Magda G: Halfway to a Solution

In my last blog entry I wrote about the challenges of producing live performance.  How could I bring my pieces to life in a way that I felt was sustainable?

A solution: the medium of film

Over the past few years I’ve been on a slow but steady march toward film, which I felt could:

  • push me artistically in new ways
  • be seen by a wider audience
  • last longer than a weekend

I wanted to develop a genre in which music (which usually arrives last in the filmmaking process) served as the backbone for a strong, but subtle visual narrative.  In 2010, I created Sebastian, a web operaa competition in which filmmakers created short internet films (two minutes or less) set to any part of the soundtrack. 39 films were entered from Albania, Brazil, Canada, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, US and the UK. A jury made up of a filmmaker, art critic and museum director selected the winner and runners-up.  Here’s the winning video:

This offered me a chance to see how different directors would create films set to my music.  I was blown away by the number of striking and creative submissions, and I’m glad that I wasn’t on the jury.

My next web undertaking was Psyche, the web opera in 2011. Based on the soundtrack of my piece Psyche, the web opera consisted of 16 short internet films set to the music. I worked with four different filmmakers who, in turn, worked with one another to create filmic visions that were both unique, yet complimentary.  The only rule was that they couldn’t change the music. These were released episodically over several weeks and received 18,000 hits from viewers around the world.


With Magda, I wanted to go one step further: a feature film.

I found the recent feature-length dance film PINAabsolutely mesmerizing and inspirational, especially in 3D; yet I wanted to create a film that wasn’t a documentary of live performance, and I definitely wanted to stray from the live simulcasts offered by the Met (although it’s fun to watch sweaty, nervous singers up close). I wanted to find a way to create a story that was built on Magda‘s musical foundation, AND that could be told through characters and plot.  I wanted it to be something that I’d go see in a movie theater.

My initial impulse was to embed the opera within the film, to create a play-within-a-play.  This would allow the music to remain as a unit, while letting film’s plot focus on the actors/singers who perform in the opera. I created a cast of characters that (loosely) paralleled the characters in the opera. This would then mirror the opera’s own structure, which referenced the story of Medea.

By setting up the plot this way, and at the advice of dramaturg Ken Cerniglia, I adopted the strategy of verisimilitude in creating the world of characters. This would give the audience something to hold onto, and thus let them enjoy the abstract and dreamy world of the music and opera. However, a new problem presented itself: Magda Goebbels and her Nazi compadres are not a likable bunch, and if the actors who play them are created as parallels, what are the stakes? With the daily help and ruthless pens of Ken, director Ryan K Adams and co-writer/poet Amy Schrader, I’ve been fleshing out the screenplay, hopefully in time for our Sunday reading.

Hope you can make it to our event on Sunday, June 3 @ 2 pm!