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News

No. 1 Summer 2010

Return to Glass Music Theatre Wales gives UK premiere of Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony Back in 1989 Music Theatre Wales gave the first performance outside the USA of Philip Glass‟s darkly chilling chamber opera The Fall of the House of Usher. We were a young company then - only in the second year of our existence. But it was a production that placed us firmly on the map as true innovators in UK opera. “The most striking small scale production to be seen anywhere in Britain during the past year” hailed the Times critic, whilst the Daily Telegraph described it as “gripping” and the Guardian as “utterly absorbing”. More than that, it led the way to a long term relationship with the composer. After seeing our production Philip Glass offered us the opportunity to commission a new chamber opera. There was just one problem. We simply didn‟t have the resources for such a commission at the time. The opera he was proposing was In the Penal Colony which was subsequently commissioned by A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. Now, 21 years later, we are thrilled to renew our friendship with Philip and once again bring one of his operas to

British audiences for the first time. In the Penal Colony will open at the Royal Opera House in September followed by a tour to eight venues across England, Scotland and Wales. Scored for just two singers, an actor and string quintet this is opera at the smallest possible scale. But don‟t be deceived - it packs a powerful punch. Based on a short story by Franz Kafka the action takes place in the claustrophobic setting of a prison where an obsessive Officer is about to put a Prisoner through a gruesome process of execution. Plunged into this nightmare world is a horrified Visitor who has been invited to witness the event.

Opera Up Close and Personal Audiences too will be plunged into this world as Director Michael McCarthy intends to create a „theatre in the round‟ experience with members of the audience seated on three sides of the performance area. So if you want, you can book seats that are incredibly close to the action. “Philip Glass has no compunction in breaking theatrical and musical norms” says Director Michael (Continued on page 3)

The Team Once again, our Joint Artistic Directors will be taking the helm with Michael Rafferty conducting and Michael McCarthy directing. All three members of the cast have all worked with us before - in a number of quite different scenarios. Back in 1998 Omar Ebrahim (Officer) helped save the day when he was called in at the last minute to sing the role of Punch in Harrison Birtwistle‟s Punch and Judy in Cardiff after Gwion Thomas was struck down by a horrible lurgy. Time was too tight for Omar to do anything but sing from the side whilst Michael McCarthy walked the role. The result was electric. Even 12 years later, people who were there remember what an intensely thrilling performance it was. Michael Bennett (Visitor) is another old friend having sung in our productions of Parim Vir‟s Ion and Peter Maxwell Davies‟s The Lighthouse. Gerald Tyler (Condemned Man) has also worked for the company but, it has to be said, in a somewhat less glamorous role - as a member of the technical crew (ie shifting bits of sets!) on one of our European tours. Finally, we‟re delighted to welcome on board our design team of Simon Banham and Ace McCarron, who have worked with us more times than they may care to remember.

LONDON Wed 15 Linbury Theatre, Sat 18 Sept Royal Opera House 020 7304 4000 www.roh.org.uk Public Booking opens 7 July 2010 BASINGSTOKE The Haymarket www.anvilarts.org.uk

Tues 21 Sept 01256 844 244

OXFORD Wed 29 Sept Playhouse 01865 305 305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com ABERYSTWYTH Tues 12 Oct Arts Centre 01970 623 232 www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk NEWPORT Wed 20 Oct The Riverfront 01633 656 757 www.newport.gov.uk/theriverfront LEEDS Thur 28 Oct Howard Assembly Room 0844 848 2727 www.operanorth.co.uk MOLD Sun 14 Nov Clwyd Theatr Cymru 0845 330 3565 www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk EDINBURGH Traverse Theatre www.traverse.co.uk

Tues 16 Nov 0131 228 1404

MANCHESTER RNCM www.rncm.ac.uk

Wed 17 Nov 0161 907 5555


Feedback Many thanks to everyone who took the time to fill in our feedback forms from last year’s tour of Eleanor Alberga’s Letters of a Love Betrayed. We really enjoyed hearing your thoughts Well – I am a fan of Isabel Allende. Was not sure what to expect. The website was worth reading. The pre -performance info was helpful. I struggled to get in tune at the beginning but as the opera proceeded it grew more and more magical. The best part was a wonderful fulfilment of all the turmoil and stress. Thank you for such a moving experience. Enid Hamon, Plymouth An outstanding performance of an exciting new opera. The leading singers have been perfectly cast. The orchestra shows great understanding of the music – reminiscent of Britten and immediately accessible. What a pleasure to have surtitles as well. A

