6 Questions RE: Composer Rene Orth’s Chamber Opera “The Red Thread”
Many composers want to include themes of social commentary in their work or use their work as a lens to view different cultures. I was first introduced to Rene Orth’s chamber opera “The Red Thread” earlier this summer and was struck by how she personalized a very political issue that has worldwide significance. She launched a Kickstarter project to mix, master, and distribute the CDs of a recent recording of the work. In fact, she’s only $60 away from her goal at the time of writing this post. Perhaps, Sybaritic Faithful, we can help achieve her goal today?
Originally from Dallas ,TX, Rene Orth (b. 1985) is a composer, audio engineer, and educator. Recent performances of her work include premieres by members of the Fifth House Ensemble in Chicago, cellist Paul York, the University of Louisville University Chorus, and the Contemporary-Ensemble-in-Residence at the Atlantic Music Festival. She is a 2012 recipient of a Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment Grant.
Rene recently earned a Master of Music degree in Music Composition at the University of Louisville (M.M. – Music Composition) as a Moritz von Bomhard Fellow and holds degrees from MediaTech Institute and Rhodes College. Her composition teachers have included Dr.s Steve Rouse, Brandon Goff, and Bradford Cox. She will study with Dr. Richard Danielpour this coming fall at the Curtis Institute of Music.
Other various accomplishments include receipt of a US Department of State Critical Language Scholarship for Chinese (2011), placement in the Top 5 finishers of her age group for Turkey’s Bosphorous Cross Continental 6k swim (2010), and earning a private pilot’s license (2006).
So, Rene took time out of her move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to talk shop with us. Let’s get to it…
Some composers find opera and/or classical voice intimidating. How did you first become interested in writing for the voice?
I held a Mortiz von Bomhard Fellowship at the University of Louisville during my studies for as a masters student. The fellowship required a focus on writing for the voice, so it provided an amazing opportunity to seriously hone my skills to write for the voice.
“The Red Thread” explores a personal side to the current issues of China’s One-Child Policy and adoption. What made you decide to write about this issue?
Being half-Chinese, I’ve always held in interest in China’s history and culture. Orphans and adoption have also been an issue that is close to my heart. During my first year at the University of Louisville, I also decided to take voice lessons to better understand how to write for the voice. My voice teacher was adopted, and we had many conversations about China and the One Child Policy. When I decided to write a chamber opera, it seemed only natural to write on these topics.
Rene also writes in her Kickstarter project:
“The Red Thread” is a chamber opera that addresses the current issues of China’s One-Child Policy and adoption. The storyline follows a grown adopted Daughter who seeks to answer the questions of “Who am I?” and “Why didn’t my mom want me?” — perhaps the most universal questions proposed by adopted children in general. At the same time, it follows the journey of the two mothers in the past with interjections by Chinese Government Figures. The Chinese Birth Mother moves from a state of joy/hope (being pregnant) to absolute hopelessness (the act of abandonment). The Adoptive Mother moves from hopelessness (after four miscarriages) to complete joy (adopting a baby).
In fact, you traveled to Shanghai in 2011 on a Critical Language Scholarship Award sponsored by the US State Department. Did that experience influence the way you perceived the issues you address in “The Read Thread”? Specifically when you wrote, “The point of the work is not to fault anyone or any government or to provide political commentary but to shed light on the complexities of the current situation and to ensure that a mother’s love inherently transcends beyond even the most opposite of cultures.”?
Absolutely. During my time on CLS, I had the opportunity to visit several privately run orphanages. I felt that I had a clear understanding of American perspectives on the issues at hand, so I tried to interview as many Chinese friends as possible to understand their point of view. In this way, I felt it was more possible to present an overall fair perspective in the work.
What were some of the challenges you faced while writing “The Red Thread”? Were there differences in how you approach chamber opera versus other chamber music compositions? Also, what were the singers’ reactions to singing in Chinese?
While writing, the deadline was perhaps the greatest challenge. I wrote my own libretto (and music of course). I started immediately after returning from CLS in August of 2012, and everything had to be completed by late April of 2012.
Since it was a chamber opera rather than a chamber music work, I had to consider staging, lighting, and timing. These factors are huge contributors to creating successful drama, and without them, opera isn’t nearly as effective.
The singers handled singing in Chinese – a daunting language – superbly. I thought I’d have to do more begging and coaxing, but these singers were absolutely fantastic and willing to try something new. We met a few times to go over the text, and they recorded me saying the words. When it was time to record, there were a few minor corrections to make, but for the most part, they were all spot on!
As the world gets smaller and changes through the advancements of technology, I really think that we should move beyond the few standard languages in standard rep and open our minds to performing in new languages.
Speaking of advancements in technology, you are currently running a Kickstarter to mix, press, and distribute the recording of the chamber version for 6 singers, 2 percussion, and 1 piano. You originally received an Artist Enrichment grant to fund the recording of this project from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. What have you learned from seeking funding across these various platforms?
I’ve found that people are extremely generous, especially if it is a project that they strongly believe in. This is my first kick starter project, and I am curious to continue finding out what works well and what doesn’t. So far, we are on the path to success!
After successfully completing this huge project, what are you looking forward to next musically and personally?
The next step is to get this work staged and performed one day with full orchestra! This means that I’ll be taking the recordings that I’ve made and printing some nice looking CDs and albums with booklets of the libretto. I’ll then distribute these out to competitions, workshops, and opera companies to try to bring the work even more to life. Of course, I look forward to pursuing this goal, but most importantly, I want as many people as possible to be aware of the issues and effects. It is my hope that awareness will lead to action which will lead to change.
Well, I’m very excited for Rene and hope you’ll join me in supporting her chamber opera. Rene, we wish you the best of luck at Curtis and cannot wait to hear more works for the voice!