General Prophet Joseph Smith
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Origin of the operatic musical General Prophet Joseph Smith

A long time ago in a high school far, far away, I heard the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time. I wasn't thrilled about the message of that musical work, but it did give me the idea of writing my own opera in contemporary (not classical) music, at around 16 or 17 years of age. Pretty ambitious of me, don't you think, to write an entire opera without any significant musical or theatrical training or experience? But I never worried about that. I just went ahead and did it.

The first challenge I faced was deciding upon a subject to write about. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had already written about the person most important to me: Jesus Christ. So I thought about the next most significant person in my religious life: Joseph Smith. I decided to write an opera about the events leading up to the martyrdom of Joseph Smith.

It took about five years of on-and-off writing to complete the music, lyrics, and chords of the contemporary opera General Prophet Joseph Smith. I could play it for people on the piano (with a great deal of fudging, since I couldn't really play the piano) but that was about it. I had dreams of having it performed on the stage in my local church in Minnesota, but they never materialized.

For twenty years the opera sat on the shelf. In the meantime computers, synthesizers, and software became marvelously sophisticated, and the day came that I realized I could do something with the opera without having to hire arrangers and orchestras. I purchased a decent synthesizer, sound card, and music software (I already had the computer), dusted off my opera manuscript, and proceeded to arrange the music for my electronic orchestra.

This process took two years, but after I finished I felt like I had something worthwhile. I played what I had for various people and found the opera was quite moving for them. This thing I had created as a teenager (with some badly needed polishing up and rewriting), and arranged as an adult, proved to be something that people enjoyed listening to.

So I took the next step. I recruited a cast of singers from several college campuses in the Salt Lake City area and produced a recording of the entire opera--all two and a half hours of it. I took the master recording and had CDs manufactured from it. The entire opera consumed every bit of room on two entire CDs.

So now General Prophet Joseph Smith, a contemporary opera written by myself, D. Michael Martindale, based on historical events leading up to the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, exists on a double CD set. I knew with the limited resources I had to produce the opera as a musical recording, that I could never match the high studio quality of a Michael MacLean or Kurt Bestor with their hundreds of thousands of dollars to pour into their projects. Therefore I went for a warm, intimate sound, as if the opera were being performed live on stage before your eyes. From the somber words of Joseph despairing over what to do when his friends, his colleagues, even his wife, demand he return to Nauvoo--although he knows it will be to his death--to the humorous and irreverent croonings of a tavern full of drunks in Carthage; to the gentle petitions of the wives of the men in Carthage jail as they pray for their husbands' safe return, General Prophet Joseph Smith will entertain you, inspire you, perhaps even bring a tear to your eye.

D. Michael Martindale, author

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