Creative Space with Jennifer Logue

Meet the Creative Team: '10 Days in a Madhouse'

September 17, 2023 Jennifer Logue
Meet the Creative Team: '10 Days in a Madhouse'
Creative Space with Jennifer Logue
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Creative Space with Jennifer Logue
Meet the Creative Team: '10 Days in a Madhouse'
Sep 17, 2023
Jennifer Logue

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On this episode of Creative Space, we meet the creative team behind ‘10 Days in a Madhouse,’ a world premiere opera making its debut at Opera Philadelphia this Thursday, September 21st.

Inspired by the audacious exploits of 19th-century reporter Nellie Bly, who faked madness in 1887 to report on the conditions of Blackwell’s asylum from the inside, the opera is brought to life by composer Rene Orth, librettist Hannah Moscovitch, director Joanna Settle, and conductor Daniela Candillari

Together, the creative team  reveals their creative process and the elaborate path to the birth of ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’— from the first spark of inspiration to its realization on stage.

To buy tickets to '10 Days in a Madhouse,' visit:
operaphila.org.

To sign up for the weekly Creative Space newsletter, visit:
eepurl.com/h8SJ9b.

SHOW NOTES:

0:57—Introduction to ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’

2:30—Meet the Creative Team: Rene Orth, Daniela Candillari, and Joanna Settle

3:00—Deciding on a career in the arts

7:00—Coming together for ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’

9:30—What is creativity?

15:30—What inspired you to do this opera?

17:55—What do you love about Nellie Bly’s story?

19:15—What Daniela loves about Rene’s music

20:55—We look to history to inform us about our present.

24:45—The role of a librettist and composer in opera

25:27—Bringing words and music together

28:00—Rene on rewriting a key scene after becoming a mother

29:42—What Rene loves about working with Hannah

31:30—Joanna’s role as a director

34:00—The question that makes Joanna want to get to work

37:05—Daniela’s role as the conductor

39:00—Opera is a hyper-collaborative form.

41:50—The importance of a strong team in opera

43:30—What’s it like making a world premiere opera?

44:50—Rene’s favorite scenes

45:30—Why a work is never complete

47:25—”Artists can articulate the hard things.”

50:30—Message Rene wants to convey

52:52—”No one does what Opera Philadelphia does."

55:27—What’s next?







Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

On this episode of Creative Space, we meet the creative team behind ‘10 Days in a Madhouse,’ a world premiere opera making its debut at Opera Philadelphia this Thursday, September 21st.

Inspired by the audacious exploits of 19th-century reporter Nellie Bly, who faked madness in 1887 to report on the conditions of Blackwell’s asylum from the inside, the opera is brought to life by composer Rene Orth, librettist Hannah Moscovitch, director Joanna Settle, and conductor Daniela Candillari

Together, the creative team  reveals their creative process and the elaborate path to the birth of ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’— from the first spark of inspiration to its realization on stage.

To buy tickets to '10 Days in a Madhouse,' visit:
operaphila.org.

To sign up for the weekly Creative Space newsletter, visit:
eepurl.com/h8SJ9b.

SHOW NOTES:

0:57—Introduction to ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’

2:30—Meet the Creative Team: Rene Orth, Daniela Candillari, and Joanna Settle

3:00—Deciding on a career in the arts

7:00—Coming together for ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’

9:30—What is creativity?

15:30—What inspired you to do this opera?

17:55—What do you love about Nellie Bly’s story?

19:15—What Daniela loves about Rene’s music

20:55—We look to history to inform us about our present.

24:45—The role of a librettist and composer in opera

25:27—Bringing words and music together

28:00—Rene on rewriting a key scene after becoming a mother

29:42—What Rene loves about working with Hannah

31:30—Joanna’s role as a director

34:00—The question that makes Joanna want to get to work

37:05—Daniela’s role as the conductor

39:00—Opera is a hyper-collaborative form.

41:50—The importance of a strong team in opera

43:30—What’s it like making a world premiere opera?

44:50—Rene’s favorite scenes

45:30—Why a work is never complete

47:25—”Artists can articulate the hard things.”

50:30—Message Rene wants to convey

52:52—”No one does what Opera Philadelphia does."

55:27—What’s next?







Jennifer Logue:

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Creative Space, a podcast where we explore, learn and grow in creativity together. I'm your host, jennifer Loge, and today we're doing something a little different and focusing our attention on a single creative work. What's more, rather than speak with just one artist, we'll be speaking with multiple members of the creative team about bringing this creative work to life. The beauty about this format is that we get to dig into the process a little more as well as get a feel for the dynamics of a strong creative collaboration. We'll still do our one-on-one interviews, but I'm aiming to do episodes like this once a month.

Jennifer Logue:

On today's episode of Creative Space, we'll be chatting with the creative team behind 10 Days in a Madhouse, an opera making its world premiere at Opera Philadelphia's O23 Festival. It's a psychological opera that's inspired by the life of Nellie Bly, a trailblazing reporter who faked madness in 1887 to be admitted to Blackwell's Asylum in order to report on conditions from the inside there. Nellie encountered women whose poverty, race and grief over past traumas had been mistaken for madness 10 Days in a Madhouse. The opera exposes, as Nellie did, the feminization of madness, the bias of doctors against the sanity of women, and how the systems and social structures in which women find themselves induce madness. I love this so much on so many levels. I am so excited to see it.

