Interview with Tiffany Moon

In July, we told you that piano and voice instructor Tiffany Moon recently finished writing part one of what she plans to be a seven-part opera cycle based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, titled 'The Harry Potter Opera Cycle.' As of now, Moon has been denied permission from J.K. Rowling via Warner Bros. to stage her Harry Potter opera, but she remains hopeful. We recently caught up with Tiffany, where she told us a little more about the project.

HPFZ (Harry Potter Fan Zone): One can assume you are a devout Potter-head. After all, you're planning on spending 10 to 15 years of your life on this project. This being said, when did you first start becoming smitten by all things Harry Potter? Do you have a favorite installment, or are they all equally magical for you?

moonTM (Tiffany Moon): Well, I am, indeed, a big Harry Potter fan, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever been smitten with ALL things Harry. I’m a fan of great literature (of all types), so that I would fall for the HP books is no great stretch, but I don’t necessarily care for all Harry products. I’ve enjoyed a few related books and games, and, as is true of all book-based films, I’ve looked forward to seeing the HP movies, but more for the pleasure of observing their creators’ (i.e. producers, casting directors, actors, composers) skills in interpretation than for the films themselves. However, I don’t necessarily care for other Harry products, such as toys and journals.

As for when I first fell in love with the books, I believe that it was halfway between the release of the first and second books. It was then that I began to notice talk among other adults in articles, book clubs and online message boards. After reading the first book, as you will understand, I couldn’t wait for the second.

All of these books are, indeed, magical, and I appreciate each of them as only one piece of a greater story, but I think that I favor the third book as the best. Mind, it still contains issues I wish that the editor would have addressed, but the narrative style, combined with this particular book’s action and character development, make it riveting.

HPFZ: In a world that continues to be enthralled by technology, there is likely to be some confusion over what, exactly, operas are. Would you mind providing a brief overview of the art?

TM: Firstly, an opera is simply a collection of music based on a piece of literature. An opera cycle is a series of operas, much like a series of books (making the Harry Potter Opera Cycle a series of operas, one opera for each book). Near the time of opera’s origin, a bit more than 400 years ago, it was generally accepted that it should have been based only upon the classics of the time, and for some time, that it should be written in Italian.

Mozart is known for being one of the first to violate both of these rules; he wrote operas in the language of the people (German, in his case), and he chose the popular literature of the time as his subjects. Indeed, he had quite a time arguing for the approval to stage “The Marriage of Figaro,” which was based on a popular and controversial novel (part of a series) of the time; even though he had already written the entire opera before he asked permission for it, he was passionate about this piece and believed that it was the best of the period. There’s no doubt in my mind that, if Mozart were alive today, he would be the first to choose the Harry Potter series as the subject for the greatest composition of this period, which brings me to this: In the modern world, opera is rarely based on the classics; instead, modern books are the chosen subjects. Further, operas are almost always written in the language of the composer – so, for those of you who think that today’s operas are stuffy plays screamed in other languages by fat people, you’re way off.

Secondly, the composer of an opera usually only writes the music for what will hopefully become a produced piece. I say “usually” because most composers use librettists, whose job it is to apply a version of the text of the chosen book to the music. There are few composers – myself included – who write their own librettos. The composer, for the most part, does make notes (written briefly, just above the music) about the scenery, and costumes, when they are relevant, but for the most part, these are things managed by scenery and costume designers, just as they are in movies. Acting cues may also be noted by the composer, when needed, but this is something that should be intuitive, based upon the music, as the music is the “inside” of the piece; it’s the feelings of the characters and the overall emotion of each scene. Skilled singers and directors will find interpretation for acting fairly obvious, just as is true of actors and directors of movies based on well-written books. These same educated directors and singers will also consider the books from which operas are drawn, the culture of the time and the intentions of the authors and composers when designing a production. Just a note for those of you who are asking whether the HP movie actors would be in the operas: These are actors, not opera singers (skilled singers who have also had dramatic training), perhaps with the exception of Tom Felton.

HPFZ: How do you plan on tackling the many scenes that required special effects in the film versions of JK Rowling's work?

TM: As for the problem of ensuring that the more fantastic aspects of these books are properly depicted in ways that will do justice to them, I will be marking my scores with many notes about their creation, only to be certain that the finished product is always accurate. It would be foolish, not to mention presumptuous, of me to prescribe exact directions for these scenes, however, as new technology is constantly making their creation possibilities better. Modern opera creators often use such tools as lasers; layered, transparent screens with CG video projection; and quickly revolving circular sets to depict otherwise difficult scenes. I won’t tell you exactly what you would see in the Harry Potter operas or how the scenes would be created, but I will give you this: There is Quidditch.

