Like a kid in a sweet shop (or a bull in a china shop?), I’m feeling the same leg-wiggling excitement of squeezing and weighing up presents before opening them on Christmas day: yes, I have the huge privilege of receiving vocal score first drafts for two of the three new operas we will be creating for Formations 2016. But what is inside?
If I squeeze that bit does it feel like a cool Abrahamsen-esq augmented chord? If I stick my nose in it can I detect the faint aroma of an ancient Icelandic shit-house in the form of an augmented 8th? If I shake it can I make out a haunting theme on top of descending of major sevenths at letter J? Granny hasn’t given me a jumper again has she? No, it’s actually Hendrix guitar technique in the left hand (cello, viola or winds, we’ll have to see).
Thorstein Shiver is a new opera by composer Alex Paxton that he has compiled from multiple texts, but is based mainly on the ancient Icelandic paettir of the same name. There is a lot to take in from the first play through, the sacred and the profane, the complex and the simple, and the layered and very exciting/difficult ensembles. The group celebration of love near the end contrasts the gooey romantic love metaphor in Ulysses of sharing soft, warm, sticky cake in lovers mouths with a gay celebration of merry drunken love from the Song of Solomon. The beautiful ‘Ballad of Paul and Thecla’ layers the very human and touching love song Thecla sings on seeing Jesus Christ in the likeness of Paul the Apostle (who is evidently very sweet and adorable looking to her) with Thecla’s mothers zealous and fervid insistence to burn her daughter to death. The conflict in Icelandic literature of the sacred and profane is alive in Alex’s music which can embody the most vulgar and primal urges and the softest, sweetest caress, sometimes at the same time, which is always fun.
The Yellow Wallpaper by composer Grace Evangeline Mason couldn’t be more different. Based on the short story of the same name, this cool, intense psychological drama grinds forward to its inevitable and tragic conclusion. The Woman is ill and her caringly oppressive husband John has ‘chosen’ the room with yellow wallpaper for her to stay in and ‘rest’, with the help of Jennie, John’s sister. In the opening she remembers the beauty of the outside world which only sharpens the pain of being effectively locked up in this room she hates. Beautiful, crystalline and oppressive long note textures develop into to frenetic, agitated gestures, musicalising the The Woman’s decent into insanity. Taking place in one room, in my first play through the oppressive intensity of the slower music was very real in my small practise room. I made it out alive though (and hopefully no less sane)!
This year’s Formations promises to be very exciting. Keep following for more information on the third opera soon.
Music Director, Helios Collective