Steampunk has inspired a lot of art, and for composer Paul Shapera it’s inspired a full scale opera.
The Dolls of New Albion, A Steampunk Opera is a 90 minute, 4 Act musical with each Act following a different generation of the McAlistair family in the fantastical city of New Albion. The story begins with lonely scientist Annabelle McAlistair’s attempt to bring back her dead love into the body of a mechanical mannequin. A Pandora’s box is opened and through successive generations the resulting trouble threatens to bring about the city’s fall.
Composing any opera takes time and dedication but for Shapera this particular piece was decades in the making. “I’ve been composing for twenty years. When I was young I made a series of rockish musicals. I was really into the idea, but eventually I had to face the fact that despite great ambition and a bit of talent, I simply didn’t possess the skills, tools, or maturity of ideas to actually pull it off. So I stopped and concentrated on just making solid and interesting albums.”
After gaining success and experience as a composer Shapera once more delved into trying to make musical stories, but it was a friend who put the idea of writing a full scale opera into his head. “One day an old comrade of mine who directs, Mark Swetz, wrote to me and asked what I thought about making an opera. A REAL opera. A classical opera. I told him there was no way. ‘I don’t write classical music. I write arty, rocky, musical stuff’. I told him, ‘The only kind of opera I would write would be…’ and from the top of my head out came, ‘A Steampunk Opera’”.
Shapera’s experience with Steampunk was limited but after his off-the-cuff suggestion he found he couldn’t stop thinking about the idea. “After few days I wrote back and told him I HAD to write a Steampunk opera. I had to; I was compelled beyond my ability to refuse.”
For many people Steampunk is a very visual genre, and translating it into music was an exciting challenge for Shapera. “What enamored me about making a Steampunk opera was the very idea of putting the Steampunk aesthetic to music. There was so little Steampunk music that it was open season. So little was established, you could practically invent it. I found a video of this large Victorian music box playing and the moment I heard it, I knew that would be the sound that began the entire thing. The Overture to The Dolls of New Albion was my attempt to utterly capture Steampunk.”
To date this Steampunk event has received a workshop production in London with plans for another at Oxford in February 2014. When asked if he had a clear vision for a full production one day, Shapera had this to say, “I don’t have a well designed visual for the show in my head. This is intentional. I have an extremely well designed fantasy world in my head, but the stage look is not up to me. I tried to make a work that others could take directors, designers, costumers, and actors to create their own version of. They probably have awesome ideas I would never think of in a million years. I would just as soon stay out of their way.”
Since his initial foray into the Steampunk world Shapera has completed The New Albion Radio Hour, A Dieselpunk Opera, and once he releases a separate album of music inspired by fairy tales he will be hard at work on an Atompunk Opera, completing the trilogy. “You’ve got to go think about something else then come back. You bring back more than you left with that way”
Tracks for both completed operas are up and available through Mocha Lab