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Orson Rehearsed

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Orson Rehearsed
Opera by Daron Hagen
Daron Hagen
Daron Hagen, the opera's composer
LibrettistDaron Hagen
September 8, 2018 (2018-09-08)
Studebaker Theater, Chicago, Illinois

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Orson Rehearsed
Directed byDaron Hagen
Produced by
  • Burning Sled Media
  • Chicago College of Performing Arts
Written byDaron Hagen
  • Robert Orth
  • Robert Frankenberry
  • Omar Mulero
  • Fifth House Ensemble
Music by
  • Daron Hagen
Edited byDaron Hagen
The New Mercury Collective
Release date
  • February 2, 2021 (2021-02-02) (United States)
Running time
62 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 thousand US

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Orson Rehearsed
📅 ReleasedFebruary 2, 2021
🎙️ RecordedSeptember 2019
VenueStudebaker Theater, Chicago, IL
⏳ Length62 minutes
🏷️ LabelNaxos
🤑 ProducerBurning Sled Media

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Orson Rehearsed is a 2021 American independent film by Daron Hagen about Orson Welles which combines elements of opera film, documentary film, and Surrealist cinema. The narrative follows a 2018 staged production of Hagen's eleventh opera integrating extensive pre-shot films and electro-acoustic tracks in which, poised in the bardo between life and death on the night of his demise, Welles takes stock of his life.[1] Directed by Hagen based on his own screenplay and musical score, the film was produced by Burning Sled Media and the Chicago College of Performing Arts. It stars Robert Orth, Robert Frankenberry, and Omar Mulero as Welles, and features the Fifth House Ensemble.

Hagen began the screenplay in 2016 as a collection of 52 dramatic beats featuring Welles and Marlene Dietrich, John Houseman, Paola Mori, Rita Hayworth, and Marc Blitzstein set to original music by Hagen and words fashioned by Hagen from William Shakespeare and Welles' own public domain comments.[2] Conceived as simultaneously as a live operas (in various dramaturgical configurations[3]) and a film that is an artwork in itself that folds the live performance into a larger vision, in spring 2018 Hagen pared down the 52 beats to 14 which centered on the character of Welles divided into three avatars--one young, one middle aged, and one on the night of his death.[4]

During 2016-17, Hagen shot and edited three sets of 14 60-minute films for projection over the heads of the onstage Orsons in live performance.[5] Hagen directed the staged premiere of Orson Rehearsed at the Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building (Chicago) in September 2018 in a staging designed to work in the theater but also to provide the shots mapped out in the 2016 storyboards.[6] From 2018-2020, he edited the musical soundtrack and folded the onstage films into footage of the staged premiere while adding another layer of semi-opaque images carrying a narrative unique to the film.[7]

The film was released on February 2, 2021, although a traditional art release has been delayed because of COVID-19, it has received substantial positive attention at film festivals worldwide[8], receiving laurels for Best Musical Score, Best Composer, Best Director, and Best Editing.[9]


10 October 1985. Hollywood, California. Orson Welles' heart has just stopped. We enter his mind in this moment, on the threshold between life and death. In the liminal zone between life and death, Welles’ thoughts flow as a stream of consciousness that loops back on itself, like a Möbius strip. Those thoughts are articulated by three avatars: the first represents the past, the memory of his youthful wunderkind self; the second represents his vestigial self-image as a swashbuckling mid-career artist, bemused to be crumpled on the floor in his bathrobe, dying; the last, represents his spirit, out of time—what Heidegger called an ecstace. On its face, the audience is presented with a series of essays about how opera and film overlap. The relationship between a man and the roles that he has played is examined—Falstaff, Othello, Brutus, Ahab, Kane, Quinlin, and himself.

In stream of consciousness dramatic beats, he first surveys his relationship to the works of Shakespeare, then revisits the accidental drowning of Manoel Olimpio Meira during the filming of It's All True. He contemplates the sound of his own heart; and then lashes out, reliving the pain of his repeated loss of creative control in the editing of The Magnificent Ambersons. He recalls Marc Blitzstein at the piano the night that The Cradle Will Rock debuted before rolling into a rollicking remembrance of the high-octane life he led, reliving the giddy joy of careening across Manhattan in a rented ambulance (to better cut through traffic) at the top of his game on his way from a Danton’s Death rehearsal to the War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

His thoughts turn to his despair at the recutting of Touch of Evil, which he repurposes in imagination as the realization that he is dying. He thinks back a few hours to his appearance that afternoon on the Merv Griffin Show, imagining himself as a manic marionette dancing for others’ amusement—the humiliation in having started at the top with Citizen Kane and having ended up doing wine commercials. He contemplates the solitary nature of existence before recalling his eighth birthday—the last time that he saw his mother. He asserts that his life’s greatest mistake was that, when his mother asked him to make a wish before blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, he forgot.

He repurposes Shakespeare’s great Falstaff credo as he mulls over Chimes at Midnight and the role of love: Maybe I did forget, he closes, poignantly, before having a vision of Rita Hayworth and singing a tender paean to domesticity and fatherhood. A passionate social activist, Welles' last thoughts are of the future: with the foresight available only to the dead, he mourns his country as the words of a xenophobic reality television president are intercut with Emma Lazarus’ hymn to liberty. But the body gives out even though the spirit is still willing: it is no longer Welles’ problem, it is ours. The avatars join together in a secular hymn: Our songs will all be silenced, they sing, but what of it? Go on singing. Go on. Go. And he does. We do.


