by Judy Jones
CARLA LUCERO - COMPOSER
CARLA LUCEROS SCORING OF HER OPERA
Gender mentioned in this enlightened age?
Not by me until I learned the last time the
New York City Opera commissioned a
female composer for an opera was 1903!
Hard to believe? Even harder after attending
"Wuornos" an opera by Ms. Carla Lucero in
San Francisco in 2001.
Carla's music ripped thru me like a bolt of
lightening and by the time I left her opera,
tears rolled down my cheeks and my heart
was wide open.
I was changed forever after attending
"Wuornos". Not just by the music,
but also because Carla was the first female
opera composer I had ever heard of!
I thought females weren't allowed to compose
such lofty things as 'opera'.
Why hadn't I ever attended an opera by
a female composer before now and why
wasn't this opera being presented at the
San Francisco Opera House!
I may never know the answers to those
questions but thanks to Ms. Lucero women
composers have made an evolutionary leap
towards reaching their loftiest stars!
Carla Lucero is destined to become
one of the best opera composers of our
century and the interview that follows
gives us insight into a most gifted mind!
How do 'The Gods' decide on whom
to bestow such prestigious gifts as
those of opera composing?
I didn't promise miracles when I
started "ON THE ROAD WITH JUDY!"
and don't have that answer, but if
you do please let all the readers of
"On the Road With Judy!" know!
THE FOLLOWING INTERVIEW WITH
OPERA COMPOSER CARLA LUCERO
IS DEDICATED TO THE SILENCED
VOICES OF FEMALE COMPOSERS
MAY THEY SPEAK FOREVER MORE
Carla have you started
No, I've never even thought about doing that.
Maybe many years from now, when I have a
larger body of work.
How old were you when you first
I probably always composed
on some level, whether it was creating
melodies as a toddler or writing little
songs after I began piano lessons at
five years old. I only started composing
serious music when I switched my college
major from piano to composition.
Carla Lucero age 3
Are your parents musicians/composers
or artists of other kinds?
Neither of my parents are professional
musicians, but my Father played the clarinet
in his childhood and my Mother sang in the
church choir for years. I was raised in a home
where there was music playing all the time,
from western classical music, to Indian music.
My father introduced me to opera
when I was a baby.
Did your parents encourage your music?
Yes. they always encouraged me
to continue with music. They recognized my
love and aptitude for it at a very early age.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
And if so, are you middle, youngest,
or oldest, etc.?
I have one sister and one brother.
I am the oldest.
When did you start composing your
"Wuornos" was my first opera.
I began writing the libretto and composing
the music in 1996. It took five years
Have you started on another one?
Yes, I'm working on a new opera
about the famous 17th Century Latin American
Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz.
She was an amazing individual.
Carla and her favorite
Mezzo Soprano, Karen Feder
who is singing role of
Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz
Because of the fate of
Aileen Wuornos have you any plans
to redo the opera with a
No. The ending was intentionally
ambiguous, but it showed the reality
of what could have and did happen
in the end.
(Carlas first opera "Wuornos" was
based on the true story of a prostitute
Eileen Wuornos, who was recently
executed for murdering six men.
Eileen is becoming a cult figure
with a huge following)
When did you first realize that
being a female opera composer was a tough
role or perhaps it isn't to you.
IMMEDIATELY!!!!! I found that
many people were either totally patronizing
or skeptical at first, without even hearing my
music. There are a lot of assumptions made
about women composers.
The classical music world is still totally
dominated by men. Women usually play
supporting roles, as they do in the
outside world. I sometimes refer to this
syndrome as the "lead ceiling."
I haven't heard of another
female opera composer and I read
the last time the New York City Opera
commissioned a piece by a woman
was in 1903! Certainly there have
been many operas written
by women before and after that.
What happened to their works Carla?
This is the saddest thing.
For centuries, the very few
women who even ventured to
compose realized quickly
that they would receive little
or no support for their talents
or efforts. Rarely, would their
pieces be performed. The best
chance they had to have their
music heard was to be able to
perform it themselves or with
a friend or two. This is why so
much of what we have from
women composers (to this day)
is in the form of solo piano
pieces, or small ensembles.
Clare Schumann quit composing
to promote her husband Robert
Schumann's compositions and I
saw a film about Ana Mahler the
wife of composer Gustav Mahler.
He asked her to give up composing
and concentrate on his career.
She did. Would you ever consider
giving up your music for another
Absolutely not! Music is a
calling for me. I don't know who
I am without it. I don't think anyone
would want to be around me if
I wasn't composing. I am also
very project oriented. I always
need large projects to work
on. I've had to explain this before
getting involved with someone
romantically. They either understand
and become supportive, or they
are in denial, find out with their
own two eyes and then run!
I think of Hypatia who
one of the most intelligent
women to have graced earth.
She was stoned to death and
her skin flayed from her body with
abalone shells upon the orders of a monk
who was jealous of her gifts.
Hypatia of Alexandria
Do you think attitudes towards women,
especially gifted ones, will change?
I think this has to start with
women, themselves. We have to be
supportive of each other. Jealously is so
destructive and counter-productive to our
advancement. Once we get that fact
and start behaving accordingly, then
we will have the men to contend with.
I think men, in general, don't see women
as threats. I, though, did encounter some
jealously from male composers, but I really
think this stemmed from their sense of
When I started jogging twenty years
ago I read that the first woman ever to run
a marathon was in the 1960's and she had
to dress as a man to enter the race since
women were not allowed to run them! She
was a pioneer. Since you have escaped the
traditional female roles and forged ahead
as a brilliant composer, do you consider
yourself a 'trailblazer', 'a pioneer' for
women composers Carla?
