I am writing the text of a significant musical work that will be sung by a chorus. I will also be composing the music, but this question is specific to the lyrics that the chorus will sing. Note that this is not a "dramatic work" like an opera or music theatre work, but rather a "concert work." None of the singers in the chorus are trained as actors, nor will there be roles, acting, characters, costumes, or a set.
The subject of the piece is a significant historical event in the 19th century, for which I have found several good sources:
- diary accounts and letters from people who were there
- poetry by people who were there, both narrative poetry and more abstract
- newspaper articles from the days and weeks after the event
- historical accounts written in the last ten years
Stylistically, I do not want to use a [spoken] narrator to tell the story. I want to tell it entirely in music. But how to I make sure the audience grasps what is going on? I could write explanations to be printed in the concert program, but wouldn't want to rely on these because sometimes it's too dark to read them, people who listen to recordings after the fact won't have them, etc.
One of the poems written about the event uses a detached, third person perspective. It's a simple narration, in rhyming verse. But then, how do I transition the text back to the first person accounts, which tell parts of the story in dialogue? I could break the work into movements and give each movement a descriptive title, but I worry that this won't be enough to tell the story fully.
Using some of the more abstract poetry is easier to do - that suits itself well to chorus - but it doesn't really advance the narrative.
I would love ideas for how lyricists/librettists would approach thinking about handling narrative voice in such a setting.