Back in November, I was forwarded an e-mail from Michael
McCarthy, Artistic Director of Music Theatre Wales, seeking writers to take
part in their latest Make An Aria project, exploring the topic of immigration.
This was in connection with their up-coming production of “The Golden Dragon
” – an opera about asylum-seekers in Germany.
I was aware of the company’s pioneering work in the area of contemporary
opera, and of their most recent aria programme, focussing on World War 1.
Knowing little about opera (although I did go and see “Porgy And Bess
” at the Wales Millennium Centre a few years ago, and
” at the New Theatre several years earlier), and always keen to try
new things, I leapt at the opportunity to learn more.
A few days later, I found myself in a room at the Royal
Welsh College of Music And Drama, with a bunch of other writers, several students
of composition along with composer John Hardy (their head of department), Michael
McCarthy and Michael Rafferty of MTW, and representatives from the Welsh
Refugee Council. We were given a brief introduction to the concept of the aria,
as well as some actual facts and figures about the asylum system as it applies
to Wales, before hearing the remarkable testimony of Mustafa, a former soldier
who has been forced to leave Gambia.
There was then a clever “speed-dating” exercise, where writers
and composers interacted briefly whilst discussing imagery, following which we
were put into pairs and, basically, told to get on with creating an original
|"Speed-dating" at RWCMD (photo: Music Theatre Wales)|
Within a week, I had presented a first draft of a one-page
libretto entitled “In Limbo
” to my
lucky collaborator, Carlijn Metselaar. We had already agreed that our take on
the issue of immigration should be broadly positive, and that the writing of political
theorist Hannah Arendt might be a good starting-point; I found a quote of hers
about a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany which I borrowed for the opening line.
Our protagonist is a universal character, meditating on his statelessness; I
tried to keep the text simple, direct and fluent.
Over the next few months, via e-mail communications and a
handful of meetings and consultations (from which I took the useful note that
it is hard to make the word “limbo” sound serious in an operatic context), our
aria magically came into being.
The climax finally arrived on June 2nd
I first heard the piece during the afternoon rehearsal, with
singer Rodney Clarke accompanied by Ian Shaw on piano; frankly I was lost for
words. Carlijn had sent me the score, but with my primary-school-level
sight-reading skills, I could only glean a vague idea of the melody. Finally
getting a sense of the way in which she brilliantly used shifting time-signatures
to signal the changes in mood throughout the piece – a kind of journey from a
dark place to an optimistic one – with my words given life by a powerful,
dramatic voice, I was profoundly moved.
The public masterclass, later that evening, was a bit of a
Each writer/composer pairing (the others were Pey Pey Oh
& Daniel Soley; Eric Ngalle Charles & Joe Shrimpling; Wanda O’Connor
& Andrew Wallace; and Jeanne Jones & Charlotte Eaton-Jones) was called
up on stage to introduce their aria, which was then performed (the other
singers being Llio Evans and Martha Jones), prior to Stuart MacRae (composer of
MTW’s recent production “The Devil
”) briefly interrogating the creative team, and bringing his
experienced ear to bear on the interaction between text, music and performance
and ways in which this might be enhanced.
|Stuart MacRae (photo: Music Theatre Wales)|
The show ended with Zimbabwean performer Bevin Magama accompanying himself
on the mbira as he told the story of The Rat and The Porcupine – itself,
A beautiful experience – transcendent, even.
Labels: music, music theatre wales, opera, royal welsh college of music and drama, theatre, writing