Thursday, June 23, 2011

Philip Glass/Robert Wilson, Einstein on the Beach

Finally got around to watching Chrisann Verges and Mark Obenhaus' 1985 film Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera (available from ubuweb here) yesterday.
For the first time since coming across the LPs in Durham University's listening library (now, alas, no longer) in 1996, I got to see some excerpts of the stage action in motion.
It confirmed to me what I had suspected for a long time: that my ideas about my own opera were on the right track. I feel that what Wilson was doing on stage (more so than what Glass was doing in the pit) had so much relevance to me, and correlated so tightly with my preferences for modern dance, that I have to go forward.
Haven't yet got the right libretto, which does require some thought, more than I thought originally. My original libretto was made up of chunks of existing work:
Recently I've realised that the libretto for an opera (particularly contemporary opera) can be fundamental to its success (by my standards, not necessarily a critical/popular success) and I've come to this conclusion by looking at the Glass/Wilson Einstein, and my two favourite Birtwistle operas: The Mask of Orpheus and Punch and Judy (libretti by Peter Zinovieff and Stephen Pruslin respectively). In each case, the libretti have shaped the drama and intensified what the composers do with the drama more (in my opinion) than in any other operatic work that they produced (or are producing).
So I'm looking to work with a librettist now because my writing of prose is just not up to the job.

The goal is to complete my three act opera, lasting three hours entitled MALESPINA over the next two years. It's scored for solo soprano and tenor (Bride and Devil), and SSAATTBB chorus, with an orchestra of two clarinets, two horns, two pianos, two percussionists, two violins, viola, two cellos. I feel like I'm in the right 'zone' to actually get on and do it now, but it's a matter of carving out the time, setting myself deadlines and really motivating myself to actually do it.

It's not an opera in the sense that most opera companies will recognise or that most critics will accept, and that's not really the point. I want to write the work that I want to write; the work that I want to see on stage.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Red overwrought with orange

Working on a piece for my Memories of You show to be played by a trio led by Chris Cowie, one of my former students and the flautist with my ensemble. The trio are alto flute, clarinet and cello and I'm calling it Red overwrought with orange after Ezra Pound's Envoi. The alto flute is really the soloist and the two other instruments provide a frame (amber?).
The clarinet and cello glissando through a whole octave (in opposite directions) over the course of seven minutes (see below - instruments are at notated pitch). Need to double-check that this is actually realistic on the clarinet but hopefully it should be quite effective. There should be as few breaths and bow-changes as possible, and the dynamic should be as quiet as possible throughout.

The alto flute part is built up of fragments and the flautist has choices about the order in which they are played. The part is constrained by the limits of the framing pitches as much as possible (though the three parts are not coordinated).
I'm also going to write six solos (rhythmic or timbre specified but not pitches) for each of the clarinet and the cello. These can be applied at any time. There will also be three duos for the clarinet and cello that can also be applied at any point (but these must be coordinated between the two players). There is also one trio moment (this moment has only one possibility for the alto flute).

I'd like to prepare different frames for different versions of the piece: two electronics and one orchestral. The first electronics part is made up of sine waves, and the second from recorded chromatic drones on bass flute.