Jennifer Logue:

Now let's meet the creative team composer Renee Orth, director Joanna Settle and conductor Daniela Candelari. Ladies, thank you so much for taking the time to appear on Creative Space and before we get into the interview, I also want to note that librettist Hannah Moskovich was not able to make the interview, but obviously is a core part of the creative team. Before we dig into 10 Days in a Madhouse, do you each want to introduce yourselves and where you're from originally?

Rene Orth:

Sure, I'll go first. I'm Renee Orth. I'm originally from Dallas, Texas, and now I live in Philadelphia.

Daniela Candillari:

I'll go second. I guess I'm Daniela Candelari. I was born in Serbia, grew up in Serbia and Slovenia and now live in New York City.

Joanna Settle:

Beautiful and I'm Joanna Settle. I was born in Manhattan, I grew up in New York and New Hampshire and now I live in Abu Dhabi. Beautiful.

Jennifer Logue:

Did you always know you wanted to work in the arts? When did you make the decision to go for it?

Rene Orth:

I guess we'll go in the same order. Huh yeah, why not? I did not always want to work in the arts. I did not want to be concerned about making money. I mean I didn't want to be financially secure, and I know that typically when you kind of go into the arts, that's not a priority. I mean it'd be nice if it was a priority, but it doesn't. I mean a priority isn't the right word, but it's generally. You know, it's hard to feel secure in the arts. I think I kind of took a long route. Basically when I got offered a fellowship in composition for my masters is when I really started seriously going for it. And after that I just, you know, ride the train to see how far it would go, and I'm still on it right now Wonderful.

Jennifer Logue:

Oh my gosh, how about you, Daniela?

Daniela Candillari:

So I did know I always wanted to work in arts. My grandmother was a singer, she was an opera singer, so I grew up in an opera house. So I wanted to be sort of everything you can be in the arts. There was a period where I wanted to be a dancer, a singer. This was all when I was a kind. So a dancer one day, a singer, an actress, actor, a costume designer was also at some point in my periphery, a writer, so anything that sort of had to do with creativity. I wanted to be part of that world. But I started playing piano when I was six years old and that sort of then was that I didn't know I wanted to be a conductor until much later I started working a lot with singers and with instrumentalists and chamber music, which then started opening doors to collaboration and to being in spaces with different musicians. And then through work somebody I mean other conductors sort of saw me and they thought I'm a conductor. So that's how I ended up here.

Jennifer Logue:

Wonderful. And how about you, Joanna?

Joanna Settle:

Well, I'm taking note of all these other things Daniela can do. Yeah, she's going to take some notes for next time. No, I mean, I had a very bumpy childhood, so I think what I wanted first was food and housing as, like a primary, my primary, first primary occupation was that I thought I was going to be an equestrian, which I was for some time, and I actually went to college for physics and while I was there I found that the I found I took a design class. I graduated from that school with a degree in directing and design and lighting design, and I found that this that in both cases there was like a fundamental belief. It was faith-based.

Joanna Settle:

You could see all the indications of something that was true, but you couldn't be sure. Gravity is a theory. Atomic theory is a theory. You can observe all the indications of it and the evidence of it, but you can't be sure. And I find art making to be very much like that when you're working with a story, when you're in rehearsal. I'm beginning to hear the score now, for the first time, that I've been collaborating on for three years, but I couldn't hear it, you know. And now the orchestra has arrived and we're just beginning to hear it. So there's a, there's a kind of world building that's involved in art making that I found the community of that very satisfying.

Jennifer Logue:

Oh, that's beautiful, it's so wonderfully here. All of your origin stories. At least get a taste of them. Wow. So how did you all come together for 10 days in a madhouse?

Rene Orth:

no-transcript. Well, I think Daniela and I first got together when we did double exposure.

Daniela Candillari:

I think right, that was in 18. Yeah, that was our first encounter.

Rene Orth:

Yeah, yeah. So Opera Philadelphia had this really cool thing when I was composing residents there, where you could write like a 20 minute scene and they'd have like two cast, two conductors, two directors direct the same scene back back to back. And that's where Hannah and I wrote, you know, a 20 minute clip for double exposure, and Daniela conducted one of the one of the interpretations, I guess, of the scene. And, yeah, I was like Daniela is my girl for life.

Jennifer Logue:

Yes.

Joanna Settle:

So yeah, yeah it's been awesome.

Rene Orth:

And then you'll go ahead, Joanna.

Joanna Settle:

No, I was just going to say Hannah Moskovich and I collaborated on an opera in the 2018 oh Festival, sky on Swings, with Lembeat Beecher was the composer for that and Hannah Lembeat and I were commissioned together to develop and make that work. And out of that, hannah brought introduced me to Renee and I met Daniela at a workshop and I imagine my delight about a year ago was yeah.

Daniela Candillari:

Yeah, it was when we started workshopping 10 days.

Jennifer Logue:

Oh wow, is it a small world, would you say, the world of opera.

Daniela Candillari:

I think eventually it gets smaller. Yeah, I mean, I think, as, as any world, when one enters and any travel one takes, you know, it seems massive and there are so many unknowns and there's so many different ways in which people work and in which different institutions work and everybody has a different process. But then I think you sort of collect all of these languages and you expand your own language and then things get smaller and smaller and there is much more, there are many more connecting points between different projects. So then at some point you sort of feel like you know everyone in the world.

