As a teenager in rural upstate New York, Michael Ross liked to compose pop songs with his best friends. Three decades later, he is tackling the most complex of musical art forms, opera.
On Saturday night, Arts at St. John’s in Miami Beach, will present a preview of Ross’s latest work, The Head of Medusa, an opera in three acts.
“I’ve always been fascinated with her,” explained Ross, an accompanist and singer who performs with Florida Grand Opera, Palm Beach Opera and teaches at Pinecrest School. “The myth is really only a paragraph long. She starts out as the most beautiful woman, turned people to stone and is finally beheaded at the end.”
Creating an opera is not an easy task, at least compared to the songs he composed as a kid. He started with a libretto, the lyrics for the arias and recitatives, and then set the poetry to music, a process that took nearly two years.
“I had to teach during part of the day, so I would get to (school) early and work on it,” he recalled.
He enjoys the process, researching the characters and locations, giving the characters voices and orchestrating the music. His experience and university voice training at the State University of New York in Purchase certainly came in handy.
“There are a lot of orchestral musicians who write operas, but they’re not always completely comfortable working with the voice,” said Ross, 45, whose first major composition was a Requiem mass that he wrote while living in New York City. He and his partner moved to South Florida in 2004.
Ross describes himself as a romantic, inspired by the dramatic operas of the Italian masters Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini. He was also inspired by the opera diva Maria Callas, herself of Greek origin, while penning the role of Medusa.
The performance will be a “preview,” Ross said, a semi-staged version with some costumes and props, performed in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Methodist Church. It’s a production on a shoestring, the eight principal performers and 10 chorus members are all professional singers who are volunteering their time.
And Ross has been hard at work, in addition to composing the opera, he is also doubling as director, producer, stage manager and accompanist.
There’s no greater thrill than seeing the hundreds and hundreds of hours come to life on stage. His first opera, based on the story of Anne Frank and premiered in 2011. He’s putting together a demo recording this year to distribute to opera companies across the country, but he’s already received requests to mount productions.
After the premiere of Medusa, he’ll also get to work completing his next project, an opera based on the life of Mathew Shepard, the young gay man who was brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998. He plans to debut that work on Dec. 1, Shepard’s birthday and, coincidentally, World AIDS Day.
If You Go:
The Head of Medusa
An Opera in Three Acts by Michael Ross
Presented by Arts at St. John’s
Saturday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.
St. John’s United Methodist Church,
4760 Pine Tree Dr., Miami Beach
Free, $15 donation suggested
For more information, ArtsAtStJohns.com JW Arnold