The Libretto Dilemma —tools for creating an opera libretto! ~ Pamela Gee

The Three Libretto Tools; Action, Song and Recitative are not new! But here follows a brief reminder of what they are and how they are used. Examples of each tool are included:

 1- Action sentences are written in parenthesis! Action sentences focus on the how—what is happening the audience sees which performers ACT out.

Example:
(The chickens are running all over the castle. They are clucking, laying eggs all over, and breaking things. Everyone else wants the chickens out of the castle.)

2- Songs are short sentences grouped in four… like a poem and there may be verses. Or A B A patterns. They have more form and structure than recit.

 Example:
 Royal Family: (upset)      Go catch those chickens, Those pesky chickens! 
                                       Go catch those chickens now! 
                                       They’re breaking things! Those pesky chickens! 
                                       Go catch those chickens now! 

                                       They’re causing trouble! Those pesky chickens! 
                                       They’re laying eggs, Oh Wow! 
                                       What a mess! Those pesky chickens! 
                                       Get rid of them, but HOW? 

Songs focus on the why—the emotions that drive the actions. Or NEWUB: Needs, Emotions, Wants and Underlying Beliefs. See how the next song example focuses on the emotions of the chickens…and their wants and needs!

Example:
 Chickens: (worried)        Wake up! Wake up! 
                                       Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck! 
                                       Don’t kick us out! No, no, no! 
                                       We want to stay! 
                                       We need a place to run and play! 

 3- Recitative (Recit) Is conversation which is sung. It gets action going again focusing on information that motivates action.

Example:
 King & Queen: (panicked) Help! Staff, please come help! 

These tools are used again and again for each of the five sentences in the story outline. One cycle per sentence at the very least. Here is a visual of the libretto cycle:

 The Libretto cycle may be modified to fit the needs of the story, however, it always starts with Action and then goes to Song…it can go back to Action without using Recit or even from song to another song. Here are some examples of how the cycle flows!

Action to Song to Action to Song Example:

 (They chase the chickens.)

Chickens:                      No, no, no! We want to stay! 
                                     We need a place to run and play! 
                                     No, no, no! We won’t go out. 
                                     Not even if we could. Hey look! 
                                     This room is good. 

 (The Chickens hide in the princess’s bedroom)

Royal Family:                 Oh no! Oh no! Those pesky chickens! 
                                      My room! My Room! 
                                      Get them out of my room! 
                                      You will ruin our royal things!

 Action to Song to Song to Action Example:

(The Chickens hide in the princess’s bedroom.)

Royal Family:               Oh no! Oh no! Those pesky chickens! 
                                    My room! My Room! 
                                    Get them out of my room! 
                                    Get them out now!

 Staff:                           Oh no! Oh no! Those pesky chickens! 
                                    We can’t get in! 
                                    Those pesky chickens have locked the door. 
                                    Locked the door tightly. 
                                    The key! The key! 
                                   Thank goodness! Thank goodness! 
                                   We have the golden key! 
 (Stage whisper) 
                                   They’re sleeping. They’re sleeping. 
                                   We hope they keep on sleeping. 
                                   Let’s put them in a pot. 
                                   We hope they keep on sleeping. 

 (Staff sneak up behind them on tiptoe to catch the chickens.) 

 More Important Information: As you ask the students to implement the use of the Libretto Cycle, also employ the “S” Guides as well.

 1: Singable:
                 ASK: the questions:

  •  “Is what we are creating singable?”, 
  • “Is it easy to tap our hands and say this out loud at the same time?”
  •  “Will there be too many words or is there a fun rhythm that enables us to get them all in?”

2: Show don’t sing:
               Ask: “Are we showing as much of the story as possible?”

(Remember: to write those action sentences in parenthesis short and sweet so they will remain in the score?)

3: Short Simple Sentences:

               Ask: “Have we used short simple sentences for both recit and song?”

 BELOW follows the libretto in a formatted state…

….it is, in fact, the perfect length for ….