Jennifer Logue:

Yeah, I love that. I love that so much. That was such a beautiful explanation to. So this is creative space and I asked this question of everyone. But how would each of you define creativity? Renee go first if she wants to.

Rene Orth:

Hey, just have like. I mean very generally, like just thinking outside the box, which is so lame. I feel like I wish I had a more eloquent explanation, but I think it's a very root of it. That's what it is for me, whether that's yeah, in every way and every way. I think that's that's how I would sum it up. I'm sure the other ladies have something better to say.

Jennifer Logue:

Collective brainstorm here.

Daniela Candillari:

Yeah, I mean, that's a really, really good question, and I think everyone again defines it in many different ways. When I was a student, there was a quote that I read by Daniel Barenboet, the conductor, who said if you know a piece, in every single detail, of what is written and what is asked of a performer, there comes a certain amount of freedom in interpretation. And I think that's where creativity is in sort of finding knowing, knowing exactly what the boundaries are and finding ways to connect those in a very authentic and a very fresh way. Does that make any sense? It totally makes sense.

Jennifer Logue:

Yeah, no it does we have to know the work before you can be free in it. Yeah, and that I guess going off of what Joanna said earlier too about the faith part that comes into it, like I kind of see that faith, that interpretation, being like a similar energy around those those boundaries of the piece itself.

Joanna Settle:

It's also the rebellion. I mean those boundaries that are placed there by the notes and by the instruments and the musicians and the audience and the acoustics, and that's the starting point. Those are just the givens. You know, it's the start, it's the starting point. And I think of creativity also as a habit, it's something. It's not divine inspiration, it's, it's a habit. You, you explore, you will explore when you have permission. You explore when you don't have permission, you, it's like a space that is creative space is you have to know a lot of things to to activate in a creative space without fear. But it's, it's, it's a kind of a fearless curiosity. I think creativity where you just try and failure is, you know, you just try.

Jennifer Logue:

I love that fearless curiosity. I'm trying to be more fearless myself, that's. That's what I'm working on personally. But I love that definition, fearless curiosity Because when you just go for it, you know so much becomes possible. Even if you fail, who cares you?

Joanna Settle:

know it's. It's not that big a deal, exactly. Oh, and it's not a permanent state. Oh, you just try again. I mean it's not, there's very little. That is a like final failure, I think.

Jennifer Logue:

Failure, and failure, too, can be a learning experience. It usually is. I mean, it's the best way to learn. The only reason we have rehearsal.

Joanna Settle:

The only reason we have rehearsals is we don't know how to do it. So we try many, many times. That don't work until we do.

Jennifer Logue:

I love that.

Rene Orth:

Yeah, well, I would say, even I mean performances. Can I mean then we have rehearsal, but we don't have an audience, right? So in opera you know, join us talk about this. We don't have previews in opera, and so every audience is kind of a test too you know, to see whether it's a success or a failure, but that that is also. I hesitate to use those words because everyone has definitions their own definitions of success and failure.

Daniela Candillari:

So Right, but I also think without audience it doesn't end up being just a rehearsal for us. So I think audiences are part of our performance and part of our creativity, because there is incredible energy that goes back and forth between performers and I mean there are. There are performances that I've witnessed that have just been electrifying and it's you you can't explain those things sort of what happens, what was it? But something, something happens in that space that we share between audience and between performers that just sort of Brings all these elements together and makes for a very unique experience for everyone.

Jennifer Logue:

Yes, and it can't be duplicated Like. That's what I love about live performance is like it's special every time and it'll never happen again.

Daniela Candillari:

Yeah, I mean, I think if you try to recreate exactly what happened, that's going to be a failure, because you're not really honest to the moment and you're not really where you are. You're sort of chasing something that happened because everybody was there, and if you try to recreate that, that's just that's not going to work.

Jennifer Logue:

Yeah, it's forcing it and you know that. Yeah, that's something it took me a while to learn. As an artist, like you, have to just let it flow and just be in the moment. The presence is being present, is where it's at, and anyway, oh my gosh what. I think that was just such an enlightening discussion of creativity, so I'm so stoked for the rest of the interview. I love these group interviews, man. I want to do these all the time now. So let's dig into the work now. 10 days in a madhouse how did the initial idea come about? To do an opera about Nellie Bly and her tryps of black balls asylum.

Rene Orth:

Yeah, so I was growing on social media, as one does, and there was a couple articles that popped up. Someone I posted on Nellie Bly and in her in her expose, 10 days in a madhouse, and I was just reading through it and I was like, oh my gosh, how is this not an opera Like this just screams opera to me and I, you know, went on Google but I was like surely someone's already done it, I don't get too excited about it and I couldn't find anything.

Rene Orth:

There's been, you know other other forms, like I think there was a movie and maybe that's it, but anyways, but like I, this is. This was right, when I was starting to think of ideas for double exposure that I mentioned earlier and I thought, man, like, what's so great about it for me is that you have a strong female character which is grossly underrepresented in opera. It's about social justice. Opera has a whole history of trying to talk about social justice in society, I think. And yeah, and then also just like it needed to be on the stage for me, but not just as a theatrical work.

