I don't know what I'm doing.
I'm a budding fiction writer, admittedly with a lot to learn, but I've got a grasp of what's required. An opera libretto on the other hand, and a short one at that, imposes a very different set of expectations and demands. Being a poet would be useful. Not being a poet...
I'm putting no time into a formal composition process until a first draft of the libretto is well underway. Roderick Usher is really the whole story, and I need to get inside his head if I want the music to fully realize his character. I also want to get in Poe's head, and dig into the "mood" music he would have had in mind. Research and work are needed on both counts. But if I wait until the libretto is finished, and every word and nuance set in everlasting stone, I'll never get this puppy off the ground.
I'll start composing when Scene 2 is nearly ready, and Scene 3 is being outlined. In Scene 2 we meet Usher and hear his own take on his illness and that of his sister; Scene 3 is a thorough exploration of his psyche. For a while, all we hear is the narrator's limited viewpoint. By the time we're closing in on Scene 3, Usher should be pretty well understood by the audience, and the music should be part of the reason.
In the meantime, I've drafted Roderick Usher's letter to his friend, to be sung with the opening credits and function as an overture of sorts. Nearly every phrase and sentence has been lifted from Poe's personal correspondence, most of which I found here. The narrator portrays the letter as lengthy, full of personal detail, and laden with desperation. Most of Poe's letters are short, but a few are emotional and pleading, especially where they concern his family and money. Excellent source material.
The full draft is provided below. Phrases likely to be cut are struck through, enclosed in square brackets, and not bolded — you know, for the overkill:
My Dear Sir —
In the first place] [ let me assure you that,] if I have not lately written, it is [ rather] because I have been in precarious health, suffering a keen anxiety and difficulties of no ordinary kind. I am [ quite] at a loss to understand it, and have nearly succumbed to its influence and yielded to despair.
But by the exertion of much resolution] I now most earnestly solicit your prompt and generous assistance. The friendship you have always evinced, the near relationship which exists between us, warrant me in hoping that these words may induce you to visit [ with] me a-while, that your cheerful society might bring respite.
You are my greatest and only stimulus now, to battle with this uncongenial malady. [
I have been dreaming[[ every day and night]] of[[ the rapture I should feel in]] having my[[ only]] friend with me here, and] it would afford me the greatest pleasure to show you every attention in my power.
I beg you, Edgar, make no reply, but hasten here. I remain —
Very Truly Your Friend,
A long letter won't work; a shame, really, considering how much material there is to mine, and how some of the most fun phrases aren't necessary to convey the message. But we don't need much detail or insight into the man initially; this will be explored in later scenes, while setting the mood is the overture's sole duty.
Learning where and what to cut will factor greatly in the success or failure of the libretto. I tend toward verbosity, a habit that doesn't serve my fiction very well, either. A libretto is an exercise in conciseness, second perhaps only to poetry in distilling narrative, meaning, and expression to their most essential, critical elements. That lesson could be applied to the music, as well. And better fiction wouldn't be far behind.
Sadly for readers, brevity is not considered a virtue for blogs.