YAV - OperaNetta - Countdown - The first opera in cyberspace


An opera for the nuclear age

music: Christopher Yavelow
libretto: Laura Harrington

Here is an introduction to my opera COUNTDOWN.

On the linked pages you will find the complete English libretto and the audio recordings. I have segmented the 28-minute opera into sixteen logical chunks dictated by the structure of the opera and also the consideration that I wanted every soundfile to take less than five minutes to load with a 28.8 k modem (of course, if you have a direct connection to the net, the files will load considerably faster - you can even listen to them as they load). The sixteen soundfiles come to about eleven megabytes in total and are in Sun "au" format. Therefore, if you are using a Macintosh you should probably have Sound Machine or ULaw Play designated as your "helper application" for playback of these files.

Click here to send me feedback (Christopher@yav.com).

(a young lieutenant in her twenties) - Mezzo Soprano
(an older military "lifer") - Lyric Baritone
(also: death, conscience, and disembodied loudspeaker voice) - Soprano


COUNTDOWN takes place beneath the surface of the earth, but not in the realm of the Nibelungen. Jenna and Charlie are in charge of an underground NORAD nuclear missile command silo. Jenna arrives slightly late one morning. Much to Charlie's surprize, she has smuggled in a little cassette recorder. Charlie thinks she plans to play music in the control room. But Jenna has just discovered that she is pregnant and the tape is really a recording of her baby's heartbeat in her womb. Charlie realizes that, due to Jenna's pregnancy, the administration will transfer her out of hazardous duty and he will miss her immensely. Jenna tries to console him. A nuclear alert occurs. The status progresses from "Yellow Alert" to "Orange Alert" but turns out to be a false alarm. Another alert comes in and this progress quickly to "Red Alert." Jenna and Charlie receive the orders to "push the button" (actually, to begin the elaborate launch procedure culminating in the simultaneous turning of two keys). As the countdown progresses from "Sixty Seconds and Counting" to the nuclear missile launch which will result in a retaliatory incoming missile targeting their command center, one by one the characters step out of time and reveal their final thoughts before they die.


COUNTDOWN was commissioned by the Boston Lyric Opera Company and written as part of an intensive 12-day composer/librettist collaboration workshop entitled "Opera in Process," sponsored by "Opera in the Eighties and Beyond" under the auspices of "Opera America," and "The National Endowment for the Arts." During the collaboration, the composer and librettist spent their days creating new text and music, culminating in 4 hours of rehearsal each evening with the conductor, John Balme, and singers, Karen Lykes (mezzo), Pamela Gailey (soprano), and Mark Aliapoulios (lyric baritone), as well as the stage director, Anne Ewers, and often, the dramaturg, Roger Ames.


An Apple Macintosh computer and a Kurzweil 250 Digital Music Workstation were used extensively during the creation of the work. The Kurzweil was used as an "orchestra in a box" or "orchestral sketchpad" and new recordings of the fully orchestrated music were produced daily. The Macintosh was used to capture performance (MIDI sequence) data, using Mark of the Unicorn's Performer software to control the Kurzweil. Subsequently the Macintosh was used to automatically convert this data into conventional music notation - first as an orchestral score, and then into a piano score for rehearsals - new music was printed each night while the participants slept.


On the twelfth day (February 12, 1987), the opera was completed and performed by the Boston Lyric Opera at the Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. The Kurzweil 250, completely under the control of a Macintosh computer, was used to realize the orchestral parts. The singers received some of their music the day before the performance.


COUNTDOWN went on to win the first prize in the Virginia Opera Society's "New One-Act Operas" competition in 1988. The society mounted a full production of the opera in 1989.

Playback Tips: The sound files are in mono format. I am using Sound Machine as a "Helper Application" to play these au format files back on the Macintosh. I have noticed on my system (which is optimized for stereo playback) that unless the volume of the empty channel is disabled or turned all the way down, the empty channel will add hiss to the channel with the sound. If you experience hiss during playback, you should try to disable playback of the empty channel. If you are listening through external amplification as I am, this may merely require panning your balance control all the way to one side.

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Graphics, text, sounds, etc.  Copyright  © Christopher Yavelow  1987 thru 1997