Two weeks ago, I wrote on this blog about two of the operas we are creating for Formations 2016. As I zoom through the British countryside on a train, I have the opportunity to write about the third opera, Dead Equal, by composer Rose Miranda Hall and librettist Lila Palmer.
One hundred years ago, it was in these very hills and valleys that whizz past me now that the opera heroine of Dead Equal, Flora Sanders, became the confident and complex woman she was. What’s so fascinating to me about Flora Sanders is that she embodies such conflicting truths. She exemplifies that old world of the posh British empire, with confidence, competence, and intelligence, a toughness of spirit and body, an inner and outer entitlement and privilege, a go-get-’em attitude, and—of course—a love of hunting, drinking, and smoking. But it is these very qualities and skills that also enabled her to be a supreme ceiling-smasher for women in the work place, as she was was the only British woman to officially serve as a soldier in WWI.
More than one hundred years later, a new ruling has been made that women will again be able to fight on the front line, which takes us to the other strand of our story—a fictional contemporary woman in the British army has her own journey in Dead Equal, which both intertwines with and shines a modern light on Flora’s extraordinary character and life.
The music of Dead Equal is a pleasure, even just to look at on the page. With incredibly clear and natural word setting and characterisation—both in the vocal lines and in the band—Rose Hall can follow and lead the most subtle inflections of intention, thought, and feeling in her characters.
During a disagreement, one character’s change from arguing to sympathetic imploring is created instantly with a sort of E dominant / augmented chord over a beautifully dissonant F in the bass. This is what opera is all about: all and any of the disciplines involved in the work create and tell a story.
Music Director, Helios Collective