Monday, December 11, 2017

What Writers Can Learn From Opera

From Jane Freidman:
There’s a taxonomy of opera voices called the Fach system, if you’re into the finer points. But it’s enough to know seven broadly defined voices evoke the personas ruling the opera program: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto among the women; and counter tenor, tenor, baritone, and bass among the men.

Sopranos, the highest voice among the women, take a lead role, the heroine. Or her opposite. A little more nuanced is the “lyric soprano,” whose role depicts a tender, plaintive character. Mimi, for instance, who anchors Puccini’s La Bohème. Staged as a tale of 19th-century struggling “creatives,” the libretto requires a lyric soprano to embody a woman falling in love and later tragically losing her life to the ills of Bohemian poverty. Who might play Mimi in a novel? A young idealist, a librarian and a bookish intellectual desperately in love and doomed, much like the character of Liz Gold, a pawn sacrifice and involuntary heroine in John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

On a recent Sunday in The New York Times an item appeared that said, “Over the last 35 years at the Metropolitan Opera, Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Puccini’s La Bohème,” Mimi’s destiny opera, “has played nearly 500 performances and sold 650,000 tickets.” Let’s try some quick writer-math. Translated into the universe of indie novels (and assuming I do the math correctly), the equivalent number of books per year is 18,142. That’s a good number. Sold at $3.99 as an ebook, La Bohème would gross $72,390 each year for 35 years. At Pronoun’s 70% royalty, it represents a $50,673 a year in income. A sustaining wage for a family, or a bucket-list of primo vacations for writers with trust funds. (Read more.)

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