• Nathaniel Stookey
  • ZIPPERZ (2008)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)
  • 2(pic).2(ca).2(bcl).2(cbn)4231timp.2perchpstr
  • Male Vocalist
  • Female Vocalist
  • 30 min

Programme Note

Text: Dan Harder

the passion of opera
the sizzle of pop
the guilty pleasure of daytime TV

Premiere:
14 November 2008
Eisa Davis, female vocalist; Manoel Feliciano, male vocalist
Oakland East Bay Symphony/Michael Morgan
Oakland, CA

Scenes:
Act I
1. Meeting
2. Waiting
3. Dating

Act II
1. Coming together/coming apart
2. If

Broadway Radio:

Composer note:
ZIPPERZ tells the story of a love affair from two different perspectives at the same time. It’s a little like holding a telephone to each ear while two friends tell you about their stormy relationship — to each other! It can be exhausting to find yourself in the middle of someone else’s soaPOPera, but it would be rude to hang up. You’re a captive audience, as it were (unless you have an aisle seat).

One of my favorite things about music is that it can say two things at once and have them both make sense. Real counterpoint — two or more parts that are completely independent and self-sufficient but together form a harmonious whole, as in Bach’s brilliant two-part Inventions - is something I had never encountered outside music until Dan Harder sent me some of his “zipper” poems. There’s one poem on the left side of the page and one poem on the right. You can read the poems separately or, by alternating sides, you can zip both poems together to form one large poem that somehow fuses these two (sometimes contradictory) narratives. I couldn’t resist the temptation and soon afterwards suggested to Dan that we create something together that would marry his counterpoint with mine.

The most important thing to me, in writing ZIPPERZ, was to create a musical drama that would tell our story, and illuminate Dan’s poetry, in a way the audience could experience without reading. Poetry is about the music inherent in words as well as their layers of meaning, and opera, much as I love it, is not the best medium for someone whose priority is language (hence the need for supertitles, even in English). I found the solution unexpectedly on a trip to see my friend Manoel in New York. He was performing the role of Tobias (for which he received a Tony nomination) in John Doyle’s stripped-down revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd - and singing his own pop songs to sold-out crowds on his nights off. I decided this was what I needed, someone whose command of language and theater was equal to his gorgeous voice – and it didn’t hurt that he was driving throngs of groupies to distraction!

The decision to cast pop singers — Manoel immediately suggested the irresistible and multi-talented Eisa Davis as his romantic foil — completely changed my conception of the piece. Suddenly the very classical practice of counterpoint was infused with the very unclassical sounds of passing car stereos and dance clubs. It was a natural shift for me. My wife and I go dancing at least once a month, anything from ballroom to Latin (both of which have found their way into this piece) but lately our favorite is “Bootie Mash-up” at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge. Mash-up takes two or more pop songs and literally pits them against each other by very carefully lining up the beats. The results are named like boxing matches: Rihanna vs. General Public, Jay-Z vs. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Rolling Stones vs. Queen vs. Nirvana. This is pop counterpoint on a grand scale and, for me, it can be a total mind-body experience that comes somewhere close to heaven.

The single greatest influence on my music is always the people I am writing for and ZIPPERZ is no exception. Michael Morgan has a natural flair for theater and I wanted to make him something big and brazen! Edwin Outwater, who will conduct the Canadian premiere, had requested a piece about sex, and I am only too happy to oblige. I spent countless hours listening to wonderful pop songs by Manoel and Eisa, both to learn their voices and to get a feel for how they combine words and music in their own compositions. Certain friends were especially on my mind while I was working on this piece: Mary (our model of the clubbing parent), Nicola and Robert, Andy and David. And finally, eclipsing all others, I wrote this piece for Jodi, my pop goddess: “Yes” is for you.

— Nathaniel Stookey

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