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TICKETS ON SALE FOR MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT! Live performance, 16th September: https://t.co/blFbNAQfoM Broadcast, 18th September: https://t.co/HMqDxHKJGd Produced by Minute Hand Opera Music: John Sturt Libretto: Sophia Chapadjiev @teteateteopera #MinutesToMidnight #tàtfest2020
Oddly enough, my last ‘lockdown project’ before HGO’s Sāvitri was also an opera of chamber-ish musical dimensions (though rather greater duration, and brand new): (composer) John Sturt’s and (librettist) Sophia Chapadjiev’s Minutes to Midnight.
Drawing partly on the Doomsday Clock concept (which has inspired a string of artistic reactions; see for instance the BBC mini-series Summer of Rockets), Minutes to Midnight is set in a US military nuclear control bunker during vote-counting in the 2016 presidential election. This interview with the composer and librettist talks through some of its genesis. The juxtaposition with my black-comic habit of referring to the Covid-19 pandemic as things along the lines of ‘the end of the world as we knew it’ is … ironic.
I got involved at the point when composition was concluded and my good friend and frequent musical colleague Flick Cliffe had been brought on board as conductor and musical director. At that point in midsummer it was very uncertain whether any kind of live performance would be possible, even with the work’s having been adopted by Tête à Tête Opera Festival, and the approach being taken exemplified the difficulties and uncertainties of music-making as lockdown started to lift.
The first stage was to create a recording – without being able to bring about 20 performers (counting both chamber orchestra and cast) together in a studio. John laboriously created click tracks, with guide recitative sections, for the whole opera. Flick added conducting videos to these, which were sent out together with the parts to the instrumentalists, including myself (on viola as for most classical projects).
Suffice to say that for a string player, being asked to record to releasable quality with only clicks and conducting for guidance reveals how much one generally relies on harmonic context for intonation! John’s writing is chiefly concordant though not necessarily tonal in any strict sense, but it was a challenge (which required quite some work and concentration, and a couple of shortcuts, to overcome) to pitch a generally inner harmony part of it against my linear playing / the strings of the instrument without another pitched part to blend with. I’m going to hope it was good discipline and/or training for something, or for playing in general!
Those instrumental recordings will have the vocal parts dubbed over them for an audio release. However, they will also be used with live cast (Flick has the unenviable task of mediating between pre-recorded accompaniment and live singing) for both a broadcast and an actual live performance (with distanced audience of course) of selections from the opera later this month. I highly encourage you to consider attending either – not just because I only get paid if some money is made from ticket sales, but because it is a fascinating work (judging by what I have heard of it, chiefly the recitatives!) and the additional broadcast material around both nuclear weapons and pandemic collaboration seem in their own way top-class.
However, I can’t say I’m entirely sorry to have been able to move largely to the rather more direct experience of fully live performance for a live audience only … watch this space for more on my activities on that front …