Paul Keohone and Arlene Rolph in Letters of a Love Betrayed Autumn 2009

privilege to have been present at this remarkable production and the introductory talk was very helpful. Ritchie Ovendale, Aberystwyth Really enjoyed it. I hope you can come back here soon. Hope you can continue to work collaboratively with Scottish opera. David Smithe – Perth I certainly enjoyed this evening‟s performance. I like the „spareness‟ of the whole piece; the lighting very effective. Especially good the instrumental performances and

Photo: Clive Barda

writing – not so sure of vocal lines, though well projected. Got very drawn in the second half. Very Good. Good pre talk – so enthusiastic. Marjorie Williams, Mold Wonderful music – echoes of Villa Lobos – great orchestration, excellent sub-titles. Dramatic moments, very powerful, would have liked an aria! She should definitely write songs. Great story – shades of Benjamin Britten too... Jane Kay, Mold

Know your Philip Glass? He’s undoubtedly one of the best known composers living. So we thought we’d bring to you a few facts about Philip Glass that you may (or may not) have been aware of! Despite his stature as a composer, you are in safe hands if Philip Glass is around and you find a block in your u-bend. After moving to New York in 1967 he worked for a number of years as a plumber as he established the Philip Glass Ensemble and embarked on his career as a composer. Similarly you need look no further should you need to find your way around New York. Whilst he worked as a plumber by day, he drove a cab at night. Indeed most of his groundbreaking opera Einstein on the Beach was written after returning the cab to the garage at night.

That opera, Einstein on the Beach broke all the rules of traditional opera. It was five hours long without an interval (Wagner Ring lovers, eat your hearts out); audience members were invited to wander in and out at liberty throughout the performance (Wagner aficionados, perhaps you‟re not eating your hearts out) and instead of a plot, Glass presented a poetic look at the life and legacy of Albert Einstein, scientist, humanist and amateur musician. Philip Glass defies categorisation - which is why we can seamlessly move from the world of ‟high opera‟ to Sesame Street. At the same time as composing

Einstein, Philip Glass wrote music to accompany a series of animated shorts for the popular children‟s TV show. They consisted of the movement of six circles (each with a different colour of the rainbow) that are formed by and split up into various geometric patterns. You can see them for yourself on You Tube. Glass‟s music is frequently described as hypnotic. Certainly members of English National Opera‟s chorus might agree as there were reports of them finding themselves falling into a mesmeric state whilst rehearsing for their recent production of Satyagraha. 2


Photo: Kirsten Mcternan

Talent Spotting We’re in the business of staging new opera. That’s why we’re keen to encourage young composers to try their hand at the art form. Our Make an Aria project does just this. In the last couple of years, we‟ve been on a bit of a mission to discover and nurture new talent - composers and writers whose work might form part of our future repertoire. Embarking on a complete opera is a massive undertaking (even for the most experienced composer) so we have devised a scheme called Make an Aria which offers composers and writers an opportunity to do just that. We provide them with a dramatic context, a choice of characters within that scenario and then ask them to write an aria for one of the characters through the language of opera. We first ran the project back in 2008 in conjunction with our production of Berkeley and McEwan‟s For You. Armed with only a brief synopsis of the story and short character descriptions, their mission was to choose just one character and develop their own story line - what happened to that character once the curtain went down? We recruited six composers working at post graduate level from the universities of Bangor and Cardiff and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD). Their first task was to find a writer with whom they could team up. In addition to an initial meeting that

brought together everyone taking part in the project, each composer-writer teams had individual meetings with Michael Rafferty and Michael McCarthy in which they explored and developed their ideas further.

Ed Scolding (pictured left with his librettist Bethan James), recounts his experience of taking part in Make an Aria

As one of the composers taking part in the project Ed Scolding says (see right) an aria is much more than just a „pretty song‟. It‟s a moment when musical expression and dramatic intention coincide; a moment when a character reveals, discovers or explores something about themselves within a dramatic situation; a moment which needs to be sung but which is not a song.

The project gave me a fantastic kickstart in opera writing. Before it began I'd written lots of vocal music and enjoyed watching opera but never written any myself. The first session with MTW showed us how important the individual working relationship is, so my writing partner Bethan James and I felt able to spend a lot of time developing a shared idea of what we wanted, without feeling under pressure to deliver finished music quickly.

The project culminated with a public masterclass at RWCMD with composer Judith Weir. Such was its success we‟re running it again this year, working with our colleagues at Welsh National Opera and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and a group of talented young composers from Cardiff and Birmingham. This time our source material will be provided by the author of In the Penal Colony, Franz Kafka.

