Speechless Opera: End of Week 1 of development

It’s hard to believe that a whole week has gone by but it has. Yesterday, for the first time, the full Australian Bass Orchestra came together, and the sectionals look place. Most of the orchestral instruments are in place so the sound world I have attempted to design is close to becoming a reality. Meetings with sectional leaders on Thursday showed up some bugs in the iPad score delivery system, and Aaron was up all night looking for them before the full orchestra was in the room reading the 25 iPads. He led a run through from start to finish, and not a bug or crash happened so that was a relief for us all!

The paper score is now officially out of service so it will be interesting to see how it goes just using the updated electronic scores from heron in. The paper score has been very useful to date, when it comes to orientating parts and making notes.

I realise that the project has been greatly assisted by the contribution of the section leaders. The rest of the orchestra are Adelaide musicians, as is the chirr. Most of the section leaders have considerable experience with my music (Tristen, Aaron and Stuart having been with my written music since I began writing it) so they have been able to share the nuance required. Our leader of the winds and brass, Aviva Endean, brings a different expertise - a way of reading graphic notation to really pry out the possibilities within it. Whilst she has not played my work before, we are definitely on the same wavelength - we did meet at a workshop in Sicily on Giacinto Scelsi's work! I look forward to hearing how her sectionals develop.

I think a graphically notated orchestral work has been challenging for some. This is not a score that is 'suggestive', as many dismiss all graphic notation as being. Whilst there are more choices for performers than in traditionally notated works, there are firm parameters that demand rigorous attention, coordination and a thoughtful approach that will then enable the work to be performed as best as it can be. But like most orchestral works, its not all action all the time!

I added a new 'interlude' section using room feedback. It sounds wonderful in the hall, largely due to the deft handling of the material and idea by my long term collaborator Stuart James. The theme of 'speechlessness' has really bought all these musical ideas into place and given me a way to organise and almost legitimise the sound world into a 'work'.

It was also the first time that the singers and choir came together yesterday. After some three years of working on this project, it was a remarkable experience to hear it all the parts in thier completed form (orchestra, chior, soloists). But it was also challenging - I now have even more changes i want to make, bigger, structural changes - but the purpose of all the parts and how they fit together is becoming clearer. I remember a colleague of mine Georg Hajdu, from Germany, telling me about his opera, and how it nearly did him in. I can really see now what he means. The scale of it, and the personal connection the composer has to it and its theme can come together to completely overwhelm you. Not to mention the number of resources - personal and other - invested in it. Another sectional early next week, and one more orchestra rehearsal before the sitz so time is tight and any changes I want to make need to be ready for Monday.

Aaron is attempting to make a script to facilitate the creation of layers for each movement. Generating them is a time consuming process that needs to happen every evening after the revisions are made in the master files, ready the next day of rehearsals.

Deborah May, a wonderful videographer that i have worked with before in projects with Kate McMillan, arrived on Friday. She will be documenting the process and the final showings. She has been very stealthy so far and will be talking to different participants about the project and thier experience within it.

At dinner on Friday night we we all discussing this great article about Opera Australia, and the need to commission new Australian work. I took a lot of hear from an arts minister talking like that at a time when we are wrangling with the experimental elements of this work. I have enough experience with experimentation now to know what it entails, though this project is definitely at the largest scale for me!

Next week is going to be full on - lots of people coming in from around Australia to see the showing, some of them close and critical friends, others festival directors and stakeholders. We have a lot of Adelaide people in the project as creative and production team members. Its been great seeing all my Adelaide friends again, and their support for the project has been incredible. Hearing Gabriella Smart in the rehearsal yesterday was a real highlight.

SpeechlessCat Hope