I am very pleased to announce the first release of Libretto, a prototype open source, e-book reader for reading musicals on Android devices!
Like so many fans of musical theater, I spent many happy childhood afternoons listening to library copies of cast recordings while reading liner notes or, on the rare occasions when I could find them, musical theater libretti (the fancy Italian word for music theater scripts). Over the last few years, I've attempted to provide access to as many musical theater libretti as possible on this blog, and have occasionally published little experiments in connecting music to text [see for instance previous Musicals of the Month: Bitter Sweet and Very Good Eddie]. Today, though, I am very happy to release the first draft of a new mobile app (Android-only for now) that lets you connect the music from cast recordings to the text on a mobile device.
When I initially proposed this app, I gave it the code name M.O.V.E.R. (the "Multimodal Open-Source Variorum EBook Reader"), but wiser heads prevailed over the last few months, and we renamed the app, simply, Libretto. Still, the earlier name does describe the functionality of the app well. Because the texts of musicals are very open and sometimes exist across multiple versions (think Show Boat or Anything Goes), this app allows you compare different editions of the script as you are reading simply by swiping right or left. In the world of textual scholarship, a book that publishes multiple, differing copies of the same basic text is called a "Variorum Edition." This app is a multimodal variorum edition because it communicates in two different modes: audio and textual. You can compare different versions of the text AND different versions of the music.
For testing purposes for this initial release, we are providing a variorum edition of the 1866 American melodrama, The Black Crook, which some historians may have once believed to be the first American musical. Although the extant scripts for this piece differ very little, the music that was used in its many revivals changed frequently. The e-book is bundled with 10 recordings (most with sheet music) of music associated with the first production in 1866. However, if you like, you can also substitute music from later productions by downloading the music below and using the app to select it instead.
The app is likely still a little buggy, so please be patient if it crashes (and, if you want to be really kind, let me know what you were doing when it happened). Be aware that an internet connection is required the first time you use it, and you will download a 22MB ebook file. Installing this ebook can take as long as 1 minute (and it may appear to pause for a moment at the very end...be patient). If you can program, and want to try to fix bugs yourself or extend the functionality, all of the code is available at: https://github.com/dougreside/Libretto
Over the next few weeks I'll be publishing a blog series about the making of this app with advice for web programmers who want to learn how to write native apps for Android devices. Don't worry, though, if that's too geeky for your tastes, there will also be some really exciting musicals of the month coming soon. A few may even appear in the app.
If you don't have an Android device, or aren't particularly interested in this app, you may still enjoy listening to the recordings below. They were produced by music director Adam Roberts and feature a talented cast of Austin-based actors and singers. Most of this music has never before been recorded.
Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Libretto was made possible by a generous Digital Humanities Startup Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.