Friday 11 August 2006

Evidently Craig Raine said that librettists are to opera what toilets are to theatres, at least according to Simon Armitage in his article in the Guardian about writing a libretto for Stuart MacRae (for the opera which became The Assassin Tree, and which opened to plaudits recently.

Armitage writes interestingly about his view of the librettists task and how the librettist can become disengaged from the project once the libretto is written, even though the text itself is a collaboration. I suppose this is inevitable. Most composers write opera by setting a text and once given the text, they set it alone. Though of course there are lots of tweaks along the way.

Amanda Holden wrote an article about her experiences writing the libretto for Turnage's Silver Tassie which included the composer turning up on her doorstep at odd hours with ideas for changes and new sections/arias.

It helps, I suppose, if the librettist has a clear idea of his/her position in the food chain. I once had tea with Alan Bush and his wife, Nancy, and conversation wandered from Hanns Eisler, the ostensible reason for the visit, to Bush's operas. These mainly had libretto's by his wife but Joe Hill, the man who never died had a libretto by American playwright Barry Stavis. Evidently, on first hearing the work Stavis moaned to Nancy Bush that you could not hear his words.

A post-script to the above is that whilst I was at Manchester University in the 1970's the Royal Northern College of Music put Bush's Watt Tyler on at Sadlers Wells Theatre (I presume there must have been performances in Manchester but if so, they were before I arrived). I missed it and have bemoaned the lack ever since. Interestingly the lead tenor role was played by Robin Leggate`

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