More often then I like to admit, I’m surprised by my lack of awareness of pop culture and pop music. About a week ago I saw an article on the BBC that was about Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and Clifford Harris Jr.’s recent single, “Blurred Lines,” and the claims of copying from the estate of Marvin Gaye. In brief, the article addressed issues of music authorship and ownership, and it raised in my mind the question about what constitutes copying, and what constitutes an original work.
Last May, the day after the concert premiere of my opera, one of my singers and I drove up to Palm Desert to see a friend of ours perform in Sondheim’s, A Little Night Music. On the way back to San Diego (about a two-hour drive) we had a lengthy debate/conversation about music for the stage: opera vs. musical vs. operetta, etc. What I remember most clearly about our conversation was when we both agreed that Night Music is certainly an operetta. I’m much more liberal than my friend about calling something an opera rather than a musical, so I was willing to call Sondheim’s show an opera—or a musical. Honestly, it doesn’t matter much to me. I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t get dragged into long debates about the finer details of what genre a work of music might be; still, the fact that I felt comfortable calling the work an operetta did seem to undermine my convictions, so the moment stuck with me.