Meet the Composer
Paola Prestini is the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn arts center National Sawdust. Since 1999, when she co-founded the multimedia production company VisionIntoArt (subsequently re-launched as National Sawdust Projects), she has collaborated with poets, filmmakers, and scientists in large-scale multimedia works. Prestini’s music and works have been commissioned by and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Los Angeles Opera, among many others. Recently, she was named an “Innovator” on the list of Top 30 Professionals of the Year by Musical America, and one of the Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music (Washington Post). As part of her commitment to education and mentoring the next generation of musical artists, she started the Hildegard Competition for emerging female, trans, and non-binary composers.
Prestini’s latest work, premiering in March 2020, is MN Opera’s new opera Edward Tulane based on the best-selling novel The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Minnesota author Kate DiCamillo, with a libretto by Mark Campbell (Silent Night, The Shining). Recently, she sat down with us to discuss the process of composing this new operatic adventure that is sure to tug at the heartstrings of both the young and young at heart.
When you read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, what made you feel like it would make a great opera?
Paola Prestini: I think the fact that it’s a truly intergenerational piece with themes that anyone can relate to makes it so special. Themes such as family, magic, and transformation relate on all levels. I think of it as a Little Prince type story, with all the loveliness of Kate DiCamillo’s beautiful prose and style and quirkiness!
Musically, how would you describe Edward Tulane? Did you draw upon any particular themes or influences?
PP: I would say that Edward Tulane has a rich musical vocabulary, with moments that draw from folk, complex tapestries of sound, and direct melodic material that all together tell the story of this main character’s transformation and of all the worlds he enters.
What has been the greatest joy for you in composing this opera? What has been the greatest challenge?
PP: The greatest joy for me was to have the chance to explore these themes in such an epic way: the scale of a grand opera, and the ability to work with such a great chorus and young artist program is a complete treat. The greatest challenge has been to keep a childlike wonder in the sounds while still trying to evoke a refined sense of musical language. I like to stretch myself in all my work and so I’ve asked real questions of myself in terms of complexity in language while serving a direct story, and how to paint that in the most interesting and dynamic way possible.
Have you received any feedback or advice from Kate DiCamillo? If so, what did she say?
PP: Kate was super open, and has been game since day one, and I believe was completely convinced once she read Mark’s libretto! I’m excited for her to hear the music and am hopeful we’ve done justice to her magical mind. She didn’t give me advice, but did relay that Edward in fact exists, as a real entity, and so I imagine him presiding in a very tangible way in her life, which makes me want to do justice to him even more. I hope to make his acquaintance one day soon!
As a successful woman composer in a male-dominated industry, what advice would you have for women composers starting their careers?
PP: Luckily history progresses and change is happening and while there are real challenges that still exist for women and any underrepresented voice, I also feel like there’s dialogue and openness in places that there wasn’t before. I would say make your opportunity. Know what you don’t know and remain as open as possible to all the beauty that life has to offer, all the while maintaining your truth and inner compass. Help others and believe in the best of people and believe in change and make that change happen as best you can.
What do you think people would be surprised to learn about the life of an opera composer?
PP: The amount of time it goes into creating these works and the huge teams full of passionate brilliant people that it takes to make an opera go onstage! Also, in my particular case, my life looks complex: I’m a mother, a composer, an arts leader, and a dreamer of new structures. I always tell the people I mentor to remember they are writing about their lives so not to forget to live them. Constant dreaming and re-evaluation leads to dynamic life-altering events. Then you can write about them.
Don’t miss out on Prestini’s Edward Tulane when hits the Ordway stage for 5 performances, March 21-29, 2020. Get your tickets at mnopera.org/edward-tulane/.