We’ve been listening recently to Dame Hilary Mantel‘s fascinating Reith Lectures about the process and philosophy of writing historical fiction. As well as talking with great insight about the writing process itself, she touches on the business of adapting other peoples’ material – in her case, their actual, historical lives. What is the relationship between historical accuracy and novelistic creativity? Is the spirit more important than the letter? These issues are still pertinent when the starting-place is an existing work of fiction, although with different implications when handling source material and characters.
Mantel also touches on something common to all fictional processes where personalities are involved – the autonomy of the characters themselves. There comes a point reported by many writers where the characters – real or created – become so present that the author almost feels the character are actively leading the way. This is something that Di Sherlock, the librettist of The Ubiquitous Woman, has talked about. If and when it happens, she says, it’s always much better to go with it than to resist.
So it has been with our work on The Ubiquitous Woman, which has continued to develop since our first workshop in November 2016. We have received significant critical feedback from our peers within the theatre and opera industry, which has shaped our pathway for the next phase of development. But in the end, the direction suggested by the characters themselves in response to their developing storyline is as strong a factor as anything else.
One always has to begin somewhere and we began quite close to the short story that inspired us. This was not only a way of examining its themes but helped us to tease out what fresh insights we wanted to offer about them. As we have extended the reach of those themes into the twenty-first century, it has become clear that we are writing a totally new story with very different characters. The decision to rename our protagonists reflects how far they have moved from their literary inspiration: the centrality of digital and virtual-reality technology to our narrative shows that this story can only be entirely contemporary in its concerns and location.
However, the wry humour and spirit of the original continue to inspire us. Dame Hilary Mantel, must necessarily preserve Thomas Cromwell more-or-less as she finds him in the historical record. We have the good fortune to be able to let our characters run more freely and, if they feel like it, to become different people.
New Notes & Noises is delighted to announce that we are in receipt of a significant donation from Cockayne towards the development and performance of The Ubiquitous Woman. This important seed-money from a major player in arts philanthropy will help us to complete the vocal score and move forward towards the production stage of the project.
We would like to express our thanks to Cockayne and to the London Community Foundation for their generous support.
Second Movement’s Rough for Opera series is a vital part of London’s operatic life-cycle. Of the spurt of showcase events throughout the capital in the past decade, Rough for Opera’s is now something of a flagship, an exemplar. An established series, it exists as a platform apart from the work and artists on show. It also benefits from being professionally run, and from operating in a well-equipped theatre that can deal with manifold musical or dramatic whimsy.
December 5th saw the fourteenth presentation in the series. We had come to see and hear Martin Ward’s The Sinken Sun (pictured above).
Putting the experience of a successful career writing for both lyric and straight theatrical stages, Martin (writing both music and text) has picked out an angle on his interest in the life of writer John Clare. This two hander takes a look at Clare from the perspective of the man and through the eyes of a contemporary reader, so opening up a point of view about the endurance of art, the communicability of spoken word – sung here, of course, the natural medium for the meter of Clare’s text.
With carefully prepared parts and good singing from the soprano (Billie Robson) and baritone (Paul Sheehan) and staging marked only with the most simple lighting and costume, the text and its rigorous setting were the constant focus. As pianist James Young pointed out in the subsequent Q&A, Martin Ward’s music has a horizontal profile. The lyricism is in the lines. The harmony is rather wild, a reflection of the untamed countryside, the situation of text and opera, but the sung lines chart a course through it, aesthetically and narratively.
This was a strong excerpt of a promising work-in-progress. You can see a video of the opera at this stage of its development via Martin’s website here.
A version of this post first appeared on Song Stage & Story.
November 10 was a significant day for New Notes & Noises, on which we presented work in progress for our first project, The Ubiquitous Woman. Two sections of the chamber opera by Martin Ward and Di Sherlock were shown to an audience of potential sponsors, producers and other fellow professionals, exploring the first outline shape of characters and plot. Plus, of course, the question of how to clone a character Iive on stage.
