Newsletter #7: 10 days left


Ready or not, here we come! We’ve got less than two weeks left until we put on my great grandfather’s long lost opera for a world premiere concert here in Chicago on Friday, September 18th (tickets on sale here— use discount code “amigo” for 25% off!)

I’m a bit taken aback by the amount of support you’ve given this project already. It’s been humbling to have you all be so generous with our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.And it’s equally exciting to get contributions from people I’ve never met from places as far flung as England and Australia, who won’t be able see the show in person but are excited about getting video rewards afterwards.

We talked about all the generous support we’ve been getting at our cast meeting yesterday. Please take a moment to check out our donor rewards if you haven’t already. Kickstarter recently featured us as an official “Staff Pick,” whatever that means… We just added some stretch goals too, because we’re going to need all the help we can get.

In the past week I’ve done four press interviews with different media outlets: one with a radio show, another two with news websites and even one over Skype with a publication down in Colombia where my great grandfather (the composer) was originally from. Here’s a bit from the first article to come out:

[Arlen] Parsa, a 28-year-old documentary filmmaker who describes himself as “a naive Millennial who knows nothing about opera,” was determined to have the work performed. […] 

When the opera premieres on September 18, some 80 years after it was written, Parsa will finally get an answer to a question that has been nagging him this whole time: What does the music actually sound like?

We’ll find out together. Read the full article at

The team also had their first opportunity to check out the theater space recently too. We reflected on the size of the theater– and how many seats we have to fill. We’d love to see you at the event if you can make it. Once again, here’s that ticket link; discount code amigo will net you 25% off the normal price. If you’re already coming, invite some friends! The more that can join us on this adventure, the merrier.

Thanks so much again for all your support along this journey.

Hopefully we’ll see you next Friday!

Newsletter #6: I don’t know the last time I felt this nervous about anything…


On Friday, September 18th, we’re going to put on the world premiere of the long lost opera that my great grandfather wrote back in 1934. It’s going to be wild. (Thanks so much to all of you who have bought your tickets in advance!)

But in order to put on this show, we’re going to need to raise some funding first. That’s why we’re doing a kickstarter campaign. It just went live: Watch the video here.

I’ve never done anything like this before, but I know we’re going to need all the help we can get. Here are three things you can do right now to give us huge a boost.

  1. Check out our donor rewards and consider donating yourself. A modest donation gets you two premium tickets to see the show! And if you can’t make it in person, we’ll send you an awesome video of the performance afterward.
  2. Share this project on social media. You can paste the kickstarter link on Facebook to embed the video in your timeline. Be sure to let your friends know why you’re a fan of this project. If everyone who gets this email shared the kickstarter video once or twice over the course of the campaign, tens of thousands of people would see it.
  3. Send our our campaign link to a specific friend or two via email. If you know somebody that might be particularly interested in this project, send them a quick personal note with the link and let them know you know this poor fool who’s on a weird mission (that would be me!) and you think they might get a kick out of it. Or, share it directly on the Facebook profile page of a specific friend or two.

Thank you, everybody, for all the kind words and encouragement you’ve given me so far on this strange journey. It’s humbling, and your support means the world to me. Now it’s time to make some magic happen. Let’s do this.


Newsletter #5: OMG this is actually happening


I have some pretty big news. You know how I’ve been working to resurrect my great grandfather’s long lost opera that’s never been performed?

Well, we now have a performance date. Friday, September 18 at a gorgeous local Chicago theatre. Take a peek inside:

Wow. The Athenaeum Theatre was built in 1911, and it is absolutely gorgeous…

… But it’s also got a lot of seats for us to fill for this one night only show.

So I hope you’ll join us in this crazy adventure on the evening of Friday September 18th at 7:30PM. This music has never been performed– it’s been sitting in a box for 80 years. Will it be amazing? Will it be a disaster? We’ll find out together.

Tickets are on sale now; you can purchase them online, or by calling the Athenaeum Theatre Box Office at (773) 935-6875.

I can’t believe this is actually happening. I think I need to lie down.

Newsletter #4: Next Steps


In my newsletter last month, I talked about how I need to get the score for my great grandfather’s long lost opera in performable shape– if we’re ever going to have a shot at hearing what it sounds like. And that means creating what’s called a computer engraved version. But right now, all we have is an 80 year old handwritten manuscript.

So step one is creating a digital scanned version of the manuscript itself.

Since this antique sheet music is larger than a normal sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper, it won’t fit on a normal flatbed scanner. I used a special kind of book scanner, which projects a light beam on to the pages. It’s a little bit like something out of Star Wars.

