Music and Vision homepage All Risks Musical - an irreverent guide to the music profession by Alice McVeigh


<<  -- 4 --  Robert Hugill    WRITING NEW OPERA


These thoughts came to me because I was recently listening to Jonathon Dove and April de Angelis's Flight for the first time. It is pure narrative opera, albeit in a distinctive form, what I think of as closed room drama; the narrative relates not so much to a series of events but to the relationship between the characters themselves; a form which can be seen in operas as far back as opera seria. April de Angelis's libretto succeeds in being a fine example of compression, so much so that it is almost elliptical in a way that can be funny. The opera does not seek to be cutting edge and is resolutely unembarrassed by the past.

I realise that it is rather risky of me to set my thoughts down on paper. After all I have already written one opera, Garrett, which was essentially narrative, based on a pre-existing play and to my own libretto. In effect, I broke most of my own rules. And I am doing so again, writing a three act opera based on the novel The Weekend by Peter Cameron. But this is where that last essential ingredient comes in; you can't always choose your subject, sometimes your subject chooses you. If it succeeds, all well and good; if it fails, then learn your lessons and write another opera.

And here we are back to today's fundamental conundrum, the absence of a decent platform for opera composers to learn their craft, journeyman style. By writing operas, making mistakes and coming back for more. Mark-Anthony Turnage said after writing The Silver Tassie that he would probably write no more opera. His first opera, Greek, was a sensation and his second, The Silver Tassie, a stunning success for English National Opera. It would be a shame that today's climate meant that such talent is being discouraged from writing new opera. So it is not just that we need opera companies to commission new operas, after all much sterling work is being done in this area and a surprising amount of new opera is available. But we need to encourage a change in attitudes, so that failure is possible and promising composers are not discouraged from returning to the form, again and again.

Copyright © 9 November 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK



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