Rene Orth:

I think the really special thing about opera is like you have this whole musical element right, and the music gives me, the composer, the opportunity to explore a character's psychological journey without the words, you know, and there's a lot of emotions and everything tied through that too. So that that's what I was so excited about. And then working with Hannah, and then, as you read through the X with a, there were a lot of things that were also like having this would just works great. Like you know, the doctor would waltz with his patients as a form of therapy.

Rene Orth:

And that's one itself really well to music, you know. Or and then having a chorus of women like you can't, that's like I can't. There's not really many. There's probably less than five operas that I can really think off the top of my head that have a course of women, you know. So these are a lot of really exciting elements that I wanted to explore.

Jennifer Logue:

So cool. What do you love about Nellie's story?

Rene Orth:

Everything I mean, like I mean it's also like I think she's so. So she's really just a special human to have agreed to have done this, not knowing that she would have been able to come out, been gotten out of, out of the asylum, to also recover from that two years later. And then she did another you know media stunt sort of thing to try and go around the world and beat Jules Verne's around the world in 80 days. Wow, it's just really really amazing and I think it's also like a really relevant story. You know, like we see and read about these things in the expose and see how women are treated and we see that actually things are still very much the same today in the medical world and in society and you know, people who are people who are just not convenient to have around are put away, you know, and sort of the same thing there. But yeah, that's that's what I love about her story.

Jennifer Logue:

Daniela, joanna, anything else you want to add?

Daniela Candillari:

I mean to me. Well, first of all, with opera, of course, is really mentioned music comes first. So, renee, cover your ears. But I absolutely love Renee's music. I mean, I've said this on the first day of rehearsals when we started. It's incredibly sophisticated music that has all of the elements that that opera needs. It has emotion, it has drama, it has release in it. It has sort of not moments of happiness, but it has nostalgia in it, which can bring some some additional elements. But that's so for me, renee's music. Already when we did it back then in 2018, when we did this 20 minutes, I was I was in love with it. There was something incredibly beautiful and haunting about Renee's music that just sort of sticks with you. And now that we're working on a full production there's there's so many layers to uncover about Nellie's character, about sort of putting yourself in a shoes of a woman who was a pioneer 100 years ago and who did this, that I think for many of us nowadays would be more acceptable.

Daniela Candillari:

And so I'm just, you know, thinking what. What did she have to deal with? Getting out of this island, getting into this island, what was her path like? Sort of, how did that influence people that she was around? So it's been, it's been great. And covering that and, you know, all wrapped in incredibly beautiful music.

Jennifer Logue:

Love it. How about you, joanna?

Joanna Settle:

And I'll just add that you know when I'm working with the performers on the scenes and how to play the scenes, it's very. You know, nellie, like, goes in and she thinks she will simply explain that she's a reporter and she can get out and she has an experience that's an absolutely contemporary experience where a personally perfectly reasonable woman says something and isn't believed and is told to calm down and that circumstance escalates. So there, there and there's nothing about that. That is period. Whether or not we're going to believe women, how we're going to believe women, how their behavior is taken as an, our behavior is taken as a reflection of sanity and societally acceptable behavioral outputs for women that are different than for men and the grouping of women. You know it's there's an awful lot in enacting the and embodying the specifics of Nellie's story and how those moments passed between the women and how they passed between man and authority and a woman who is you know it's these fragile states have their contemporary life alive and well. So it's, it's very, it's very rich, because when I I'm I come from the classical, new play, musical, I come from theater, live performance, theater, cabaret and performance installation, these kinds of things, and it's the story rings true.

Joanna Settle:

You don't have to do much to access. You know we've got. We look to history when I'm directing Shakespeare. We're finding our friends who can inform us about our present. We're finding fellowship from the past. We're finding Shakespeare was workshopping who we were and who we wanted to be. And we find this, this workshop in live performance where the audience can gather and consider how do we want to deal with this problem? How would I have that interaction? Have I had that interaction? What did I do?

Joanna Settle:

And opera pushes opera and theater push it to the extreme. Certainly classical theater of an extreme situation. You don't have a scene in Shakespeare with a couple sitting around at home. You have a fellow strangling his wife in bed, so to talk about marriage, you know. And so opera does that. So it's such an extraordinary way because you can take so much time on a word or a phrase to push it into the room and into the seats and out the door and into the street and into the sky. You know the sound. You're not in control the way you are with words. So it's something. I'm back to the rebellion, but it is something about thinking we're coming to a historical story and suddenly personally being very activated. That's exciting for me about Nellie's story and about Renee's music. I mean, that's where they come together for me.

Jennifer Logue:

Everything comes full circle, even though the story took place many, many years ago. Fascinating Now, renee, for our listeners at home who may not be familiar with opera. Would you mind giving us a definition of the role of a breadist and composer in the creation of an opera, because we have all sorts of listeners and I don't want to like go too far down the path without you know, giving some putting some basics down for people. Oh sure, my parents still ask.

Rene Orth:

so I mean Cool, okay, yeah. So I mean the short definition is will brought us right, so right the words and the composer writes music. Now, in between that, you know like there's there, there can be a lot of back and forth as far as like dramatic structure and stuff. There's a lot of input on that but ultimately yeah, that's. That's the short definition.

