for the story it’s telling. But the story is rich and many-layered, and I’m never bored by it, even in the places where the story and characters feel a bit too dry and mechanical for my taste.

Sunday afternoon was the final performance of Manga Flute, and it was even better than Friday’s. Tempi were more energetic, transitions between scenes were tighter and smoother, the dialogue scenes were brisker and more focused, and the whole show felt like its energy level had been cranked up a notch or two.

Monday, the SF Chronicle‘s review came out — overall a rave, though with a few qualifications. The prize paragraph for my résumé is this:

Chief among the pleasures of the piece is the sleek virtuosity of Marley’s English libretto, which — like his many previous efforts for the company – turns the foreign-language original into a faithful, witty and effortlessly naturalistic translation. The rhymes all fall where they should and the sense of the text remains intact — and all without any impression of strain.

I’m a bit startled, though, that he calls the libretto “faithful”, says in the above quote that “the sense of the text remains intact”, and writes elsewhere that “the plot remains largely intact”. It seems to me that — after you get past the first musical number, at least — my plot is just about entirely different from Schikaneder’s and only gets more obviously so as it progresses, and that the few places where the English words are more or less faithful to the German original — the Queen of the Night’s second-act aria, for example, and some individual lines and couplets here and there in Papageno’s second-act solo scene (the one leading to the entrance of the Raccoons and then Papagena) — are very much the exceptions.

But I shall choose to interpret this as meaning that Mr. Kosman found that the story and the words fit the music so well that they create the illusion in the theater of being exactly right for the score, and thank him for the compliment.

Review of The Manga Flute at Repeat Performances

There’s a lovely rave for The Manga Flute at Repeat Performances, a website I hadn’t come across before. Some excerpts:

… [T]he ever-adventurous West Edge Opera commissioned a complete and artistic reworking of this staple of the stage, re-titled The Manga Flute, with a poetic and fanciful English libretto by David Scott Marley. The opening … was not only a success, but surprising in the scope of its originality.


… fetchingly illustrated in backdrops by Megan Willis …


The magic of the comic book format was as unlikely as it was an effective vehicle for our time, while the wind score accommodated the vocal range without sacrificing the meaty overtures.

(Did he mean overtones? Only one overture.) And:

[T]he real success of this venture was at least partly due to the talented cast, led by Eugene Brancoveanu as Papageno. I have no idea why that huge-voiced and velvet-tongued baritone is still in the Bay Area, instead of piling up fame and fortune at the Met or La Scala, but I suspect he chooses creativity over earthly desires …


The princess Pamina was played to the hilt as a blue-haired manga vision, by Heidi Moss Sali … with the charm and purity that also makes her a darling of concert repertoire. Opposite her, Tamino bumbled about as a briefcase-toting Tokyo businessman who painfully transforms into her hero, sung with warmth and a sense of natural ease by tenor Darron James Flagg. And Elyse Nakajima popped out amazing high notes with crystal clarity in that most difficult of all coloratura soprano parts, the vengeful Queen of the Night.


At first it was surprising how many young children attended, but it was a great fit for young audiences …

Woo hoo!

Is Repeat Performances a new website? Not many reviews up. Nice to see they plan to cover theater and dance as well as music and opera.

First review of The Manga Flute

A review by Janos Gereben is now up at the San Francisco Classical Voice website. A couple of excerpts:

David Scott Marley’s The Manga Flute, a new English adaptation in Japanese comic style, is bold, outlandish, delectable entertainment. Add a wonderful cast, with some major vocal/stage performances, and there is a must-see Flute in the El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater.


Among Marley’s many “innovations,” perhaps the best is his substitution of three young-soprano raccoons for the Three Boys, another puzzlement in the original. The raccoons don’t just float in and out — they are essential parts of the story, playful and destructive one minute, wise and problem-solving the other ….

Opening Performance

The premiere of The Manga Flute is this afternoon at 3:00 pm. The theater will be very full — as of yesterday morning the orchestra section was full except for a handful of singles around the edges, but there were still seats available in the balcony.

