New opera in Dorico - thank you

I’ve posted in here many times asking for help, but this one is really just to say thank you. The opera I co-composed is having its premiere at La Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium on 21 April! Dorico was crucial in helping me realize this huge project, and this forum was crucial in helping me understand Dorico.

Perhaps people in here would be interested in some details? Well:

Ali is the true story of a 12-year-old refugee, fleeing Somalia and making his way across Africa and eventually to Europe. The libretto was co-written with Ali himself, and the music was composed by Grey Filastine, Walid Ben Selim, and me, Brent Arnold. We created the initial compositions in Ableton Live, almost like making an album. Then I exported as much midi as I could into Dorico, transcribed the vocal melodies, and from there did the orchestrations and created the piano/vocal score.
It’s scored for 3 voices (countertenor, mezzo-soprano, baritone) and 13 instruments (fl, cl/bcl, hrn, tpt, tbn, 3 perc, v1, v2, vla, vc, cb). It’s very percussion-heavy, including one percussionist who is mainly triggering electronic sounds using an SPD drum controller, and others who play some unusual instruments like bendir and kalimba, in addition to a more standard battery of pitched and unpitched percussion.
The opera is in 4 acts and the orchestral score clocks in at about 500 pages (A3), the piano/vocal score around 250 (A4).
I started this as a barely-intermediate Dorico user, and I still can’t say I’ve mastered it. But it has been extremely helpful. Of course I ran into some challenges and one of these days I have a bunch more questions to post, and a few bug reports too. But often the features that I found unintuitive on the front end began to make a lot of sense in the later parts of the project. And when it was time to create the parts, I was so glad to be using Dorico. That part of the project was incredibly smooth and any issues I ran into were easily solvable.
If anybody has any questions for me, about this opera, about the collaborative aspect, about moving from Ableton to Dorico (spoiler: this process sucked), or anything else, I’d be happy to answer when I get a chance (we are 9 days from opening night so… I’ll do my best)
Anyway, thanks to the Dorico team and thanks to the helpful people on this forum!


Congratulations on finishing such a huge project! I live on Vancouver Island in Canada which is rather far away but I have been to La Monnaie several years ago and wish I could be there again on April 21st. Best wishes with the production!

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Congratulations on your new opera! Do you know if any recordings will be made for sale? I would love to hear it.



I would love to see some sample pages, to see what kind situations you had to handle with Dorico.


That is super exciting - congratulations!

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Thank you! I understand that video of the production will be available for streaming sometime after 26 April but I don’t know the details yet. I’ll post them here when I find out more.
I’m hoping that a high-quality audio recording comes out of that as well, but often in my experience the audio is “just ok” when making a video is the focus.


Sincerest congratulations from Canada!

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Warmest congratulations to you from Scotland! The imagery looks amazing, and I am sure the music is too.

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Bonne chance, succes, good luck with the production. Friends of mine have tickets, I don’t know for which evening. Good to see it is sold out. I am curious why you used Ableton live and not Cubase for the initial composition? Are you using electronic sounds live?
Hope to be able to see the video.

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Always good news. Congratulations!

With a score this heavy on percussion, it would be great to see a sample page to see how you handled this in Dorico.

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Congratulations and I hope the premiere was successful for you! Working on an opera myself, I would also like to if I may how you integrated stage directions into the score. My system text – tempo and rehearsal marks – is placed above the score and above the strings. I would like the stage directions also to be system text but not appear above the stings. Any solution?

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@mikesvoboda Please see All my theatre vocal score requests! - #15 by Derrek and please do not post the same question in multiple locations.

Those most likely to offer help generally read every post.

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@Alexander_Ploetz and @Mikehalloran asked to see some sample pages… here is an excerpt that might be interesting.

You’ll notice a few things here. We had 3 percussionists, and I didn’t feel it was clear on the full score who was playing what instrument at a given time. So I found a workaround-- I made each percussionist their own “group” so that the numbers 1, 2, 3 were always visible on the left. I liked this solution, and the conductor appreciated it. But I would like to have more control over the appearance of the numbers; I’d prefer if they were oriented normally instead of rotated 90 degrees, and I’d like some control over the bracket appearance.

Our Percussion 2 was playing a Roland SPD drum controller, to trigger samples. The SPD has 9 pads, and I decided to notate them on a 5-line percussion staff. Filling all lines and spaces from bottom to top gives us 9 notes.

Different scenes used different sound banks we made on the SPD, and you’ll see the indication “SPD:006” here as an example (in a very handsome hexagonal box style, I really like this look btw)

For much of the show, the SPD is triggering “drumlike” sounds of indefinite pitch, but for the scene I’m showing here, the SPD is playing a pitched bassline (think trap/drill 808s). I wanted to also indicate the pitch, for reference, hence the SPD(pitch) staff. So percussion 2 is actually playing two “instruments” in this moment, with the pitched staff set to Synth Bass, which is in the ballpark of the correct sound.

Some of what I’m saying here might be more clear if I made a video, maybe I’ll do that later on if there’s interest.
ACTE 3 v4.25 - Orchestral Score Dorico demo page.pdf (58.6 KB)


@Rudie_Vissenberg , I hope your friends enjoyed the production!

We used Ableton Live because it’s what my co-composers use. I know Ableton very well also, but would certainly have chosen Logic for a project like this, or possibly Pro Tools. Ableton wound up being, umm, far from ideal. For the purposes of composing/ making the sketches, it has a very poor library of sounds, especially for a classical ensemble. And its MIDI export function is incredibly bad; every instrument must be exported individually, and it can’t deal with tempo maps or other normal MIDI things that have been around since the 80s. This combined in a very bad way with Dorico’s wonky MIDI import system, especially when it came to percussion import… it was really a nightmare, and I spent not just hours but many days trying to figure out how to make it work. And I only sort-of succeeded. It would have been much faster to re-input all of the percussion in the entire opera note by note-- something I reverted to at some points. After all that I still can’t say I really understand percussion import in Dorico (and I’m very tech-savvy).

To your 2nd question, we had one percussionist triggering electronic sounds live, using a Roland SPD, which does correspond fairly well with the Ableton drum racks. We had planned to have a computer onstage running Ableton, but decided to just load the sounds into the SPD for simplicity and reliability.

Thanks @mikesvoboda. I didn’t include many stage directions in this score, partly because we didn’t have a chance to workshop the show before starting rehearsals, so much of the staging was still undecided! But where I did put in indications, I only had it occurring on top, not above the strings.

I’m attaching two pages that show my fairly crappy method to put spoken text in, just using the plain text option.

I would appreciate more robust options in this department. Some of the suggestions of @Amy_Worrall in the post that @Derrek shared are quite good.

Thanks for posting the page!