Broken Lullaby: The Making of Exit Prima Donna (Part 4)

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Music is integral to Exit Prima Donna, our eighteenth Master Mystery Production.  Not just because it’s a musical, but it also forms the emotional backbone of the story, revealing character, theme, and mood across the play.  We did an earlier blog post about the role the music plays in Exit Prima Donna (“Malicious Melodies”), but not all the music in the show comes from an opera.  There is one piece that was specially composed for the show itself, music that is sprinkled throughout the opera to highlight tension and drama as the mystery darkens and the secrets are exposed.  This piece, entitled “Mia Bambina,” is a kind of broken lullaby, little pieces sprinkled throughout until it is united in a shocking finale.  Writer/director Daniel Stallings and Skeleton Key winner and composer of “Mia Bambina” Devanne Fredette share the origins of this beautiful and haunting piece of music.

BROKEN LULLABY: The Making of Exit Prima Donna (Part 4)

In theatre, you often to have to solve unique problems.  And sometimes those solutions are the most creative parts of the show.  Case in point is our original musical composition, “Mia Bambina,” written by Devanne Fredette.  The origin of that music came from an attempt to solve a tricky dilemma involving the actress who performs the number, and a beautiful theme song for Exit Prima Donna was born.

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The Rose Reveal

Skeleton Key and Diamond Mask Winner Nicole Johnson plays Leonora, Donatella’s devoted dresser.  She has a sizable monologue in the play in the form of a letter.  Nicole expressed concerns about memorizing the letter scene due to her pronounced stutter she’s had all her life.  However, she revealed to us a secret weapon she had…if she sang portions of the latter, it would vastly improve her confidence in the performance and help her nail this monologue.  The result was a unique and passionate sing-spoken performance, a kind of dark lullaby Leonora gives to Donatella.  But a lullaby needs music, and Devanne volunteered to create the piece Nicole would perform to.

The music and performance has melded together into this gorgeous, moody, dark, and elegant harmony that highlights the drama in Exit Prima Donna.  A lullaby from a fallen mother.  When we started searching for incidental music to highlight moments of intense drama, when the story reaches a peak of shock or emotion.  We turned to Devanne’s music.  The beauty of her haunting melody was how easily would break it up into smaller selections which we titled “Rose Reveal,” “Dirge,” and “Knife.”  With moments such a deep gong of a bell on the revelation of a black rose, a symbol of love and death, and a dirge played during the funeral of a beloved character, Devanne’s music provides a backdrop for the emotional drama.  This broken lullaby is heard only in selected fragments before uniting in the letter scene, providing the show’s theme of love, loyalty, obsession, and revenge.

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Now we’ll hear from the composer of “Mia Bambina,” the super-talented Devanne Fredette, a five-time MMP actress (The Last Garden Party, Bury Me in Paris, Ode to Agatha, The Silent City, Exit Prima Donna) who can now add composing music to her long list of talents alongside acting and art which have earned her a coveted Skeleton Key Award for her work in C.R. Rowenson’s The Silent City.  She’ll talk about her process in developing the music.

Master Mystery Productions: So glad you could answer our questions, Devanne.  First of all, how did Daniel approach you to write this piece of music?

Devanne: We both approached the project very carefully as the script didn’t have the music written originally.  Composing started fairly early in rehearsals and just as the actors grew, the music adapted to the performance.

MMP: What was your approach to composing “Mia Bambina” for the show?

D: I wanted the music to fit the show, an opera full of amazing songs from amazing composers.  So I started with research.  The music in the scene needed to fit the mood of the whole show, but needed to be flexible enough to adapt to the scene itself.  The period of music (late 19th century) is perfect as the style put more emphasis on melody while a constant rhythm is pushed to the background.

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MMP: What were your inspirations for the music, and why did they inspire you?

D: My inspirations were multiple songs in the show such as “When I Am Laid in Earth,” “I Lived for Art,” and “Flower Duet,” along with various Italian lullabies.  Each of these pieces reflect different moments of Donatella’s psyche.  However, “Mia Bambina” is just as much Leonora’s theme as it is Donatella’s.  Inspired by how Nicole Johnson portrays Leonora as a devout Catholic, and as Italy has churches spread across it, the environment led its way into the music, specifically in the sounds of church bells.

MMP: Speaking of bells, what instruments did you select, and why?

D: The first instrument I selected was the harp, due to its ability to capture a sweeping lullaby.  In the beginning, this was between the harp and the piano, but as the song progressed, the harp was chosen for its delicate sound.  Accompanying it is the a combination of contrabass and solo double bass.  To help further distinguish the melody from the other instruments, tubular bells were chosen.  Another reason they were selected was due to their hard, hollow sound, allowing for the sound to emulate a church bell.

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MMP: Your music is played in full during a dramatic scene with a letter given to Donatella.  How does your music work with that scene?

D: First off, there’s its location in Exit Prima Donna as a whole.  It’s placed between two “major” songs–“major” as in the key where the tone tends to be bright and cheery.  My song was therefore written in minor key.  Secondly, the music is supposed to express Donatella’s psyche as the letter progresses and to reflect the changes in her mood as things are revealed.

MMP: How did you envision the music?

D: The music, as I see it, should set the mood.  Especially with the content that is presented.  Not only does it play for the letter scene, but it’s also broken up in other scenes as well.

MMP: What is your favorite part of “Mia Bambina?”

D: The dramatic setup for a shocking reveal that I placed in the melody.  Not to mention the acting.  I love it when people can act to my music, and I hope you enjoy the music yourselves!

MMP: And finally, would you write music for Master Mystery Productions again?

D: Yes!  I would love to.  There might even be a chance of more variety in the types of music I can write, and I hope to do it in the future.

MMP: Thank you so much, Devanne.  We look forward to seeing what you create.

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From L to R: Beth Sparks-Jacques and Devanne Fredette are two ladies propositioned by Leonardo (Rah Herrington) with an invitation to “dine” with his master.

There are two shows left to experience the exquisite musical performances of Exit Prima Donna and hear a mother’s deadly vow played out on the Amargosa Opera House stage.  April 7th and April 14th are the final two chances to see this lavish Master Mystery Production.  Get your tickets now before they exit the stage!  Call the Amargosa Hotel Front Desk at 1-760-852-4441 to reserve your seats. or email them at deathvalleyjunction.backstage@gmail.com to schedule your phone call to buy tickets.

We look forward to seeing you at the show!

–Master Mystery Productions

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