For this early work, we chose to stay with the deliberately theatrical device of a puppet clone, with electronic multi-voicing to produce a chorus of clones. We were exceptionally lucky to have puppeteer Jenny Dee with us, whose additional skills include object manipulation, dance and acting as well as straight puppeteering. Damian Thantrey appeared as Tony, Sabine’s husband, and Robin Bailey as Theo, the lover of Judith (Sabine’s first clone in the story) while Clare McCaldin and Jenny switched physical roles as different clones and Clare sang live against herself in pre-recorded versions of various characters. Clarinettist Derek Hannigan joined pianist Libby Burgess and Martin Ward contributed live electronics to the mix.
L to R: Damian Thantrey, Robin Bailey, Clare McCaldin, Jenny Dee and Libby Burgess
We were delighted with the response from our audience, which was overwhelmingly positive. We are grateful to guests who felt moved to donate or pledge support to us on the night and we will continue to fund-raise from here to move towards a completed full score and, ultimately, a full production.
Yesterday we started rehearsing the music for the 10 November excerpts showcase of The Ubiquitous Woman. We have to do a great deal of work in a short space of time. A lot of what we do is finding out what works and what doesn’t work, let alone rehearsing that to a performance level! However, we’re having a lot of fun with this sharp comedy.
Today we have been working with some of the designs that Andie Scott has drawn up and prepared. Above are her working sketches for the characters and below is a photo from rehearsal, showing some of these in the studio. We’re really looking forward to refining this important part of the show for the showcase on Thursday.
We are very pleased to have been passed a recording of the premiere performance of Requiescat Aberfan, composed by Christopher Wood, one of our trustees. Christopher has built an enviable reputation for highly melodious music of strong sentiment for notable occasions. This year sees the 50th anniversary of the disaster at Aberfan, Merthyr Tydfil and Christopher’s splendid piece, performed by the RPO under Orwain Arwel Hughes for the first time at this summer’s Welsh Proms, finds exactly the right balance of reflection and hope that such an event demands.
Another of our Trustees, Clare McCaldin, has appeared as a soloist on the recordings of two of Chris’s works, the Requiem and Holy Week, an oratorio for Easter.
Now that New Notes & Noises is officially up and running, we can tell you when you can get your first look at the project that we’re working on to get the charity off to a winning start. We’re going to perform a staged excerpt of The Ubiquitous Woman at the Jerwood Space in in Southwark on 10 November. It’s a chance for us to try out our new piece and for those who want to support the piece to its completion to see what they’re investing in. Anyone is welcome to come and see what we’ve been working on and get a first look at this absurdist comedy-satire. If you’d like to come along on 10 Nov, get in touch via social media or drop us a line at email@example.com.
Last week we began the exciting process of creating The Ubiquitous Woman. In a day-long workshop we explored the musical language being created by Martin Ward to complement Di Sherlock‘s libretto. In addition to these two key creatives, baritone Damian Thantrey and tenor Michael Peavoy joined us to take the roles of Tony, Sabine’s husband and Theo, her lover. New Notes & Noises was represented by Libby Burgess (piano) and Clare McCaldin (mezzo), who sang Sabine.
Following our day of singing and discussion, Martin and Di have revisions and additional sections to write which will form a 20-minute section to be rehearsed and performed as work-in-progress later this year. The story of The Ubiquitous Woman presents specific technical challenges for both music and production because the narrative hinges on the central character’s ability to clone herself. Further workshop days will include preliminary ideas from our designer Andie Scott demonstrating how this will work.
New Notes & Noises is a brand new charity dedicated to supporting high-quality performances of new work and multi-disciplinary collaboration.
We are delighted to confirm our Board of Trustees and will soon be able to bring you news of our first project.
Follow us on social media for up-to-the-minute news of our work and the view from behind the scenes.