The show looked great at the dress rehearsal on Friday. Megan Willis’s art is glorious and vibrant, and the costumes play beautifully against her backdrops. The prologue, a manga sequence created by Megan and beautifully assembled by Jeremy Knight, is terrific — you don’t want to miss the overture.

The cast was terrific, despite some dialogue flubs and nerves. Eugene is a hoot as Papageno. The Three Ladies were stronger and funnier in the opening scene than I’ve seen them before. All of act one feels like it is working beautifully all the way through. Act two felt like it might be five minutes or so too long. Caroline, the stage director, Jonathan, the musical director, and I talked Friday about the possibility of cutting a few minutes out at the dress rehearsal to see how it went, but Caroline decided it was wiser not to, and while I was open to the experiment, I don’t mind at all not making it after all — it’s easy to make a poor decision when you haven’t played the show before a real audience. Seeing how the show works for an audience may make clear exactly what it would be best to trim (if not for this production, then for the next), or could reveal that some other adjustment than trimming is what’s needed, or even that the show works fine as it is and we’ve just gotten to know the show too well to see how it will play.

And of course making changes is a burden on the memories of the performers and makes it that much harder to be acting and singing at their best. Given that the potential improvement to the script is somewhat minor, it may well be wiser to let it go for this production and make a note of the change for use in the next production, should there be one.

The Manga Flute stuff

The website for the upcoming West Edge Opera premiere of The Manga Flute is here.

There’s a nice bit about the show in Janos Gereben’s “Music News” column in San Francisco Classical Voice for 7 February 2012.

I was interviewed yesterday by Ken Bullock at SFCV for a longer feature that will appear later this week or early next week.

I’ve started a new section on my website for stuff relating to The Manga Flute. So far I’m posted the cast list and my notes for the program.

Weekend Update

Finally finished the first full draft of Act I of The Manga Flute over the weekend. Much last-minute trimming. When I’d assembled all the individual scenes and got them formatted and then read through the whole thing, three of the dialogue scenes seemed too long. This isn’t uncommon; I’ve found it’s better not to bother trying very hard to trim a scene to its best length until I’ve got enough of the story written to get a sense of what the overall pacing and rhythm is like, as what happens in every scene can change how the pacing feels in all the following scenes.

Even so, I was startled at how really overlong the early scene between Tamino and Papageno (after Papageno’s entrance song and before Tamino’s portrait song) was. I managed to trim it by a full third, and it may need a little more. There’s a lot of ground to cover in that scene, though. It would be lovely if I could knock on Mr. Mozart’s grave and ask him for some music for a light, comic, back-and-forth duet for Tamino and Papageno that I could use to highlight the differences between them and that I could place right in the middle of that scene to break up the stretch of spoken dialogue. But I can’t. So I need to keep the scene as brisk and short as I can make it without losing its fun.

The title of the piece is now back to The Manga Flute. I had meant that as a working title, not a serious suggestion about what to call the finished production. It seems kind of silly and self-referential to me. But I have been told by several people that the title is getting a lot of positive reactions and stirring up a lot of interest, so I’ve been persuaded to let it be the final title. Part of collaborating with others is always picking the right battles to lose, and it’s a wonderful thing to have a title that makes people think, hey, that sounds like the sort of thing that I want to see, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this was the right battle to concede without much of a fight. The title that I had decided on was Tamino’s Magic Flute, because — to my ear, anyway — it sounds like what the title could have been if the story really had started out as a manga or anime. But if The Manga Flute makes more people think that this sounds like a fun show that’ll be good to bring the whole family to, then it’s a better title. I hope so, anyway.

Manga Artist Wanted

Berkeley West Edge Opera is planning a production of a new musical fantasy based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute, currently with the working title of Tamino’s Magic Flute. We are looking for an artist who is skilled in the visual style of manga and/or anime to work with us.

More information is here (PDF file, 200K). Please feel free to pass it along to any manga artists you may know!

Later: We’ve found our artist and she’s at work now on drawings that will be projected during the show. Some will be scenic backgrounds and others will actually help tell the story. I don’t think I want to say more than that for now.