You are so complimentary.
I'm not so sure I deserve all that credit!
There were many women composers that
came before me who struggled more than
I did and received much less attention.
Their efforts really paved the
way for women like me. I know that I am
something of an anomaly, though, because
I chose opera as my art form.
I had many, many talented, bright and
ambitious people behind me who
believed in my work. I think this was
essential in bringing "Wuornos" to
the stage with a full production. On
a side note, I too ran a marathon last
year. It was the Honolulu Marathon.
I ran for the San Francisco AIDS
Foundation. I'm going to do it
again. Want to join me?
Carla and her running partner
Tim Kuster, after the 2002
I would love to although
due to some surgery on my large toes
I am extremely slow and fall alot
without my big toes for balance.
But I always finish a race even
if I come in last (which I did once!).
I wrote a poem title
"GROWING BALLS AT 40!"
about having to run ten miles,
bike and swim three in order to get
the testosterone pumping in me so I
can compete in this 'Male Society!'
Carla would you rather
work professionally with men or women
or does it matter?
Good question. It really
depends on the situation and the roles
people are playing in a project. With
Wuornos, I tried to choose the most
talented people with a similar vision
to mine. It was a pretty mixed bag,
gender-wise. In the end, I think gender
is my last consideration.
Who are some of your mentors?
Sadly, I've only studied under
male composers. They are supremely
talented, but it would have been more
inspiring for me to have studied with
a few women too. My composer mentors
were Morton Subotnik, Rand Steiger,
Lucky Moscow and Leonard Rosenmann.
My piano mentor was Leonid Hambro.
Who is your favorite opera
composer and what is your favorite opera?
(besides your own, "Wuornos" which is mine!)
Again you are too kind!
My favorite opera composers are: Verdi
(overall, especially the way he weaves
his beautiful melodies into a seamless
tapestry). Berg (for his absolute genius
in following natural speech patterns
and then exaggerating them into
a very warped, yet highly emotional
melodic line, and his mastery of 12-tone
music) and Stravinsky (rhythm, power,
momentum). My very favorite opera is
Do you use a computer to
No. I'm totally primitive. It
feels too unnatural. I'm a scribbler.
Why do you think Aileen
Wuornos, the woman your opera
"Wuornos" was based on is
reaching a cult-like status
in the world?
This question makes me so sad.
When Aileen was first arrested
in 1991, she was labeled "the First Female
Serial Killer". That grabbed a lot of headlines.
She hadn't been convicted of anything
yet, but many people had a lot of deals
riding on that title - her lover,
some of the detectives on the case,
her lawyer, the woman who adopted her
and various in-betweens who were trying
to capitalize on her notoriety. Then, after
her six death sentences, there was
a lull in the attention.
She came back into the news in 2001
when she tried to stop the appeals
process for herself, (which coincided
with the premier of my opera), and
there was silence again until her
execution last fall. Now she is back
in the news because of yet another
Hollywood movie coming out
The title of this film is so distasteful
and disrespectful - "Monster".
A & E did a biography about her
as well. They showed a blip of my
opera. I haven't seen the segment yet,
but from what the producer said
in the beginning, they will be
concentrating on her entire life. This
is the only reason I allowed them to use
Are you involved with the
Womens Philharmonic Orchestra
in San Francisco?
They took a look at my opera
when it was in the early stages of
pre-production & opted out.
I think the Women's Philharmonic is a
fairly conservative outfit.
You are a woman ahead
of her time Carla, scaling mountains
few have dared. What is your advice to
other women composers who want to
reach the summits and breath the same
air as male composers?
DON'T GIVE UP! Use adversity
to fuel the passion in your art.
Believe in your music and only
compete with yourself to do the best
you can. Be confident and surround
yourself with people who believe in you.
Also, set concrete goals to have your
music performed. The added pressure
of deadlines and having to share your
creations with the public pushes you
that much harder.
What do you see yourself doing
twenty years from now?
I'll be composing until the
day I die. Hopefully, I'll be writing
another opera or symphony that
an opera company or symphony
commissions fully, so that I can concentrate
only on the project.
Have you ever thought of
moving to Prague where there are
three or four opera houses and
classical musicians playing all
over the streets? Or relocating to
another European city such as
Italy where opera is immensely popular?
Funny you should ask that.
I am fascinated with Prague. I would also
consider moving to Amsterdam. My
heart is in Europe. A lot of
my artistic sensibilities are European.
The United States is a cold place to
be an artist of any sort and its
getting even colder with all the
arts funding being cut. I have been
fortunate in the past with art funders.
We'll see how far I get with this
next opera I'm working on.
What does Carla do to
replenish her soul and spirit when "Wuornos".
you feel you've not an ounce of energy
to keep going? What is the secret that
keeps you 'reaching for your highest
star' when others stop before reaching
Friends and family. I also love
traveling. Reading is great too,
but I only read for pleasure when I'm on
vacation. I was lucky to have a very
supportive partner during the hectic
periods of production with "Wuornos".
That was a bonus and kept me centered.
My feet aren't usually planted too firmly
on the ground during the creative process,
let alone during the craziness of production.
Carla and her nieces, Hannah & Mirauda
Its said "The Gods"
give out the gifts of musical
composition to only a chosen few.
Do you feel chosen Carla?
Wow! How can I answer
that question? I guess I've always
had a calling for music. My parents
recognized it when I was a baby,
and I just knew it all through my life.
As far as being chosen, well, I believe
in God, and I think we are all chosen
to do what we are supposed to do,
eventually, so I am doing what I'm
supposed to do now.
Does that mean I'm chosen?
Carla Lucero's original scoring of her opera