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When writing for the stage, playwright Sarah Ruhl follows her instinct and ear for dialogue. She knows the rhythms of speech and conversation. But for the upcoming world premiere of Eurydice at LA Opera, based on her 2004 play, she had to learn some new techniques that apply in the musical world. Teaming with composer Matthew Aucoin, she had to pare down much of the language. “It was a wonderful collaboration,” she says, “A lot of it was me distilling the play, because opera distends everything. So to take three lines of a play and to make it singable, and intelligible, and have emotional impact, it has to be… sort of 25 percent as long as it was.” And she also had to pay attention to the ending sounds of words in a new way, because singers can only hold notes on vowels and soft consonants. Occasionally Aucoin would ask her to ‘versify’ the language of a section. “But one thing that I loved about working with Matt was, he would ask me to make a change, and I would dutifully do it, and then he’s like… ‘Ugh… the original is better, let’s just leave it,’ and I would say ‘Great!’
Revisiting a work that’s had a successful life in one artistic genre, and shepherding it into another was a new adventure for Ruhl: “What’s funny about being a playwright is you try to be useful, whatever room you’re in. So, if I’m working on an old play, and it’s a new production of an old play, I try to be useful. So I try to continue to tinker. But I do think at some point, the plays are done. This is the first time I did an opera, and the first time I was transforming an old… older play into an opera. But I really loved it, and I think it’s because I really enjoyed my collaborator.”
The LA Opera world premiere of Eurydice stars Danielle de Niese, and runs from February 1-23 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.