Five:15 in twenty:10
The state of the economy is never far from the headlines these days, but as an opera subject it is somewhat unexpected. Not so in Scottish Opera’s latest batch of five short new operas. For the third year of the company’s bold commissioning strand, FIVE:15 in twenty:10, themes range from isolation to spirituality, Zen philosophy to the aforementioned economy, this latter endlessly fascinating topic given a satirical slant by writer Ron Butlin and composer Lyell Cresswell.
Like Cresswell, the first woman composer to be featured in the Five:15 portfolio is a New Zealander. Currently a lecturer in music at Aberdeen University, Miriama Young teams up with colleague Alan Spence, director of the city’s Word Festival, which hosts the opening performances in mid-May. Their story is based on a Japanese parable in which a young girl finds herself pregnant, confiding to her parents that the father is the Zen master Hakuin. ‘He takes this in his stride,’ explains Young, ‘and when the baby is born, he takes ownership, but the girl finally concedes it was some other dude and the parents plead to get the baby back. The monk accepts this, so the story is about letting everything wash over you, about accepting whatever comes your way.’
Young’s music alludes to the east and sounds of the temple through its sonorities and, in particular, use of bells. The challenge for her as a composer of such a short opera is, she says, ‘to bring some of the drama that full-length opera can convey in a piece that is satisfying and convincing. I think it’s a brilliant idea. For a composer, you might be commissioned to write a two-hour-long opera, which will take three years to complete. This way you can try the medium and get a taste for it’.
Scottish Opera, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 20, Fri 20 and Sat 22 May; Oran Mor, Glasgow, Tue 25, Wed 26 and Thu 27 May