HPFZ: The Harry Potter series is packed with emotion, humor and bravery. Will you be focusing on one of these aspects more than the other two?

TM: Because an opera is simply a book set to music, which conveys every part of the book, from the plot development, to the action within each scene, to the very insides of the characters themselves, I would not be composing for the HP books correctly if I weren’t writing music that encompassed all parts of the books. I’m not creating an interpretation; I’m composing precisely for each book, very nearly in its entirety.

HPFZ: The majority of the Harry Potter fan base consists of youth. Do you feel that by introducing opera, a more sought-out form of entertainment for adults than youth, said fan base will garner a wider age group?

TM: Well, here’s a misconception. To say that opera is more for adults than for children is just as to say that books are more for adults than for children. The fact is that there are simply some operas that consist of material for adults and some that consist of that for children. Further, the popularity of opera among young people is increasing very quickly. In fact, most opera-goers are either very young people or very old people; the only gap is currently in people in their 40s and 50s.

I do believe, however, that this opera cycle would create larger audiences for both opera and children’s literature genres. It’s likely that young HP book fans (and their parents) who wouldn’t otherwise see an opera would see the opera cycle and find that opera isn’t what they had believed it was. It’s also likely that older opera lovers would be exposed to Harry Potter, and not only find that they enjoy the stories as much as we do, but purchase the books for their grandchildren (or themselves, as HP is a guilty pleasure for many more adults that you may imagine).

HPFZ: Despite Warner Brothers rejecting your request, you remain hopeful. For the moment, let us assume the company never approves. What will you do?

TM: To my first and only request, Warner Brothers issued its response not only out of its current marketing climate, but from the response of Rowling’s agents, who offered a standard response based upon the author’s wish that there currently not be any live HP-theme performances. It’s very unlikely that the request reached Rowling herself. I am currently drafting a second proposal, describing the nature of the request (in the case of opera production, almost always misunderstood) in detail, and including some arguments that I can’t mention here.

If WB, which controls HP performance rights, and Rowling NEVER approve, a situation I find doubtful, I will, as I have been for 3.5 years, continue to write the cycle (and allow my students to sing it) until it’s finished. I take copyright law very seriously, and I would not attempt to produce the work while the HP theme is protected; however, it would remain in my name and be available when the copyright has expired. This leaves the slim possibility that I would still be alive when the cycle might be performed; otherwise, I would certainly not be the first composer not to see her most important work performed in her lifetime.

HPFZ: JK Rowling is well known for her large donations to various charities, particularly multiple sclerosis (MS) research and 'cage beds,' both of which are near and dear to her heart. If you were to receive the green light from Warner Brothers, is there any particular charity you would happily support with your proceeds?

TM: Well, assuming the very remote possibility that I were to make money on this project, I would want to offer greater financial aid to the organizations that I already support in many ways. Their causes include animal rights, environmental protection, and arts promotion, but dearest to my heart are the many animal-rights organizations that promote veganism, the abolition of factory farms, breeders and pet stores, and strict penalties for abusers of animals.

HPFZ: With the Harry Potter phenomenon in full bloom, it's a certainty JK Rowling has been approached by people asking to conduct translations of her work. Why do you deserve rights to stage your opera while so many others have been turned down?

TM: I’ve asked to directly translate the HP series into opera, the genre into which all of the greatest pieces of literature are eventually translated; beyond this, I’ve asked to translate it as a cycle, which would not only preserve its integrity by keeping each book and its text intact, but which would make it the subject of the largest operatic composition in history, far exceeding the total length of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. This is not only the greatest complement a work of literature (and its author) can receive, but it offers a kind of immortality that movies and spin-offs simply cannot.

Further, I’m not the only musician who wants to see Harry sing. Luciano Pavarotti, who is now seriously ill, has for several years wished that Harry Potter would become a children’s opera. Granted, he’s envisioned all of the books as a single opera, but the idea of HP as an operatic work does exist on a popular scale, and it’s not likely to be squelched, particularly if it’s left as one of the dying wishes of a music legend.

HPFZ: During one of your performances, Lord Voldemort makes a surprise visit. The audience is startled, as are you. What do you do?!

TM: Flee!

- 23/7/06

Harry Potter Fan Zone would like to thank Tiffany for her time in putting together this interview.