Nine days into 2003, it's safe to assume that many New Year's resolutions have already been broken. But Mary E. Goulet, a Falls Church lawyer turned playwright-producer, has kept the pledge she made on Jan. 1, 1998.
It was a bold departure for the accomplished patent lawyer, then 30, to accept a challenge from a friend to write an opera. Five years later, the resolution that has come to dominate and transform her life will finally produce a tangible result -- the first public performance of her opera, "Worlds Away," on Saturday at the Lyceum in Alexandria.
Goulet said she had no choice once the dare was taken, even though she had never written music.
"That's kind of a conspicuous promise," she said, laughing at the memory, "because if you say you're going to give up chocolate and then you lapse, no one has to know. But if you say you're going to write an opera and you don't do it, that's pretty noticeable."
"Worlds Away" is a metaphysical musical journey that some might label New Age, although that's not a term Goulet employs. Perhaps "ethereal operatic myth" works better. With a semiclassical score that Goulet admits may be somewhat inspired by Chopin's work, which she played as a student, the opera is imbued with overtones from Goulet's experience.
In the story, our familiar Earth has a companion world in another dimension outside the physical laws of time and space we know. Intelligent but imperfect god-like beings exist on a spiritual plane above both worlds, questioning their goals for our earthbound reality.
Woven into the interdimensional tapestry is Monet, a young woman from Earth, a successful and money-oriented professional unfulfilled by her worldly achievements. She sings, "In this silly world of pricey toys and cuff-linked boys, how can I be happy here? This cannot be what's meant for me."
Monet has left behind girlhood aspirations to meet the gods and pursue special dreams, her desires reawakened as she comes to the attention of Adieu, a curious and daring god who notices her.
Goulet said the opera's purpose is to ask questions that go far beyond day-to-day existence. "When you start to think in terms of 100 years out, we're not going to be here so the question becomes, 'Where will we be, what still matters and what will make a difference?' " she said. "It's spiritual but not necessarily religious."
Goulet studied piano at Johns Hopkins University but gave it up for the more practical benefits offered by a law degree from the University of Maryland.
While pursuing her opera-writing dream, she reversed the course of her life again, quitting her D.C. law firm last year, eschewing the chance to become a partner and her annual income of several hundred thousand dollars to concentrate on preparing "Worlds Away" for an audience, an effort that could cost $100,000 dollars.
Ever the organized professional, Goulet went about realizing her artistic dream in a business-like way. Unschooled in the technicalities of scoring full orchestrations, she enlisted Mike Lewis of Miami, a well-known professional music arranger who has worked with stars such as Rod Stewart. Locally, she brought on Alex Tang to help as music director.
She professionally recorded a CD of the opera's piano music to promote it and help raise money. A Web site was created. Working with Tang, also a lawyer, and Falls Church theater director Terry L. Jones, an accountant, Goulet hired a cast of professional performers and crew and began rehearsals in late fall.
Watching the cast work, gathered around a grand piano in Tang's home on a recent Saturday morning, Goulet reflected on the experience of seeing her vision become reality. "Sometimes, it feels uncomfortable because I'm wondering what people are thinking," she said. "Then sometimes, I'm thinking how it's so close to what I envisioned that I'm actually surprised."
The Web site (www.worldsawaymusical.com/) inspired Goulet to try something she believes had never been done: online auditions. She made sheet music available and posted auditions submitted by singers. Web site visitors voted for their favorites with the understanding that Goulet would pay for winners to travel to Washington, although the concept did not result in anyone making the final cast.
Time and distance ultimately kept several favorite performers from accepting roles. But the effort was a success, Goulet believes, because it attracted attention from thousands of opera fans and a few reporters, helping to keep "Worlds Away" alive.
This weekend's performance, a staged reading, is the first step in what Goulet hopes will lead to longer, fully produced runs in Alexandria and other cities where supporters have expressed interest. The Lyceum presentation is part of an evolutionary process, artistically and practically, to generate momentum.
"If you believe in it, you have to just make it happen," Goulet said. "Sometimes, that means personal sacrifices. I believe in this, and I intend to do what it takes to make this opera live."
"Worlds Away" will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lyceum, 201 S. Washington St., Alexandria. Tickets are $10 and available only at the door. For directions, call the Lyceum at 703-838-4994.