From Stage to Studio: Recording a World Premiere

The 2018 cast of Steal a Pencil for me.
The world premiere cast of Steal a Pencil for Me performs with Opera Colorado in 2018. Photo: Opera Colorado/Matthew Staver

By: Jennifer Colgan

In 2018, Opera Colorado presented the world premiere of Steal a Pencil for Me by composer Gerald Cohen and librettist Deborah Brevoort. This poignant opera tells the story of two Dutch Jews, Jaap and Ina Polak, who fell in love while prisoners at the Nazi labor camp of Westerbrok in Holland and the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.

Cohen was interested in recording the opera around the time of the premiere, but the resources needed simply didn’t fall into place. However, the project never fell too far from his mind, and earlier this year, he found the support to move forward with a studio recording.

Baritone Thomas Lynch in American Song: Home

Opera Colorado was honored to take part in this special project with many of our original cast members and almost every musician who played in the premiere performances, with Music Director Ari Pelto at the podium. The recording took place at King Center Concert Hall in Denver in early June. Stay tuned for details about the release date—Steal a Pencil for Me will most likely hit a streaming platform near you in 2023.

We sat down with our 2021-22 Artist in Residence Thomas Lynch to ask him what it was like to be part of the project.

Tell us about your role in Steal a Pencil for Me.

I am singing the role of Nazi Guard #1. It has been an extremely challenging role to take on in many ways. The music for the Nazis is very robotic and leaves little room for error. Rhythmically, it is probably some of the most difficult music in the opera. And to top it all off, obviously, my character is a Nazi, and most of my text is riddled with terrible lines, so the role is also challenging mentally.

How is preparing for a recording different than preparing for a live role? How is your performance different?

Chorus members stand on risers during the recording.
The Opera Colorado Chorus participating in the 2022 recording of Steal a Pencil for Me.
Photo: Sahar Nouri

Recordings rely heavily on the kind of sounds you produce. When approaching a live role, there are many other factors you need to consider, such as how you move on stage, memorizing your music, what the character would do in this instance, etc. The music doesn’t have to be totally memorized but should be close in order to produce the best quality of sound.

Recording focuses on only the musical aspect of the performance. You present and sing the character as you would on stage, but you don’t have to worry about where you should be on stage or if a piece of costume threatens to fall off while you’re singing. In my preparation, I’ve learned my notes and rhythms to make them as accurate as possible, but I also add colors to the voice—for example, a frightened voice sounds different from an angry voice, so I include that in my singing based off what the character is saying and the situation they are in.

Have you taken part in a recording before? If so. How is this similar/different? If not. What’s the biggest surprise?

While I have taken part in recordings before, this will be my first recording of a full opera. It’s similar in how it’s organized. We record one scene or section at a time until we all feel good about a take. I’d say the only difference is the length of the recording process. In other recordings, we usually had more rehearsal time and then recorded in a day or two. This process had a short rehearsal period and a long recording process of five days. We hit the ground running, so to speak.

What has been your favorite part of this experience?

I like making music with people. It’s always my favorite part of an experience like this. The concept of collaboration and being a part of something bigger than yourself is fulfilling in and of itself.

Want to learn more about Steal a Pencil for Me? Check out some other posts on the OC Blog!

OC Stories: How to Create A World Premiere – Music Director Ari Pelto shares what it was like to bring the world premiere of Steal a Pencil for Me from the page to the stage!

OC Archives: Inna Dukach (Ina) in Steal a Pencil for Me (2018) – Enjoy a clip of soprano Inna Dukach in the world premiere performance of Steal a Pencil for Me.

OC Archives: Inna Dukach (Ina) and Gideon Dabi (Jaap) in Steal a Pencil for Me (2018) – Watch as Inna Dukach and Gideon Dabi inhabit the characters of Ina and Jaap in the world premiere of Steal a Pencil for Me.



Did you attend the world premiere of Steal a Pencil for Me in 2018? What do you think it would be like to play a real-life villain? What are your favorite operatic recordings? Let us know in the comments below!

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