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Rene Orth talks Drake, Beyonce and putting a modern spin on opera

The young composer was recently named Opera Philadelphia's latest composer-in-residence.
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Opera Philadelphia has a new composer-in-residence — Dallas native and Curtis Institute graduate Rene Orth. Selected from a national field of applicants, her music draws from a range of influences including electronic and the musician even professes her love for artists at the top of the pop charts like Drake and Beyonce. We got the chance to chat with the 31-year-old about what to expect from her stint as Opera Philadelphia's newest composer-in-residence,during Orth's recent visit to Europe.

Where are you calling from today, Rene?
I just got into Spain today. I’m with my boyfriend and he is from Valencia so we are on our way to Valencia from Aix-en-Provence in France.

How does it feel to be named composer-in-residence?
Oh my gosh. I’m still having a hard time addressing it. It’s really kind of amazing. I mean it’s such an honor. I just wanna write opera so it’s just the perfect opportunity for me. I’m just super excited to get started and just work as hard as I can for the next three years. To learn everything I can.

What does the program entail?
It’s super open-ended. I think they want to make it kind of a personal track for each composer-in-residence so that it can be tailored to whatever their strengths are and whatever their interests are. I haven’t had my first meeting yet. I think we are going to wait until I got back in the next couple of weeks to discuss more specifics. I got a grant from Opera America, the Discovery Grant, to workshop a new opera — so I really want to focus on that the first year.

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Where do you find inspiration?
The short answer is everywhere, but I’m really interested in relationships between people. Family relationships are really interesting to me. I love to travel so I am really inspired by a lot of experiences. I think every moment in life can be inspirational.

Does Philly inspire you?
Yeah, I love Philly. There is so much going on. I’m from Dallas so the Northeast was kinda scary for me to move to and it was the first city I moved to without a car, but there is so much going on. I love how much art is happening. The food in Philly is really incredible. I’m friends with a chef and we talk about collaborating a lot.

When you are free in Philly, what are some of your favorite places to go?
Little Spoon which is on 16th and South. Parc is awesome. I had a roof deck and that was a lovely place to sit to see the skyline. When it is nice out it is just nice to walk, too. But Little Spoon was always my go-to place.

OK. Back to music! What are your go-to jams in your downtime?
I listen to pop music all the time. I did like the Weekend but I feel like he is really misogynistic so I don’t listen to him as much. Drake I think has really incredible production as does Beyonce with “Lemonade.” I have a background in audio engineering so the production to me is really incredible.

Does this have any influence on your work?
Actually, the new opera that I want to work on — my librettist is Jason Camm. I don’t know if you watch the HBO show “Girls,” but he is a writer on the show and he is my librettist. I’m half Chinese and he is Korean and we wanted to do something that would put Asians on stage because we both feel like they are incredibly underrepresented. The story is also about needing to appear perfect in order to be accepted. I plan to use auto-tune because I really enjoy using electronics in my stuff.

What does that look like in an opera production?
I did it in my last opera, “Empty the House” at Curtis. I made premade soundtracks that were cued. I think sound design is super fun because you’re putting together sounds to make new ones. That’s how I’ll do that and then this time I’ll involve some live processing electronics so they will sing it then maybe I will take what they sung and manipulate it.

For more information on Rene Orth, visit reneorth.com

You can listen to excerpts from her opera, “Empty the House,” below.

 
 
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