Jennifer Logue:

Cool. And once you have the idea, for 10 days in a madhouse, what was the process like in creating the words and music?

Rene Orth:

Yeah, well, hannah, hannah maybe sent me a couple drafts, I think, before we agreed on a final one, and there were maybe I don't even remember what I asked her to change, but they were minimal things. I think this, you know, we wanted to play with without giving too much away.

Rene Orth:

We wanted to play with the timeline a little bit and that that was fun and it's so funny like I had been thinking about this piece for so long and I got Hannah's libretto and was so excited about it and thought it was just the best thing ever and I didn't even know where to start. And I actually find that that I have that problem actually with every piece that I write. You know, I look back and I'm like, how did I do that last time? I have no idea. But then you just start somewhere. I guess in this case I started in scene 5 and then I kind of worked my way through. And also with this piece I think it's funny because usually I always know how I want a piece to end. That's like the first thing that I write, because it's very clear to me. But actually we're, joanna, I think we're so thinking about how this piece should end, right, yeah, so, but yeah, I mean, hannah is really, really an amazing, amazing collaborator, writer like there.

Rene Orth:

It's not like I have to rewrite a lot as I was setting music. Maybe I would say do you mind if I leave up this line? Can I repeat this word? Are you okay with that? Maybe can we change one word here and there, but that's about it. I mean, or what were the intentions here? Can you give me a little more background? That that's what a lot of the collaboration was. Yeah.

Jennifer Logue:

Very cool. How long did it take from start to finish?

Rene Orth:

Well, there was a thing called COVID, so it kind of made things go longer, but I don't remember, I think I got her draft maybe 2019 does that sound right? 2020, something like that and then things kind of just started getting delayed, you know, and which is actually okay, because I took that time to develop as a human. Hannah likes to remind me that when we started this project, I had zero children, and now I have three, which maybe you can hear screaming in the background.

Rene Orth:

But yeah, and so it's actually especially for this piece is really been necessary that I underwent that like transformation. There's the character Lizzie, who has been placed in my man house because her grief was too much for the loss of a child, and it's something like I think everybody could understand, but I don't think you really really get it until you have your own kid, and that's a scene that I rewrote several times until after I had children and I think now it's completely genuine and I think it's pretty effective. So, but yeah, that's that's not how long it took. I mean, we had a couple workshops this week this year in December and then in March, and the full score was due in May. So cool, everything happens at the right time. Go ahead, go ahead.

Jennifer Logue:

Yeah, I was just gonna say everything happens at the right time, you know, yeah, obviously it was COVID, so you were collaborating remotely yeah, I did get to go to Nova Scotia in February, one year before COVID, before I had children.

Rene Orth:

It was literally the coldest place I've ever been in my life, yeah, but it was a lot of fun. I got to hang out with Hannah and we just I don't know. It's nice to get to know your collaborators on a human level, you know like you really appreciate them more for what they do and who they are, and I think you get a better idea of their intentions and how better to work with them, you know for sure.

Jennifer Logue:

What did you love most about your collaboration with Hannah?

Rene Orth:

I mean just that Hannah's the best and well like, her work is just amazing and she's so collaborative. I, like you, can't ask for anything better. She like um, libretto is hard because you have to leave space for music. You can't especially as a theatrical writer or you know, you, where everything depends on dialogue like you have to let go right. So big part of collaboration is letting go and trusting your collaborator. But Hannah is so like she's just clearly able to do it.

Rene Orth:

She could give me a libretto that left me lots of room for music and lots of room for me to find my own ways in, and she's also holds on to that like loosely. So if I want to like repeat words or something, she's fine with that. Or omit some things, she's okay with it. But yeah, it's a, it's a, it's a special collaboration and I really hope I get a chance to do it again with her one day cool and I did want to ask who inspires you musically.

Jennifer Logue:

Did you have any particular inspirations for 10 days in a madhouse that you look to?

Rene Orth:

for um, there's a lot. Michelle Vandera is one of my favorite composers. He combines a lot of electronics with acoustic, classical acoustic music tradition, because I use, like my musical hero, um. So yeah, and there's um. Well, I love Andrew Norman, I love um Kaya Sariajo, um a lot of these big contemporary giant, giants you know, um, I really enjoy setting their scores and I'm pretty sure their influences deep into into mine awesome, I'm gonna have to add to my listening.

Jennifer Logue:

So, um, now, joanne, I have a few questions for you too. Um, once the libretto is ready, it's time to bring 10 days in a madhouse to the stage, which is a completely different creative process in itself. Uh, do you want to talk about your role as a director?

Joanna Settle:

Sure, uh, what, uh uh, generally. So it depends on the medium. My role as a director, I mean generally, I I think in each, in, in each instance, uh, I'm, I'm charged with the embodiment of the event. So it's the uh, the, the live uh performance of the event. In this instance, uh, that's in collaboration with Daniela, who's in charge of the musical performance of the event. Uh, so, uh, so that means I uh oversee the design collaboration which creates the set and the costumes.