  • A Kindergarten or first Grade opera! This is about 400-500 words in length. 
  • A libretto by an older class should NEVER exceed 1,000 words. 
  • The following applies ot all word counts no matter the grade level: 
    •  This count includes ACTION words. 
    • Remember this is the MAXIMUM and it is not a goal to be reached. It is merely a guide. 
    • it takes four times as long to sing something as it does to say it because of the music structure.
    • You want to allow time for action music which helps to communicate the story.

I color coded the TOOLS: Action (red), Song (back to back Song is this two hues of blue color) and Recitative (green) so you can easily see how they flow back and forth in purpose and use.

 The Libretto Dilemma 
An Opera Sample Based on one Created by a First Grade Class 
Setting: In a castle. The scene opens to complete chaos with the Royal Family and Chickens on stage. Characters: Royal Family (could include multiple princesses), Staff (knights, cooks, maids, possible barnyard animals if the kids insist), Chickens (made of feathers and mayhem) 
(The chickens are running all over the castle. They are clucking, laying eggs all over, and breaking things. Everyone else wants the chickens out of the castle.) 
Royal Family:            Go catch those chickens Those pesky chickens! 
                                 Go catch those chickens now! 
                                 They’re breaking things! 
                                 Those pesky chickens! 
                                 Go catch those chickens now! 

                                 They’re causing trouble! 
                                 Those pesky chickens! 
                                 They’re laying eggs, Oh Wow! 
                                 What a mess! Those pesky chickens! 
                                 Get rid of them, but HOW? 
 King and Queen: Help! Staff, please come help! 

 (Royal Staff enter from both sides) 
 Staff:                       The chickens must go! The chickens must go! 
                               We’ll get those pesky chickens to go! 
                               We’re chasing them out! We’re chasing them out! 
                               We’ll get them out for sure! 
                                Shoo you chickens! You pesky chickens! 
                               Out of the castle with you! 
 Butler: Make sure when you leave to close the door! 
(The chase the chickens.) 
 Chickens:                No, no, no! We want to stay! 
                                We need a place to run and play! 
                                No, no, no! We won’t go out. 
                                Not even if we could. 
                                Hey look! This room is good. 
 (The Chickens hide in the princess’s bedroom.) 

Royal Family:             Oh no! Oh no! Those pesky chickens! 
                                  My room! My Room! 
                                  Get them out of my room! 
                                  Get them out now!

 Staff:                         Oh no! Oh no! Those pesky chickens! 
                                  We can’t get in! 
                                  Those pesky chickens have locked the door. 
                                  Locked the door tightly. 
                                  The key! The key! 
                                  Thank goodness! Thank goodness! 
                                  We have the golden key! 
 (Stage whisper) 
                                  They’re sleeping. They’re sleeping. 
                                  We hope they keep on sleeping. 
                                  Let’s put them in a pot. 
                                  We hope they keep on sleeping. 

 (Staff sneak up behind them on tiptoe to catch the chickens.) 
 Chickens:                 Wake up! Wake up! Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck! 
                                 Don’t kick us out! No, no, no! 
                                 We want to stay! 
                                 We need a place to run and play! 
 Royal Family:           We have an idea! A grand idea! 
                                A royal idea! Hark now! 
                                We’ll build a coop! A chicken coop! 
                                Behind our castle! We shall! 
 Staff:                       Yes-ity! Yo! Yes! We’ll build a coop! 
                                Yes-ity! Yo! Yes! A chicken coop! 
                                Yes-ity! Yo! Yes! A royal chicken coop! 
(They all build the coop.) 
 Chickens:               Yay, yay! This coop is the best! 
                               This coop is the best! 
                               It will be our new nest! 
                               Now we can stay! 
                               We have a place to run and play! 
 Everyone:             The chickens are out of the castle! 
                             Those pesky chickens are out of the castle! 
                             We are so happy! We solved the problem! 
                             Everyone is happy now! Everyone is happy now!
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