Photograph by John Shea
Back in the office for a week (before ‘sectional’ rehearsals begin for A Midsummer Night’s Dream), still excited after a week of work on Sandy Goehr’s new opera Promised End at Dartington. What a terrific place to do some concentrated work! Warm, well fed, functionally accomodated in that beautiful setting, we had just the piece to think about.
Sandy’s opera sets Shakespeare’s King Lear – with texts chosen by Frank Kermode – but of course it is dramatically different as a chamber opera. The focus is squarely on the two men who ‘stumbled when [they] saw’, Lear and Gloucester, and the ending of the opera offers none of the consolation – or at least none of the sense of continuity – embodied in Albany or Edgar’s last speeches.
The score is challenging, and wonderful. Now I am very keen to hear it with orchestra – but I’ll have to wait until the Autumn.
The only artist in the group with whom I had worked before was Lina Markeby, a singer with a particular intensity who will sing both Cordelia and the Fool. Although Roderick Earle was ill all week, so we did not actually have a King Lear, we did manage to do some fantastic work with Nigel Robson (Gloucester), Adrian Dwyer (Edgar), Dean Robinson (Edmund) and Gillian Ramm (Goneril). Sandy was there for several days, ever helpful and encouraging, and Ryan Wigglesworth and John Shea helped me to hear the drama in the score.
I reckon it was the best start to a new year I have had in a long time.
Some little setbacks: we lost our Tytania – also one of our 2 Susannas – on Friday, just a week before we start rehearsal. So it goes. It takes all one’s energy to think that turning this around is an ‘opportunity’, but that’s the job.
Another excitement: I cannot put my hands on the short programme article on Donizetti I wrote during two train journeys. So much for all the smugness of scratching away with pencils and scraps of paper when everybody else is typing into their notebooks… Now I think I will look for someone more clever to write one. The thing is, I wanted to convey some of my own deep pleasure in Donizetti’s operas, many of them perfectly suited to this scale of operation, and my appreciation of the sheer hard work that ‘maestro orgasmo’ was able to keep up for so long, producing one interesting and beautiful stagework after another. While I am at ETO I want us to do lots of them, so I thought I should say why – I wonder if we could have a series of recitals of his songs during the tour: Reveries napolitaines and Notti d’estate a Posilippo sound interesting. We have the artists, on tour – but the issue is, have we the time to find and sell the opportunities?
Promised End was developed at the Dartington Space with support from the Arts at Dartington