Joanna Settle:

I partner uh with Vernay on uh sound design. We have a lot of conversations about sound. I mean the sound design and the musical score, and the meaning of that is a character in the room that's moving through the room. So it's a central, uh, central role on the creative team and the gatherer of the creative team. So in this case I hired the designers and a choreographer, faustan Linyekula, who's a choreographer from Congo. I participated in the casting, in the workshops, in the conceiving of the event, conceiving of the placement of the orchestra close to the theater, these kinds of things. So how the audience meets the piece One way or the other comes through my area. So directors usually have training with which I do training, performance, training on working with actors and design. In my case, I also I spend a lot of shortly after this, I'm opening a co-commissions work, which is a sculpture that has a sort of performative elements, and collaborating with a sculpture. So it depends on the setting what I do, but in this instance that's what I do.

Jennifer Logue:

Wow, and there's so many elements to an opera. So it's and all these elements working together, as you said, it's like provides those places for the audience to meet the work. So when you first get what's the process like for you, when you first join a project like this, like, do you read the libretto? Like, what is that for you?

Joanna Settle:

An opera, the first thing I do is listen to every single thing that the composers compose that I can get my hands on, because for me it's not, it's through the creative process. If there's something I'm not work, usually I'm on before a piece is finished, which is the case. So there's some directors, kind of our guns for hire, who are brought especially in the theater. World. Slot three in the season will be this show. Do you want to direct this show with Meryl Streep? Right, that's one way to go to go to be a director, to get sort of plugged into these existing slots, and I tend to work on things that are in development and there's an idea and a purpose that's finding its shape and brought in as a collaborator. So in this case, I listened to everything I could find.

Joanna Settle:

Of Renee's, I became a big fan and, having already worked which was exactly what I did with Lemby's feature, and then, when we were looking for a librettist, exactly what I did with Hannah Moskvich. So she was, and not to see if they were any good, because at a certain point everybody's good, but to see if I thought my voice would be productive, To see if I felt that I could make a contribution and if I felt the project was an opportunity for me to articulate and express and explore some of the core values and core curiosities that I had in my own practice. So it's for me. The first question is is it a map, not? Can I get the gig? And the other thing I really look for is I wonder how will we do this, and that's a very exciting question for me. How will we do this, how will this story in this way, how will this happen? How is this going to happen? And so that's the kind of question that makes me want to go to work, and this one had that quite a bit.

Jennifer Logue:

Love it. Oh my gosh. That's a great way to judge your excitement for a project. Like you're so excited about the execution of it. Like how are we going to do this? I love that. I think oftentimes people get caught up in results. This is a conversation I've had a few times this week and just having that energy and passion for the process of making it happen like that's what every creator needs to hear. Daniela, do you want to talk about your role as the conductor?

Daniela Candillari:

Sure what specific my role in life, my role with this piece.

Jennifer Logue:

Put this piece specifically Sure.

Daniela Candillari:

Ah Well, I think one of the main things in opera conducting is the connection of the pit with the stage. There are so many layers in how we start the process. We always start with music rehearsals for listeners who may not know. We always start with music rehearsals with the cast, so with singers, and with chorus, with piano. Then we start the staging rehearsals, then we get to orchestra reads and then we sort of start layering the musical elements one by one that all culminate in a premiere and performances and so on.

Daniela Candillari:

And the main thing with opera is really that communication between the orchestra pit and the stage. That needs to be sort of those two worlds have to go hand in hand. In a traditional opera pit the communication is easier because we have eye contact. We can immediately find the person that we need to communicate with and make immediate physical connection with In our setting without giving too much away. That has been turned upside down a little bit, yeah. So I've had to just think a little bit more outside of the box and outside of the traditional communication components for a conductor to make sure that the musical elements are running as smoothly as possible and that everybody feels musically safe, that they can really inhabit the characters, that they can present Rene's music the best. And we can essentially all present Rene's music the best in Honest Text. So it's been a fun exercise. Again in the questions of communication and how do we establish contact without having the ability to see each other, that is a challenge.

Jennifer Logue:

That's all I'm going to say about that. Oh my gosh. Yeah, I don't want to give away what's actually happening in the opera, because I myself haven't seen it yet, so I thought it was Nobody's seen it yet.

Daniela Candillari:

Nobody's seen it. Yeah, that's true it opens in 10 days.

Jennifer Logue:

I know I'm so excited. I can't wait. I can't wait.

Joanna Settle:

And just to say what Danielle is describing, there are moments in rehearsal where we're trying to sort through where the cue like where do you do that thing, where do you leave with that object? And that has something to do with the libretto, something to do with the music, something itself, like do you need to really hold still to sing that note or is that an opportunity to move a physical reality with the music? And it also has something to do with what Danielle and Nose is coming, that there's going to be a little flute business. That would be the perfect time to take that cue and we have very little time. When the orchestra itself is there, when everything is, there is very little time. There were often.

Joanna Settle:

It's through the collaboration that we can best prepare the event for the audience. So we really count on each other and we adjust for each other and help each other. It's really it's a hyper collaborative form. Opera is a hyper collaborative form because it's not simultaneously obvious, so you really need the people making the opera To figure it out. It's like a big puzzle and that's exciting. Danielle is an excellent collaborator. I typed in on that.

Jennifer Logue:

Love it. That was actually another question that I had.

Joanna Settle:

If I thought Danielle was an excellent collaborator, I do yes.

