The following is an Independent Spotlight exclusive interview with L.HUNT, the writer and producer behind the upcoming opera 'Desert Rose.'
Your newest endeavor is a massive musical project that you’ve dubbed a ‘modern opera.’ Entitled ‘Desert Rose,’ the two hour stage play tells the story of a man on a quest to find true love in a desolate wasteland. That wasteland is chock-full of “morally decrepit” characters within an “oppressive society.” What inspired you to create this opera? Is it political, or perhaps a societal commentary?
It is most certainly societal commentary, challenging the prevailing ideas that we see every day in the media about what love really is. One example from the opera is in the song “An Exhausted Land.” The violent CROWD shouts the extreme statement “Love is sex!” Is that what love is? We see it all around us, people saying they are “making love,” even when it’s with someone they don’t know. This is just one example of Desert Rose commentary about the society we live in. The story also has many other themes that are explored as we progress through the opera. Control, alcohol, negativity, hope, contrasts, just to name a few. You might even see it as a type of original Wizard of Oz story.
‘Desert Rose’ is an opera in the sense of how it is performed live on a stage, but the music isn’t necessarily opera music - a distinction some may not make. What genres does the music in ‘Desert Rose’ best embody? What kind of music fans will particularly enjoy it?
Yes, I’ve been concerned that it will not be understood properly by describing it as an opera, but because of the way it is presented (completely sung through) it falls into that genre. When you think of a “Rock Opera” then you get a better understanding as to where a piece like that fits in. Although, I don’t consider it Rock, so I can’t describe it that way. I’ve been very conscious to add drums to make it a current piece that can be enjoyed by today’s listeners. But the piano, strings, cello and horns are a strong backbone in the full work, so it has a sort of classical approach too. Some songs I just can’t hear from an outsiders perspective because I’ve worked on them for so long. How would you describe a song that has an interchange between a banjo and a harp? “In Search of a Rose” is such a song. Has that ever been done? Or a song that uses samples from a shortwave radio frequency? “An Exhausted Land.” This is a big challenge for me, because if I can’t find my audience, then the project will not be successful.
This isn’t your first extensive opera. You previously penned ‘LifeWork,’ a “four-part epic about the human condition and madness.” What elements of creating ‘LifeWork’ carried over to ‘Desert Rose’? Conversely, what was different about the process?
LifeWork is an opera that I am also currently working on and will be released soon after Desert Rose. The libretto to Desert Rose was written during 1990-1991 and I published an illustrated paperback book of it in 1992. I began producing the music January, 2015. The LifeWork libretto was written between 1985 and 1987 or so (I think that’s right). So LifeWork began before Desert Rose, but Desert Rose will be completed first.
How long has this project taken? It seems to have extended beyond the stage. Nearly even one of the nineteen songs has its own music video and studio recording.
Right now it has been 2 years, 4 months producing the music. The libretto and book took about a year and a half during 1990-1992. You might say I am going to get as much mileage out of each song as possible. This is good for marketing as well, giving the listener many different ways to enjoy the project. Once it is staged there will be music videos that relate to the actual Desert Rose storyline too. The official music videos that are available right now do not represent the Desert Rose storyline. They have only been put together for promotional purposes. Every song will be released as a single and video up until the release of the album. This too is an experiment, approaching the project a little differently than what is common. At the end of 2016 I released a compilation album of 12 of the 19 songs, as they stand right now. There will be improvements in the final album, including new vocalists.
What elements of ‘Desert Rose’ will only be available to those who choose to come see the opera in person versus listening to the recordings and watching the music videos?
The staged productions will have unique merchandising products not available elsewhere and things such as photo opportunities and autographs with the characters after the show and even some original L.HUNT artwork on display for sale.
Why do you choose to write in operatic form? Many writers choose to write plays where they can intersperse dialogue and monologues. Operas, however, tend to be entirely sung, as seems to be largely the case with ‘Desert Rose.’
I love the format of opera and grew up listening to concept albums by Rush, Styx, Pink Floyd and everything else similar to these. I am bored, though, when listening to the classic operas, unfortunately. This project allows for me to enjoy it in both ways. I hope others agree. With regard to the rock concept albums, these musical stories generally didn’t have spoken words and yet the story was told in a very enjoyable and entertaining way. I also loved the inclusion of sound effects within the songs to help fuel the mood. So I’ve used this freely where appropriate in the Desert Rose songs.
Furthermore, what do you want the audience and listeners to walk away with after spending time with your work?
Well, I want them to enjoy the music first, something that can be listened to repeatedly as we all do with our favorite album. If the music falls short, then there’s nothing to build these other things upon. I want the audience to love the imagery and ideas of the artwork, characters, design, etc. I would also like them to consider the purpose of the concept as to contrasts between unselfish love and one night stands. Although it’s not necessary for them to get that deep to enjoy it. I want them to collect the many different types of merchandising products that will be available and enjoy wearing them or displaying them on a shelf. I want them to be excited about the project and want them to tell others to check it out. Ultimately it is ART and I want people to view it that way.
When and where will ‘Desert Rose’ make its debut on the stage? Also, are you taking into consideration creating an album of the studio recordings?
I would also describe it as a concept album. The album will be released soon (only 3 songs left to mix, master and release) and then I will start working on the staging: choreography, set design, score, etc. Once all the parts are in place I will begin offering the license to theatre groups at a very low cost to encourage production. And I will make sure they have everything they need to be successful with their production. And they will be allowed to release a full album commercially with their productions’ version, using the original music if they need it. This will help market the project. It will not be something I produce on stage myself. I will support the director and groups who license it through NoteSmith Studio Licensing but I will be primarily working on my next project, which is LifeWork.
You’re going to make ‘Desert Rose’ available for other theatre houses to stage. What are your thoughts on others interpreting your art without your involvement? That seems like a unique byproduct of the creative process of a playwright or opera composer.
I am excited to see what others bring to the table. Desert Rose is my first project of this sort, so I agreed within myself from the start that it was the experiment. It was the project where I learn the whole process, so I’ve always been ready to adapt as things changed in the course of hiring composers, musicians and vocalists. Most of Desert Rose, though, is unchangeable now. Such as the lyrics - they are structured a certain way for the story, so lines can’t be changed or thrown out. They all relate in some way to the themes.
The makeup and costuming of the characters is permanent. There are reasons why they look the way they do and there are details that cannot be changed. But once it gets its first reading I may find that certain aspects if it need to be adjusted. That happens. So we’ll see if it comes to that. It would be a major process to rewrite songs though. But when I think of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and how it was then performed on stage with hardly no changes, I think it is possible. If it is an album first, then people will expect to hear the songs as they know them and be delighted with a live version with people singing and dancing their favorite Desert Rose songs on stage. They wouldn’t expect anything different.
Finally, who are your primary influences in theater and film? What kind of music, operas, and plays inspire you to create work the likes of ‘Desert Rose’?
The inspiration was Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Les Miserables and U2’s The Joshua Tree.