The other day e. showed me an article that said that some people are putting together a Klingon opera. As in, an opera about Klingon lore, sung in Klingon.
After my brain was through exploding, I began to really think about it from a musician’s perspective. Ignoring, for a moment, the origin of the whole thing, we have a culture, the text of an opera, and the language. There’s no clues that would remotely indicate what the music would sound like. So… what would Klingon music sound like?
Some might be tempted to go the ultra-modern route, because anything concerning space seems futuristic and modern. Composers didn’t think about space much before the twentieth century, because we didn’t know terribly much about space before then. Holst didn’t even write The Planets until 1914.
Also, the Klingon language might lend itself better to a technique like Sprechstimme, most often associated with Schoenberg. In sprechstimme, words are more spoken than sung – but in an eerie way, not very conversational. You might think that a non-conversational tone wouldn’t work well in an opera, but trust me, expressionist operas get their scenes across just fine.
On the other hand, this particular Klingon opera is supposed to be based on the earliest, most epic tale of a hero. Presumably it would have been written far in the past. Perhaps the modern composers should go for the historic route, looking at our own early music for inspiration? Maybe the opera should be less sprechstimme, more classic recitative, less Schoenberg, more Scarlatti.
Still another option: what I like to call the “John Williams approach.” Supposedly this is an epic tale. Perhaps a soundtrack that evokes such a grand scale to our current audiences would be the best way to go. If it’s the story that’s the focus, you want to relate to the audience in any way possible, correct? This is why there are modern versions of Shakespeare; it’s not that the original setting is inferior, it’s that the performers don’t want the audience to be hung up on anything that prevents them from absorbing the story.
So what if you were to set music to an alien culture? What does “space music” mean to you? And what fictional cultures are best for such a treatment?