a journal of observations, obsessions and inspirations


ML Hart’s work has been called intimate, emotional, unique and mesmerizing.
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typed live, excuse erors
The Art of Making Opera

typed live, excuse erors

“I sat down on the back porch to read around 4:20 PM and didn’t quit until the setting sun made it too dark to continue. At the end I was skimming because of the failing light, so I can say I’ve read it but I admit it will take several readings to fully digest.

“I feel like the last one holding a lighter in a non-existent audience for a concert that ended thirteen years ago. The FAB burned intensely, like a mercury flare that ironically blinds you while attempting to illuminate the darkness. There has never been a possibility that the intensity would return, period. All of these years I’ve been trying to post questions or get some interaction going again to no avail, and it wasn’t until I read the book that I realized what a futile gesture that has been; not that I regret trying, just not being able to succeed. I guess I’ll have the chicken, please, at this reunion dinner. My heart has been pierced once again. Reading the posts and your memories is like looking at a book with photos of you and your first love.”
Mark Tuttle, Arizona


“WOW … Martha umm i’m stunned. Really well done. Feels heavy looks good .. reads well..graphics and design all top ..very handsome. I’ll have to go over it a few times to digest and critique the content.
Just quickly wanted to say cheers !! Thank you for all your long hours. Your passion.”
Mark Sink, Denver

“Just received my copy of “typed live, excuse errors”. A richly-documented example of the way the internet of twenty years ago enabled a geographically-separated group to attain a substantial measure of intellectual cohesion…photographers who were focused far more on the content and meaning of their images than on the technical aspects of their medium.

“The content takes me back to those special days, and I deeply appreciate the additional information about people I only knew by screen names. Moreover, the design of the book is awe-inspiring to those of us who don’t venture beyond MS Word and Adobe Acrobat with our monochrome pdf outputs. Elegant volume. Bravo, Martha!”
Jens Zorn, Michigan


“It is a rich mix of Martha’s narrative, posts from the original AOL/FAB, quotations from the e-interviews that she conducted, photographs from the halcyon days, and an amazing chronology. Short review: nicely produced, *thoroughly* researched, well written, attractive book. On top of all that, it seems to me to provide a sense of closure – why did it work so well? Why did it fold when it did? I heard a quotation from some expert on organizational dynamics “Organizations fail not because of their problems but because of their successes.” hmmmmmmmmmm – that was us.”
Ron Hammond, Seattle


“Typed Live, No Excuses! Martha, I am stunned by the book. It just arrived this morning. You have documented the ‘conversations’ with an elegance and comprehensive insight that is fulfilling and humbling. I feel so privileged to be included among the literati that posted all those years. Your personal story of how the FAB informed your experience and development as an artist is as inspiring as it is, well, important.

“Many conversations and communications among artists have occurred in history but are only documented in a few letters and – primarily – anecdotally. That you preserved that time in the original posters’ words proves your awareness and keen sense of what is significant. I am honored to have helped you – among the many who did – accomplish this document, this personal and revealing tome, this collection of thoughts and philosophies, this unique story of you, of all of us, of photography, of art, of communication.”
Robert Godwin, Los Angeles


“Martha’s book touched down today. Well done Martha! Packed full of great FAB facts and voices from the past. I love the timelines in the back on the history of photography and the digital/computer age.”
Tom Miller, Illinois



“The art of taking stage photographs is a difficult one, as can be seen by the often far from ideal results emanating from the highest quarters. ML Hart is clearly up there with the best… Superb as her production shots are, probably the most fascinating photographs are the informal ones — performers getting dressed and made up, in rehearsal, relaxing, and all the areas of backstage activity….

“… it is in the detail and depth of its coverage that the book is most appealing. I don’t recall having seen anything of the kind with such scope.”

Alison Jones
Opera-Opera [Australia]
read the full review, below


“It is all too easy to be amazed by a performance at the opera house, without considering the work of all those not on stage that went into producing the event. And no matter how often performers take the time, Oscar fashion, to thank ‘all those without whom this production would not have been possible,’ the audience rarely gets the full picture. Martha Hart’s photographic diary of two years spent with San Diego Opera, however, certainly gives us that. …

[T]he book is peppered with insightful comments from all those involved and fascinating little snippets of information about those pictured. Richard Bonynge’s foreword reveals why the pictures are so successful, ‘At no time was one aware of the presence of a photographer, and the naturalness and quality of the photographs proves this.’ Readers will certainly find the book a fascinating insight into work that is all too often taken for granted.”

Antonia Couling
Opera Now [UK]


The Art of Making Opera is a welcome effort to capture the otherwise invisible world backstage in the weeks of rehearsal before the curtain is raised and the audience is able to view the finished performance. ML Hart was given unlimited access to the San Diego Opera for two years, and this book is her testament to that exciting world. With hundreds of unposed photos of the rehearsal process, this book shows the everyday goings-on in an opera company. One charming display is of tenor Richard Leech, gazing into a mirror; on one page he is applying makeup, and on the other he has become Don José.

“It is a lovely testimonial to the explosive interest in opera.”