Jennifer Logue:

And knowing the nature of the relationship, of the collaboration between the conductor and the director and the composer, do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Daniela Candillari:

I mean, I think, if I might start speaking well excellent collaborators with Renee and Joana. So I think the feelings are mutual. But I also think that opera is any sort of even to bring a very, maybe obvious comparison with sports when one has a strong team, that team has bigger chances of winning If everybody, if every player, knows what they need to do. The same is an opera. I think the audience really responds to seeing strong ensembles on stage, and building that ensemble starts with us, starts with people who are sort of leading up production, so with stage director, with conductor, with composer, with the breadists, all of those elements need to be completely in sync so that the ensemble has a chance of succeeding.

Jennifer Logue:

Through the foundation and how you lead, and collaborate, absolutely.

Daniela Candillari:

I mean, I think music is our foundation. We start with music, that's our foundation. But then I think navigating through that world has to be seamless from all of us and the main thing, I think, is making sure that the ensemble is strong and that the ensemble is performing to their best potential, because that's what audience feels, whether they know it or not, that's what they pick up on. They may not be able to tell specifically and technically what exactly happened, but I think if an ensemble is strong and there are no questions left in terms of execution and beats and musical moments and every small element of opera and of what we do, I think audience instinctively knows that.

Jennifer Logue:

Fascinating, so I wanted to ask this too what is it like producing a world premiere opera? There's a question for anyone.

Rene Orth:

Renee, I mean, it's exciting and it's scary all at the same time. I've been sitting on this for five years, or whatever and.

Rene Orth:

I have poured a lot of myself into it. I'm excited to share it with everybody, but I'm also there's things that can go wrong that I get nervous about. Hopefully we'll iron all those things out this week, but hey, that's what happens when you take risks, and yeah, and I don't know, like you've got to try and set expectations somehow, and that's the tricky thing, I think right, like, what are my expectations for how this piece is received? And I don't know how to answer that yet, because I don't want to be less disappointed, because I'm really proud of what we've done, and I think that's something to hang on to.

Jennifer Logue:

Cool. Do you have a favorite scene in 10 days in a madhouse, without getting too much away?

Rene Orth:

It's hard to not give. I don't know like what I should give away. I really like scene six because I think it's the most powerful scene, and I really like scene three because I think it's the most fun scene for me. So it involves a dance and electronic beat. Oh my gosh.

Jennifer Logue:

Okay, I'll have to make a note of that for myself when I do go to see it. How do you know when a work is complete? It sounds like we're still finessing some things before the premiere itself, but how do you know when a work is complete?

Rene Orth:

I don't think a work is ever complete, but that's just me.

Joanna Settle:

I think all three of us would have notes on the final performance and be ready to go into a four hour rehearsal in a heartbeat and we'd take the rehearsal.

Daniela Candillari:

I agree with Renee and Joanne. I don't think a work is ever complete fully, because every piece is also an opportunity again to revisit something, to rethink something, to come to a different insight. So no matter how often we do a piece, how long we work on it, I don't think work is ever done.

Joanna Settle:

And also we change, yeah, yeah, so we come to it differently, after even six months of experiences with a different audience in a different location. We've moved, our care, our concerns have moved and now this scene feels more important. Audiences aren't aware of it, but where we spend time is because that's where the artists were spending time, like the scene. It doesn't all take the same amount of time the action, but where we really sit in a story is where the artists are sitting and turning and questioning and pursuing. I don't have a favorite part yet because I haven't seen it yet. So my favorite part of it might be a transition where the something in the score rings out and the lights rest in a certain way and somebody looks and somebody you know it's. These things are very personal.

Jennifer Logue:

Yeah, it could be something. It could be a tiny moment like that that impacts you. It just rings in you and you don't even realize it, it doesn't.

Joanna Settle:

It's a moment when you that's what live performance is for you. Suddenly artists can articulate the hard things. We stir the pot of the difficult things that are hard to put, that are hard to place, and we feel it and we trust that other people do so. We dig around and then we find allegories, and we find friends who are working on the same question, and we dig and we dig and then we bring it in front of an audience and they didn't tell us that they were worried about that and they have not know, they haven't been sleeping or they might not know why that friendship fell apart, or they might not know why, whatever.

Joanna Settle:

But then in the work of art, it's not just live performance, it's not opera, theater, it's paintings, it's sculptures. We've all been stopped dead in our tracks by an artwork that's expressed something for us we didn't even know, we were so desperate to express. And then there we are and we're better. It's borders on medical, I mean it's, and then we're. You know, it's a critical societal function, gathering together to tell stories, to work it out. And the difference for me between words and music is music happens to you. We're not in control of music. Music has already moved us by the time we've heard it playing. We're already moved. Unlike a sentence where you can, that word can be from another period. This can be the sound your father made, that can be an accent you have judgment about, but music just goes right. I mean maybe not for really people who make music, making their life. They might have those relationships, but most people don't. But everybody talks now and stop. So music has an edge over words, I think it transcends Like it's.

Jennifer Logue:

It just pours through you without you really having any kind of control. You just react, Even if you don't understand the language. What were the greatest challenges in bringing the opera to life? Anyone can answer.

Joanna Settle:

COVID has been a huge challenge.

Rene Orth:

The opera was twice delayed, it's you know yeah, and there's a lot of layers to this opera beyond like what an opera generally has that we're still working out, and to do that in the allotted time and with the allotted humans available and the resources available is also quite a challenge. But I mean, I think we'll pull it off, but it's, you know, it's been challenging what are the greatest rewards.

