Milton Granger is composer/librettist/lyricist of six chamber operas, all of which have been produced multiple times throughout the U.S. by college opera workshops and regional companies. Two (Uncharted Waters and Talk Opera) are first-place National Opera Association prizewinners.
Granger’s musical play Bronze Mirror was selected for the Manhattan Theatre Mission’s 2012 Festival, and Peter Rabbit and the Garden of Doom won the 2012 Actors Playhouse annual competition for children’s theater. Several of his musicals have been produced by Seaside Music Theater and Mill Mountain Theater, among others.
Currently assistant conductor of Mary Poppins on Broadway, Granger has worked as keyboardist/conductor on three previous Broadway shows, four national tours, three off-Broadway shows, and over ninety productions at regional houses. Married to stage director Mary Meikleham, he is the father of two children and an alumnus of Northwestern University. www.miltongranger.com
Opera Five will be giving Talk Opera its Canadian premiere as part of a programme of three modern one-act operas December 4-6.
I ask Granger 10 questions: five about himself and five about Talk Opera.
1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?
I’m a totally white bread Midwestern boy, born and raised just outside Kansas City. I like to think I inherited my mother’s rationality and my father’s sense of humor. (My unattractive qualities are mine alone.) I know very little about my ethnic heritage.
My mother once tried to trace our family tree, but only got as far as the middle of Indiana sometime in the 19th century.
2) What is the BEST thing / worst thing about being a composer?
Many people my age have a foggy notion of how they felt and thought at age 15, but I have a clearer idea, because I still have the music I wrote then.
In normal conversation, I don’t always make the best joke, or say the smartest thing. But if I write a song or an opera scene in just the right way, I can make people laugh and/or understand exactly what I mean.
There’s always a better way to bring a character to life, make a statement, shape a phrase, or capture a musical concept. I’ll do that in the next piece….
3) Who do you like to watch or read?
I read history and science (for general readers only, no professional journals). Brian Greene, James Gleick, Dava Sobel, Barbara Tuchman, Dexter Filkins, and David Remnick, are among many favorites. I subscribe to “Scientific American”, “The Atlantic”, “The Sun”, and “Funny Times”.
I see maybe half a dozen movies a year, and my reaction usually ranges from mild disappointment to mild enthusiasm. I find books and magazines much more interesting.
I listen to music infrequently, but I practice every day, as though I were still a piano major at college. I review familiar literature and keep learning new pieces, usually standard repertory that I never got around to when I was younger. I no longer give recitals; maybe that’s why I enjoy practicing so much.
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Fluency in one or more foreign languages.
5) When you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favourite thing to do?
Mary and I like to visit museums and historical places, both near where we live in New Jersey and when we go on vacation. We keep an audio diary of our reactions to the art, scenery, and other sites.
I also play Ken-Ken online, usually 9X9 puzzles.
Five more about Talk Opera.
1) How did creating Talk Opera challenge you?
I wanted to make sure the lines landed properly, so the musical language had to be accessible but carefully timed and inflected, and the transitions to Verdi’s music had to be set up for best effect. Having said that, I found the idea fertile enough that the writing came quickly. My theory: if ideas come easily, that means I’m on the right track. If it’s difficult to musically realize a character/moment/scene, then I probably have the wrong idea.
Opera (to me) is well-sung theatre. I’m fond neither of belting nor over-cultivated vocal production which obscures character and text.
2) What do you love about Talk Opera and this type of composition?
It usually gets laughs, and that’s very gratifying. Most audiences understand the context immediately, even if they don’t know much about Rigoletto. The catchphrases of pop psychology and the extremes of romantic melodrama make a fun combination.
3) Do you have a favourite moment in the opera?
4) how do you relate to Talk Opera as a modern adult?
There’s one line that continues to resonate with me: “A passion isn’t good just because it’s passionate.” Too often I’ve heard statements on the order of, “Well, it doesn’t matter what you feel, as you long as you feel something,” or, “We might not agree with what you say, but at least we know where you stand.” I believe that WHAT you think or feel makes all the difference, and if it’s based on lies, ignorance, or a twisted “gut instinct”, it’s better not to feel so strongly.
That makes it sound as though I sympathize with the talk show host, Cookie, rather than the Rigoletto characters, but the piece in general seems more on Rigoletto’s side. We’re drawn to outsized emotions and tragic storylines, especially when expressed in beautiful music. But would we want to suffer cruelly ironic fates ourselves, even to a score by Verdi?
The Rigoletto characters don’t understand a world where lovers “negotiate a relationship” or enemies learn to “accept their differences”. It makes you wonder what people two hundred years from now will think about how we lived our lives in the 21st century.
5) is there anyone out there whose approach you particularly admire, or who has influenced you?
Virtually all the greats of classic opera and musical theatre have influenced me, from Mozart and Puccini to Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim, and dozens of others.
Re: current writers, that’s always trickier. I frequently serve as musical director for readings and workshops by new writers, many of them NYU students in the Graduate Writing Program there. So I try to keep current, get in on the ground floor, etc.
I don’t see a lot of new shows (since, luckily, I work most evenings), but I have seen well-known pieces by LaChiusa, Guettel, Yazbek, and others. I don’t listen to these works the way I used to, by playing recordings over and over again until I memorize the scores. (I can still sing a lot of the Ping Pang Pong trio from “Turandot”!) So they haven’t had a chance to influence me as much.
Talk Opera is part of Opera five’s program of one-act operas opening at Gallery 345 (345 Sorauren Ave), December 4th-6th at 7:30PM. Tickets are $25/$30 and can be purchased online at operafive.brownpapertickets.com or at the door.