Nova Music Opera, with whom I have been performing Stephen McNeff‘s Prometheus Drown’d, is, like many small companies, constantly looking for clever ways to make its money go further while maintaining the quality of what it produces. As specialists with a clear niche in contemporary chamber opera, and a particular remit to commission new work annually, that means there is a lot to discover with each new season’s repertoire, rather than the comfort of falling back on known quantities of Mozart or Puccini.
Performing new music to a high standard generally has severe implications for time and cost, but it’s amazing what you can do in just a few days with some impressive multi-tasking.
I was singing in one half of a double-bill, designed and directed by Richard Williams, with actors Christopher Good, Grant Sterry and Max Keeble. Grant and Max, in addition to performing in both operas, were also stage-managing, building the set, managing front of house and any number of other functions. As well as conducting, George Vass was also producing the shows. Accustomed as I am to being the busiest one in the room, I felt like something of a slouch just turning up and performing my role!
For a few days, we rehearsed Prometheus in the mornings and Airbourne (this year’s new commission from Cecilia McDowall and Andy Rashleigh) in the afternoons. We added the excellent and sympathetic Nova Music Ensemble and suddenly we were in performance, all in under a week.
Richard’s commendably low-tech treatment of the two stories played to the strengths of Rosslyn Hill Chapel where the London shows took place, and allows for easy adaptation to rather different venues on tour.
The simplicity of each staging also permitted the relationships within the stories to stand at the centre of the performances. Airbourne, starring Donna Lennard and Henry Manning, is the more straightforwardly emotional work of the two, directly engaging us with the development of the characters’ love affair as well as the dramatic action. Prometheus Drown’d is more complex and layered, with a dual time-frame and a mixture of spoken narrative, underscoring and sung lyric sections, quoting directly from Shelley’s last poems.
I have written elsewhere about how the piece has developed since its inception as A Voice of One Delight, and reached this, its third incarnation. Who knows, perhaps there is a fourth to come?
Personally, I have always rather fancied doing Shelley as a trouser role.