Music scanned? Check. And that’s where I ran into a dead end. I don’t know the first thing about music so I needed help. Luckily, I was able to enlist the help of a local expert!

Meet Dr Pablo Chin. Pablo is a composer himself from Latin America (just like my great grandfather was!). And he’s helping us out by transcribing the handwritten score into a computer version that can actually be performed. It’s not easy reading faded ink and tiny handwriting, but he’s doing a fantastic job.

With the digital scanned version of the score, Pablo can zoom in to read tiny notations in the score that would otherwise be unintelligible, or tough to read even with a magnifying glass.

And here’s the fruit of his labor, printing out for the first time:


Next month, I’ll share with you some more of this journey to get this opera performed for a world premiere, 80 years after it was written. Who knows, I might even have some good news to share. But that’s all for now.


Newsletter #3: “Kind of a disaster”


Is it the end of the month already? I wanted to give you a quick update on my odd little project, bringing my great grandfather’s long lost opera to life. Last month I sent out an email about how I rediscovered this opera to begin with.

So, how am I going to get this thing performed for a world premiere, 80 years after it was written?

First off, I want to say that I know nothing about opera. And if you had asked me my opinion of opera music before I started this project, I probably would have scrunched up my nose. But that’s changing.

Meet Chris Ramaekers. He’s an award winning conductor, and I met up with him a little while ago to figure out what kind of shape this handwritten opera manuscript is in. Music is like a whole other language to me. And to make things worse, the manuscript we have is in Spanish, so it’s literally a whole other language. Luckily Chris speaks both of these languages.

“The full score is old but in pretty good shape,” Chris told me. But “the piano-vocal score is kind of a disaster.” He’s right. In order to get a sense of what this music actually sounds like, it’ll need to be in performable condition. And in the 21st century, that means a computer-engraved score, not a handwritten draft.

Converting an entire antique opera into something we can actually hear is a big task. I’ll tell you how we’re doing it in my next email update. I can’t wait for you to see what we’ve got lined up. Until then, if you want, you can Like the Facebook page I’ve set up for this project, where I’ve been posting some great photos of the composer (my great grandpa!) that were taken 100 years ago. This month, I posted about the kindness of some random internet sleuths who managed to figure out where one of those old photos was taken. Super cool!


Newsletter #2: How I rediscovered my great grandfather’s long lost opera


I wanted to give you an update on my odd little project– bringing my great grandfather’s long lost opera to life. Last month I sent an email about how I’m just starting this journey. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who emailed me back to wish me good luck, and by the people who liked the little Facebook page that I set up for the project.

One question that people asked me over and over again was: How did you learn that your great grandfather left behind this old opera manuscript to begin with?

It’s a great question, so I thought for this month’s email update, I’d share the story with you. Not long ago, my mom called me and said she found something I needed to see. “Go to Google” she told me, “And type in your great grandfather’s name.”

Whoa. My great grandpa is on the Internet. Or at least his music is.

It turns out, there are a bunch of videos of people performing a song that my great grandfather wrote for the marimba. Nobody in my family had ever heard his music before– we thought none of it was ever recorded. But there it was, on YouTube!

If you’d like to hear that song, “Bolero,” check out this video, where it is performed by a group of high school percussion students. Crazy, right? And there’s tons of videos just like that one.

That’s the discovery that got the ball rolling. We wondered: if one of his songs was apparently good enough to still be performed a century after he wrote it, what is the rest of his music like? What if we brought some of that to life?

And that led us to a box in my aunt’s basement that held a faded opera manuscript.

Next month, I’ll share some more of this journey with you, including the steps we’ve been taking to finally bring this opera to life, albeit 80 years late. I think you’ll really get a kick out of it.

Until then, if you want, you can follow the Facebook page I’ve set up for this project. I just posted two neat old photos that we discovered hidden away in dusty boxes.


Newsletter #1: I’ve got a weird new project


I recently discovered that my great-grandfather was a composer. Crazy, right? And it turns out, he left behind a long lost opera that’s never been performed. What do you even do when you learn that information?

Well, I’m going to take a huge risk and go way outside my comfort zone. I’m going to try to get this long lost opera performed, 80 years after the composer died. I don’t know the first thing about opera, but I’m assembling a team that just might be able to bring this show to life. And I’m making a documentary film about the process.

This email is your invitation to follow along this journey with me, as I stumble my way towards (hopefully) filling in a gaping hole in my family tree. I won’t spam you constantly, I promise: email updates won’t be more than 1-2 per month. And probably less.

If you’d like, you can also “Like” this brand new Facebook page I’ve set up for the project.