Michelle Krisel
Book Review, Los Angeles Times


“This handsome volume, consisting of more than 350 stunning black-and-white photographs with accompanying text, represents [ML Hart’s] personal view of the company’s work throughout the 1996 and 1997 seasons. No aspect of the performances, or their preparation, has escaped her. Principal singers, directors, chorus, extras, musical staff, wardrobe personnel, stagehands and orchestra are caught in photographs of extraordinarily vivid immediacy, and her text describes everything that goes on…”

Charles Osborne
Opera [UK]


This is the ideal book for everyone who loves opera and who is curious to learn how one makes it to the stage. Given the huge collaborative effort it represents, it is a grand behind-the-scenes look at the process.”

Alan Caruba
President, Book Views


“What a splendid volume! The photos are as alive as reality and the text so clear and insightful. …. Little did any of us know what deep sensibility and knowledge of the theatre was guiding that camera.”

Donald Moreland
librettist, The Conquistador


“ML Hart’s magnificent The Art of Making Opera [is] a fascinating photographic memoir … Hart’s observations about what goes on backstage, frontstage and all around the theatre are — I can only say — truly revelatory. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read on the creation of opera.”

David Gregson
music critic, San Diego Magazine


“You have a wonderful capacity of finding the right moment which often passes in a split second.”

Michael Hampe
opera director / Intendant, Dresdner Musik Festspiele
Professor of Music, Heidelberg University


What an incredible, massive, beautiful work. Hundreds of images worked carefully onto the pages… we were all wowed. … Let me tell you, it was worth her effort and will be a book any of us would be proud to have produced.”

Richard Bram
fine art photographer, U.S. & Europe


“The beautiful book (The Art of Making Opera) … really creates such a great interest in opera. One must surely fall in love with the theatre by simply leafing through the book.”

Bernd Feuchtner
OPERNWELT Magazine [Germany]


Opera Through a Well-Tuned Camera
Opera-Opera [Australia] May 1998

by Alison Jones

The art of taking stage photographs is a difficult one, as can be seen by the often far from ideal results emanating from the highest quarters.

In Australian terms, the unchallenged master is Branco Gaica. San Diego’s ML Hart (identified sporadically as Martha, thus ensuring that we know a female face hides behind the anonymous initials) is clearly up there with the best — and in addition she has had a great idea for a book.

The Art of Making Opera is Hart’s conception, but enthusiastically backed by San Diego Opera under the leadership of Ian Campbell, as it gives the company splendid exposure. Sitting in through two seasons of preparation, backstage work and performances, Hart has achieved the double aim of illustrating and illuminating the making of opera and showcasing San Diego Opera.

Superb as her production shots are, probably the most fascinating photographs are the informal ones — performers getting dressed and made up, in rehearsal, relaxing, and all the areas of backstage activity. She makes interesting compositions of pots of paint, drawers of eyelashes, an array of open black umbrellas waiting to be picked up for a chorus entrance. Faceless hands appear playing instruments, with cards on a table or selecting cakes at an interval drinks party — even the audience is not neglected as a vital factor in the equation.

Trained in theatrical design, Hart has the advantage of being an enthusiastic opera buff as well, and so was able to write her own text. She kept a journal and her conception of what to use evolved in the course of the project, from an emphasis on her own feelings (“tedious, reading it over”) to “notes from casual conversations and formal interviews, my impressions of what happened in rehearsals and what others felt about their work. Some days in rehearsal I spent more time watching and listening than shooting.”

Hart’s background allows her to make expert comments on a new, computer-assisted method of producing what looks like a tapestry — less realistic than traditional methods, but miles cheaper. When she photographs a lighting designer, she comments on his “typical” stance — “looking down, always down, at the stage floor, as a small area of light is shaped and focused.”

But her interests are not only visual. Her love of the art form combined with two years of close association with the company at work have resulted in insights in other quarters.

She quotes resident conductor/music administrator Karen Keltner on the relationship between pit and stage, explaining the way singers rely on peripheral vision rather than staring fixedly at the conductor, but points to additional hazards to co-ordination, such as a duet in L’Italiana in Algeri, when the singers were riding bicycles: “It takes a total act of faith to just wave your arms and expect someone riding a bicycle to actually sing, what with disappearing offstage… and trusting that when it’s the right time, one or more singing artists will again appear on their bicycles!”

Conductor Edoard Müller provides a neat answer to the perennial question of who leads, singers or conductors: “When you make love with your wife, who’s in charge? Who takes the lead? It constantly changes. It’s balanced.”

San Diego Opera’s presentation of a world premiere, Myron Fink’s The Conquistador, one of its most significant ventures, offered Hart the chance to follow the collaborative process between composer, librettist and performers — with a nice comment from Fink about how he came across the subject in a book: “There was nothing unusual about the book, oh the color of it was garish, but nothing else really. Understand though, that when Ian Campbell tells this story… There was a Shaft of Light striking the book and the Heavens opened up and voices started to Speak to me… but let me tell you, it didn’t happen that way!”

To complete the book’s usefulness as a document of record, there is a history of opera in San Diego Opera by the local music critic and a complete list of all San Diego productions — dates, casts, the lot.

For those looking for local interest, antipodeans Richard Bonynge, Deborah Riedel, Patrick Power, and Catherine Ireland are there, but it is in the detail and depth of its coverage that the book is most appealing. I don’t recall having seen anything of the kind with such scope.