For Solo Voices, Piano and Strings
I wanted to work with April de Angelis as soon as I met her. ENO Contemporary Opera Studio gave us the opportunity for our first collaboration in 1992, when Henrietta Bredin asked us to write a 10-minute opera for performances at the Almeida Theatre, alongside two other new ‘Soundbites’ and works by Judith Weir and Stephen Oliver.
April and I met to talk about the project. We were excited about creating an opera in miniature, with overture, arias, duets and trios all happening in a few minutes. The line-up of two sopranos and baritone suggested a love-triangle. I was also enthusiastic about fables involving animals. We aGreed we would each think of ten different story-ideas, and then meet again.
A couple of days later, a libretto arrived in the post. It was five pages long, in rhyme, a mischievous tale of two girls and a Pig. I thought it was perfect: not a wasted word in it, and every phrase singable. Like all April’s work, a playful and deceptively simple surface covers an unpredictable world of dark, sometimes brutal possibilities. Non-naturalistic and vivid, a world which music can inhabit.
The following year, the triumvirate who had presided over ENO’s ‘golden age’ – David Pountney, Mark Elder and Peter Jonas – left the company. As a parting gift, Henrietta Bredin commissioned Seven Deadly Sins, approaching a different writer-composer team for each sin. Perhaps a simple association of ideas led her from Pig to Greed – anyway, that was the sin she asked us to dramatise in 6 minutes. Once again, April created a brilliant fable of breathtaking economy. Looking at it Now, I notice that its encounter, between breezy holiday-makers and someone from another culture in a painful predicament, subtly prefigures Flight.
Libretto by April de Angelis
One of seven works written for outgoing artistic directors of ENO based on the seven deadly sins
First performance: 13th June 1993, Great Hall, Lincoln’s Inn, London.