  • Omar Mulero as Orson Welles #1
  • Robert Frankenberry as Orson Welles #2
  • Robert Orth as Orson Welles #3


The soundtrack documents what audience members heard seated in the theater during the live performance of the score. Accordingly, the extensive electro-acoustic tracks crafted by Hagen are blended with the singers and the live instruments onstage performed by the Fifth House Ensemble. This stable soundscape was very lightly enhanced during post-production mastering, and the film edited to the soundtrack. The Naxos Records May 2021 release represents a hybrid of cast and soundtrack recording sound worlds.

Reviews and Laurels[edit]

Fanfare Magazine noted, "Hagen’s ability to meld a multiplicity of expressive devices into a coherent, expressive, and convincing whole is magnificent. Linking passages between scenes, to underline the dream-like stream of consciousness, are masterly, transitions seamless."[10] "Do please hear Orson Rehearsed as a major contribution to 21st century music theatre," wrote David Denton.[11] [A] "dramatically compelling one-acter ... [set] in a compelling sound world," wrote Kevin Filipsky.[12] "This kind of approach with the potential to overwhelm an opera’s subject and its audience. But the combination of Orson Rehearsed’s brevity and Hagen’s unerring sense of pacing wins the day. The cumulative effect is of a very individual, fascinating, and thought-provoking view of a life that was as influential as it was flawed."[13] American Record Guide noted, "I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable opera ... in a highly dramatic idiom."[14]

  • Best Director – New York Independent Cinema Awards, 2021
  • Winner – Best Score for a Musical/Dance Film — Los Angeles Film Awards, 2020
  • Grand Jury Prize Gold: Best Director-Documentary, Best Musical Performance; Silver: Best Score; Platinum: Best Music Track; — Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival, 2020
  • Best Composer – LA Indies Festival, 2020
  • Best Film Score, Best Direction – Logcinema Music Film Festival, 2020
  • Silver Medal - Original Score / Soundtrack – 2021 Global Music Awards, 2020
  • Best Composer – American Golden Picture International Film Festival, 2020
  • Best Music Composer – Art Film – Atlanta Award-Qualifying Film Festival, 2020
  • Best Composer – Montreal Independent Film Festival, 2020
  • Best Film Score – New Wave Short Film Festival; Munich, Germany, 2020
  • Best Music Composer – Chicago Indie Film Awards, 2020
  • Best Musical Feature – After Hour Film Festival, 2020
  • Best Postmodern Film – Golden Valley Cinefest; West Bengal, India, 2020
  • Best Editor – American Golden Picture International Film Festival, 2020
  • Finalist – Best Director, Music Video/Film – Prague International Monthly Film Festival, 2020
  • Honorable Mention – Tokyo International Short Film Festival, 2020
  • Special Mention – Feature Film — Madras Independent Film Festival, 2020
  • Finalist – Best Live-Recorded Theatre Film – Lonely Wolf International Film Festival, London, 2020
  • Official Selection – Austin International Art Film Festival, March 2021
  • Official Selection – Best Experimental Film – 4th Dimension Independent Film Festival, June 2021
  • Official Selection – Best Original Score – Global Film Festival Awards, Los Angeles, 2020
  • Official Selection – Best Music and Sound Design – Hyderabad International Film Festival, 2020
  • Official Selection – Best Original Score & Experimental Film — Venice Film Awards, 2020
  • Official Selection – Narrative Film – The Blue Ridge Film Festival, 2020
  • Official Selection – Best Score – 5th Rosarito International Film Festival, 2020
  • Official Selection – Best Music in a Feature Film – Vancouver Independent Film Festival, 2020
  • Official Selection – Best Film Score – Seoul International Short Film Festival, 2020

External links[edit]


  1. Orson Rehearsed Film Website. Retrieved February 13, 2021.
  2. "Orson Rehearsed Libretto / Script at Naxos Records", Naxos Records, February 11, 2021, retrieved February 11, 2021
  3. Clay, Dacia (2018), Classical Classroom, Episode 181: The Magicians - Daron Hagen on Orson Welles, Houston: Houston Public Media
  4. "An Interview With Daron Hagen", Toronto Film Magazine, November 23, 2020, retrieved February 11, 2021
  5. "An Interview With Daron Hagen", Chicago Movie Magazine, October 5, 2020, retrieved February 11, 2021
  6. "Daron Hagen and Orson Rehearsed: An Interview With the Composer", F for Film, September 16, 2017, retrieved February 11, 2021
  7. "Modeling the Inside of the Mind of Orson Welles: Orson Rehearsed", Fullshot Cinemag, retrieved February 11, 2021
  8. "Filmed 'Orson Rehearsed' opera picks up festival awards", Wellesnet, February 11, 2021, retrieved February 11, 2021
  9. Laurels at Orsonrehearsed.art
  10. Clarke, Colin (August 2021), "Orson Rehearsed", Fanfare Magazine, 44 (6)
  11. David's Review Corner
  12. The Flip Side
  13. Meltzer, Ken (August 2021), "Orson Rehearsed", Fanfare Magazine, 44 (6)
  14. Faro, Nathan (August 2021), "Orson Rehearsed", American Record Guide

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