Adventures in creativity: A venture, a block and a breakthrough

Carmen Opera Nova taverne - Adventures in creativity: A venture, a block and a breakthrough
 by Linda Riebel

Last year, I boldly went where I had never gone before. In the beloved tragic French opera /Carmen,/ there is a gorgeous instrumental melody in the overture to Act III, an air that appears nowhere else in the opera. I wondered, Why has it never been given words and made into a song of its own? As my tenth wedding anniversary approached, I did exactly that as a surprise gift to my opera-loving husband.

Never having composed lyrics for music before, I struggled in secret for a very long time, trying to count the beats in the measures and musical phrases that make up the melody, in order to know how to write the words. Despite frustration, I pressed on, goaded by another consideration: in the opera, this melody starts with a flute and harp duet. It so happens that I am a harpist, having played professionally for 13 years a long time ago. If only I could create the lyrics, I could hire the soprano who sang at our wedding ten years before, and perform this with her at our anniversary party. So went my fantasy. If only I could get past this block.

Finally, I thought of a solution. Instead of trying to memorize the correct number of half-notes and quarter-notes and measures per phrase, and then squeeze English words into them, I said to myself, “Just think of words in French as a way to learn the rhythm and measures. Then it will be easier to hold them in mind while trying to think of English words.”

Well, that broke the logjam! The French words just flowed and they were perfect. Luckily, the ideas also translated seamlessly into English words that fit the music. I kept my secret until the very last minute and our harp-soprano world premiere (thank you, composer Georges Bizet) was a joy to share.


Learn more about Saybrook’s program in Creativity Studies