The Opera

Growing up, I realized I was part of an organized religion that had not yet recognized itself as such. Daily rituals of Kreutzer, Paganini, and Bach. Trips once a week for organized chamber and orchestral meetings. My grandfather, father, and uncle play(ed) the doublebass, my mother played the cello. All working toward, but not quite achieving God's Chosen Instrument: The Viola.

I am simply codifying a religion that was already there. And writing an opera about it. And then making a CD. Also, we have a really cool logo (see above)

The viola is the closest instrument in quality and register to the human voice. It is also capable of producing many of the effects of the rest of the orchestra. My opera is unusual in that it endeavors to cover all vocal and orchestral lines solely on two (2) violas. 'Opera' is the Latin plural of 'opus', meaning simply a collection of related works and doesn't refer to singing at all. Violacentrism, written between Summer 2014 and Winter 2015, is actually quite traditional in form; there is an overture, several arias, and a finale. Just no singers. But you can hear them in the violas.

-Scott Slapin



Violacentrism, the Opera:
An Opera For Two Violas In One Act by Scott Slapin. (Premiere performances took place April 22 and April 24, 2015 in South Hadley and Amherst, Massachusetts.)

Program:
Overture

Day 1: The Raging Waves of Babylon

Day 2: Three Arias (Tempo Instabile, Cantabile e Furioso, Cadenza ed Aria)

Day 3: Music History 101; Five Centuries in Five Minutes

Day 4: The Sounds of Hampshire County (Leaving Northampton, Snow-covered Farmland in Hadley, Stamell Strings' 4-measure cameo, The National Yiddish Book Center, Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley)

Day 5: Violist Under the Roof

Day 6: Dialogues and Duels

Scott Slapin and Tanya Solomon, violas

Synopsis:
Cremonus, God of the Viola, is displeased at man's creation of other musical instruments. On the First Day Cremonus punishes mankind with rough seas. His message is ignored; the people are using Dramamine.

By the Second Day, an ill-tempered Cremonus has only contempt for the many viola-free ensembles of the land. During the first of three dramatic arias, Cremonus continues His assault on the seas. The second aria explores His anger, agitation, and sadness; Cremonus' patience is wearing thin. In the third aria Cremonus adds lashing high winds to His ongoing war with the sea.

Following the rousing third aria, it dawns on Cremonus that few potential viola players live on the sea.

The Third Day finds Cremonus in a more restful and pedagogical mood. After a hymn to Himself, He demonstrates to mankind the many abilities of the viola in all major genres of Western art music, from the Baroque to the Romantic. Cremonus feels mankind is beginning to understand the greatness of His Chosen Instrument.

The Fourth Day has Cremonus showing violists around Hampshire County, Massachusetts, in the Happy Valley, an area of which He is particularly fond. Starting out from the main square in Northampton (Cremonus finds the crossing signal to be particularly pleasing when performed on the viola), Cremonus leads a group of viola players out of town to see the snow-covered farmlands of Hadley and then to try out a few violas at Stamell Strings in Amherst.

Cremonus and the group check out a possible concert venue at the National Yiddish Book Center and finally make their way to the stately campus of South Hadley's Mt. Holyoke College, where Scott Slapin, coincidentally the composer of this opera, teaches several viola students. (Scott Slapin and Tanya Solomon also teach viola and violin in several other locations in the Happy Valley as well as worldwide online via Skype. Please visit www.violaduo.com for more information. Cremonus approves this message.)

On the Fifth Day, Cremonus and the violists return to the National Yiddish Book Center to perform Cremonus' favorite Musical Violist Under the Roof. Cremonus, in compliance with OSHA standards, would not let them perform on the roof. The violists finish the concert with a Klezmer version of the theme from Masterpiece Theater, demonstrating that almost any tune can be turned into Klezmer music by simply changing the key signature.

On the Sixth Day all the happiness of the valley is interrupted. The violists of Happy Valley, MA and Happy Valley, PA come into contact, and it's just too much happiness to last. A duel ensues, and a thoroughly frustrated Cremonus leaves the stage. The curtain falls as the two groups of viola players try to outdo one another in a contest of three-octave scales.

On the Seventh Day, Cremonus, the violists, and the audience rested. Amen.

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Drawing of Cremonus by Simcha Levi Labuschagne

The Religion

The Viola first appeared in/around Cremona, Italy about 500 years ago. This gift to mankind was the creation of the God of the Viola, Cremonus, or as some prefer, Cremona.

Violacentrics practice their religion through the daily practice of scales, arpeggios, etudes, and a rich repertoire of concert works. We also steal music from the repertoires of other instruments that are not worthy. This pleases Cremonus greatly. Traditionally one played the violin until one was mature enough to switch to Viola. (It should be noted that most violin players don't achieve such a high realm of holiness and remain in sonic purgatory.)

Violacentrism has holidays just as other religions do. In December there is the Festival of the Electric Lights, commemorating Thomas Edison's revolutionary design allowing Violacentrics everywhere to perform more easily at night with standlights. Often one has a Cremonus Tree with many strings of lights and Viola ornaments hanging off of the branches. Others celebrate with an electric Cremonus Candelabra with Alto Flames at the top, which are lit on eight consecutive nights. There is also the exotic Alto, Asparagus, and Ale Festival, celebrated in the Spring with local ale and asparagus from Hadley, Massachusetts.

While the sabbath for Jews is Saturday and for Christians is Sunday, Violacentrics observe the day of rest on Monday. This is the standard dark day for orchestral musicians (and restaurants.) An orchestra simply cannot rehearse while their Violacentrics are observing the sabbath.

Violacentrics recognize some value in the violin, (violino is Italian for 'little Viola'), as well as in the violoncello (Italian for 'little violone', which is Italian for 'big Viola'), however both are somewhat squeaky/grumbly, distorted imitations of the original. The Viola comes closest to the range and quality of the human voice, which pleases Cremonus greatly, blessed be His name. Many violacentrics began as violinists before seeing the light and converting.

Many famous composers (Bach, Beethoven, Dvorak, Haydn, Hindemith, Mendelssohn, Millhaud, Monteverdi, Mozart, Paganini, Schubert, Vaughan-Williams) were Violacentrics. It is likely there were even more, but Violacentrics have suffered much persecution over the centuries. Crypto-Violacentrics likely practiced their Violas privately at home or in private chamber music parties with their other co-religionists in hiding. Even today demeaning viola jokes are recited openly, out of jealousy and perhaps mental disease.

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Depending on local tradition, some celebrate the Festival of Electric Lights with a Cremonus Tree (above left), which features electric lights and Violas among other ornaments hanging from a tree. Others light a Cremonus Candelabra (above right) which features eight Alto Flames atop a candelabra. It shoud be noted that this example of the Cremonus Candelabra is an example of how the candelabras were lit before the invention of electric lights, when our ancestors had to play chamber music by candlelight.

Below is a picture from the first Alto, Ale, and Asparagus Festival. At this version of the festival, the story of the exodus was read ("Violists were enslaved unto Conductors until Cremonus brought them with an outstretched hand into the Pioneer Valley..."), and much asparagus and ale was consumed. The stories which are read will naturally vary from group to group. Also some people insist on wine (or even grape juice) instead of ale. This is permissible, however the name of the festival stays the same.

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