We agreed we wanted the scene to be as 'real' as possible - not to make only a pretty song (I can do that just as easily outside opera) but to write something that would also work on a dramatic level, as a glimpse of someone's life with a 'real-world' setting and back story. Because we worked out the plot and emotional journey together, Bethan¹s finished libretto was convincing for both of us as something that our character would be compelled to sing out loud. This gave me a structure that laid out exactly what the music needed to say at each moment and over the whole piece.

Who knows what seeds we might sow that will bear great fruit in the future.

(Continued from page 1)

Just as sitting in the front row of the centre court of Wimbledon or taking a ringside seat at a boxing match heightens the excitement of a sports event, so I think this seating will really rake up the dramatic force of the opera. It‟s going to offer a new perspective. Many people talk about the added dimension sport achieves through High Definition TV. Well this is your opera equivalent - Opera HD”. *Sorry, if you’re coming to our performance in Oxford you won’t have this experience as the constraints of the building makes it impossible.

The Fall of the House of Usher 1989 Photo: Brian Tarr

McCarthy, “and I feel this gives me licence to break out of the usual presentation of opera where public, singers and orchestra are separated into distinct areas of the theatre auditorium, stage and pit.

It was wonderful to watch experienced professionals taking apart our scene and reconstruct on stage the meanings in our text and music. In that situation everything in the work is laid bare, which is a big incentive to make totally sure that all your work makes sense! I recently orchestrated the original version for a larger ensemble to give the music more vivid, dramatic expression. The new version has been performed at the Royal Academy of Music with another performance planned soon. Bethan and I are now searching for ideas for our next step in opera. 3


Welcome to our Mutual Appreciation Society - an opportunity for us to bring you news from a range of companies and organisations whose work we enjoy - and which we hope you’ll enjoy too. The Opera Group at the Royal Opera House July 2010 The Lion’s Face Elena Langer‟s touching study of an Alzheimer‟s patient receives its London premiere. 20, 21, 28 & 29 July at 7.45pm **** “Profound and moving … a courageous piece” The Times Double Bill A welcome return for George Benjamin‟s gripping retelling of The Pied Piper Into the Little Hill, paired with Susan Bickley as a troubled diva in the rarely-performed Recital 1 by Luciano Berio. 23, 24 & 26 July, 7.45pm. ***** “A masterpiece, no question” Daily Telegraph www.theoperagroup.co.uk/

FOR YOU released on CD This July Signum Records is releasing a CD of Michael Berkeley and Ian McEwan‟s opera For You, recorded at a live performance at the Royal Opera House by Music Theatre Wales in October 2008.

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) at the Proms BCMG will be performing at this year‟s Proms on Friday 6 August at the Royal Albert Hall . In his 50th-birthday year, George Benjamin directs the ensemble through a sensuous and punchy programme of works by Oliver Knussen, Hans Abrahamsen, Luke Bedford and Benjamin himself. www.bcmg.org.uk

Welsh National Opera Pack a small bag of essential items, surrender your personal belongings at the Postern Gate and enter the prison to discover if Leonore’s courage is enough to save her husband This Autumn Welsh National Opera performs Fidelio in Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, Llandudno, Southampton and Oxford. Fidelio is an impressive music drama that shows that the most essential human qualities can survive in the most hostile conditions. A combination of powerful music and spoken dialogue bring the story of Fidelio to life. www.wno.org.uk/fidelio

Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music 5 - 11 September 2010 This year's Vale of Glamorgan Festival celebrates the 75th birthday of Arvo Pärt, one of the most renowned living composers and features Pärt's compatriots the stunning Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and other world-class artists and composers. Just a stone‟s throw from Cardiff, the Festival takes audiences to an assortment of atmospheric venues, ancient and modern, in and around a county that combines picturesque countryside, historic towns and villages and a dramatic coastline. www.valeofglamorganfestival.org.uk

Michael Rafferty conducts a cast made up of Allison Cook, Christopher Lemmings, Rachel Nicholls, Alan Opie, Jeremy Huw Williams and Helen Williams, accompanied by the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble.

Keeping in Touch Why not join our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ musictheatrewales where you can get all the latest news from the company along with any bits of chat we may have about our colleagues and friends in the business. We‟re also planning to start tweeting this summer when we go into rehearsal for In the Penal Colony, starting on 16th August so we hope you‟ll follow along as we relay tales from the rehearsal room! But if social networking is simply not your bag so to speak (it certainly isn’t mine - Ed) don‟t worry. We‟re more than happy to carry on staying in touch by email or good old fashioned post. Music Theatre Wales Pascoe Buildings 54 Bute Street Cardiff CF10 5AF 029 2049 8471 enquiries@musictheatrewales.org.uk www.musictheatrewales.org.uk

The Boltini Trust 4


MTW News Summer 2010  

Newseltter from Music Theatre Wales, the UK's leading contemporary opera company.

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