Joanna Settle:

I mean for me a rehearsal that works, that moment when we look at each other and we're like oh, there it is.

Daniela Candillari:

I mean as a sort of like final answer. I think not a final answer, but a goal to work towards. I think performance, that performances that move us, that change us and that move and change the audience.

Rene Orth:

Totally what Daniel said. I'm all about.

Jennifer Logue:

Cool. What message do you want audiences to walk away with? And, renee, you may have alluded to this with expectations, but is there an overall message that you're hoping to convey with 10 days in a madhouse?

Rene Orth:

Yeah, I mean no-transcript. I mean one is we need to do better as a whole. Two, opera can be really cool. Three, you can be relevant and it can move you. You can make you laugh, it can move you to tears. I hope people are more open to opera beyond what they think it might be. Ultimately, we talk about goals and expectations. If someone walks away and they say I want to see that again or I want to hear that music again and I was moved by it, then that's the most success I could ever hope for. That's me. I don't know about you guys.

Daniela Candillari:

I mean for me is what Renee said for people to really come to the opera and our opera that we're doing, but also to the field of opera, and realize what it can be, what it is and how amazing it is, because it does connect all of different stories. It gives us emotion, it gives us historical backgrounds, it introduces us to stories that we may not have heard, it introduces us to different styles of music. Opera is centuries old and there's great things to learn in the past and there are great things to learn right now, but I also selfishly want everybody to hear Renee's music.

Daniela Candillari:

So as many people can be exposed to it.

Jennifer Logue:

Love it. How about you, joanna?

Joanna Settle:

I mean I think the show on many, many levels I mean Renee's debut is very important. I think the show on many levels is a big announcement around bravery and bold work and women making that bold work. It's not a quiet piece and I don't mean decibels. The form is strong. The form from all three of us is strong, and from Hannah and from the designers and from the choreographers and from the performers, I mean this isn't you're not going to miss that.

Joanna Settle:

This is an art action. You're not going to confuse it with what happens in your house. You know, this is a lifting up and a, you know, a sort of it's almost a dare for us in this. This is it's my strong feeling that this is not a time for quiet art that you could sleep during or miss or look away from or feel, like you've seen before. This is a time for us to recreate what we want for ourselves, and Renee's music, you know, as Daniela says, is the dead center of that and it's very brave. I feel like the rest of us have lifted up to to, you know, be there with her and it's that is.

Joanna Settle:

That is my favorite part of the story is the, the room. The room is hot. I mean the room of these performers, these collaborators. I include the designers, the choreographer, the opera company. Nobody does what opera Philadelphia does with two workshops to develop new work. Nobody does that. It's an international team, you know it's. It's very exciting to see something like that happen in a in a period of contraction and scarcity. So it's, it's, it's, you know it's, it's brave, in the right way.

Joanna Settle:

I am so excited to see opera.

Jennifer Logue:

I, and that was beautifully expressed. I'm so excited. Now I'm going to ask there's still so much to do with the opera. I mean it's premiering in. What is it? 10 days, 10 days for 10 days in a madhouse. What's next for all of you?

Rene Orth:

I always ask this question too, but I've got a song cycle I'm working on with Daniela McShrader to prepare at the Kennedy Center in April and then also a short, short little opera for Chautauqua opera and opera Memphis Very cool.

Daniela Candillari:

I have another work from your coming up in October at Washington National Opera. It's grounded by Janine Tazori and George Frantz.

Jennifer Logue:

Beautiful. And how about you, Joanna?

Joanna Settle:

I have this performative sculpture opening in. Abu Dhabi right after I get back and I've started a performance called performance tea. It's a performance salon with performing artists in Abu Dhabi, in my apartment. So we'll be having very small audiences compared to this one, yeah, and other prime work kind of film and different things.

Jennifer Logue:

Oh, that's lovely. I'd love to hear more about that. I love salons. That's cool. Well, ladies, thank you so much for taking the time to appear on Creative Space. It was an absolute joy to have this conversation with you. You're all brilliant and I am absolutely. I keep saying I'm so excited. I really am super excited to see 10 days in a madhouse. So for more on 10 days in a madhouse and Opera, philadelphia's 023 Festival visit, operafillaorg 10 days in a madhouse makes its premiere on Thursday, september 21st. And that's all for this episode of Creative Space. My name is Jennifer Loog and thank you so much for tuning in Until next time.

Introduction to ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’
Meet the Creative Team: Rene Orth, Daniela Candillari, and Joanna Settle
Deciding on a career in the arts
Coming together for ‘10 Days in a Madhouse’
What is creativity?
What inspired you to do this opera?
What do you love about Nellie Bly’s story?
What Daniela loves about Rene’s music
We look to history to inform us about our present.
The role of a librettist and composer in opera
Bringing words and music together
Rene on rewriting a key scene after becoming a mother
What Rene loves about working with Hannah
Joanna’s role as a director
The question that makes Joanna want to get to work
Daniela’s role as the conductor
Opera is a hyper-collaborative form.
The importance of a strong team in opera
What’s it like making a world premiere opera?
Rene’s favorite scenes
Why a work is never complete
”Artists can articulate the hard things.”
Message Rene wants to convey
No one does what Opera Philadelphia does.
What's next?