Remarkable Theater Brigade (also known as RTB) is a performing arts group that produces new music works of various disciplines: operas, ballets, musicals, as well as music-only projects like orchestral and electro-acoustic pieces, and is run by soprano/composer Monica Harte, and composer/musical director Christian McLeer, also the General and Artistic Directors, respectively. RTB had eventually started an annual production of an evening of 10-minute short operas titled Opera Shorts that I had the chance to see back in November of this year (For which I wrote a review), and I loved how they could do both comical and serious pieces in this format. I even met some of these great folks afterwards! Monica Harte had some time to chat with us about this yearly project.
CM: Monica, I really enjoyed the Opera Shorts production in Weill Hall this past November! Can you please talk about how the idea of Opera Shorts came about?
MH: Patrick Soluri had written a 10-minute opera called Figaro’s Last Hangover (which was produced on our first opera shorts). I loved it so much I decided an evening of these in a special hall like Weill at Carnegie would be a great idea.
CM: How do the short operas get chosen and cast?
MH: Christian McLeer and I choose the opera shorts and cast. What we do typically is ask the more established composers we do not know, if they have something or would be interested in writing something for us. The composers we know and have worked with, we simply ask if they want to write something…We haven’t been turned down. In addition, we get submissions we look at. Then we choose based on accessibility, content and singers. We don’t try to produce a show that has parts we can’t cast or instruments that won’t fit on the Weill Hall stage.
CM: The comical operas were really good–I liked Table #9–There’s also the parodies of the cliches of opera, like Sonata or The Tragedy of Count Alfredo.
MH: Actually, Sonata was not written as a parody of opera. Christian wrote it as a parody of himself…he was a bit late getting the work to the singers, so most of the jokes were aimed at him…leaving the singers to finally figure out what the show is about. Of course they would revert to some operatic cliches in order to finish the unfinished work. Christian’s sense of humor is all-encompassing.
Patrick [Soluri; composer of Tragedy of Count Alfredo] is a genius at incorporating other composers’ styles into his music. He originally wrote the show as 4 commercials–to be spread out between the other shorts. However, because of the quartet and the time it takes to move on and off, we were not able to produce it in that manor for this show. If we had a quartet in a pit or a big enough stage to have them on stage the entire time, we would have tried that.
CM: You are a great singer yourself in this group! Isn’t it stressful for you to serve as General Director of this group and perform in the productions simultaneously?
MH: Thank you so much for that. It can be stressful. But originally, Christian and I, and Dan [Jeselsohn] our original founding partner, started the company because we loved performing together. We were building an ensemble company with the three of us as the base. As we’ve gotten bigger, and as the productions have gotten bigger, the stress has risen for sure. However, I give most of my “serious” soprano roles to my other sopranos–I am lucky in that I have so many fantastic singers that sing for me. So I try to keep the amount of singing I do to a minimum in these shows.
CM: The Husbands [composed by Tom Cipullo] was a great dramatic piece and quite a great diversion from the silliness. It was my favorite piece. Are the operas programmed to offset one another with a dramatic piece and vice versa?
MH: Actually, it’s interesting how that works. At the moment, we take the pieces the composers write and then program based on variety and singers in the casts–being sure give singers a chance to regroup and change costumes. Opera Shorts 3 had mostly comedies. However, opera shorts 2 was filled with serious works and only a couple of comedies. When that happens, we try to program by musical style.
CM: Have you had any pieces that were too weird or not right for the RTB?
MH: Yes, we had a wonderful piece actually that we could not do because it was too Broadway. We just don’t have the singers or facility for that type of show. We are also concerned with content. We are looking at an offshoot of Opera Shorts that we may produce down in the village with racier content and possibly electronics in the mix. But at Weill, we like a family show.
CM: Have the pieces for the next Opera Shorts been chosen yet?
MH: Many of the pieces for next year’s opera shorts have been chosen. We are honoring Seymour Barab and will do more than 1 of his pieces. Ricky Ian Gordon has also told us that he is interested in writing a piece for us, so we are very excited about that as well. We also have a piece by David Morneau and a piece by Christian McLeer of course. We’re about half way there. We are looking at a submission competition as well–possibly for the Weill Hall and definitely for the downtown version.
Remarkable Theater Brigade Video Demo (Compilation of clips from previous productions featuring Monica and Christian)
Remarkable Theatre Brigade
Official Website for RTB