With support from the Arts Council of Ireland, I will be spending 2015 developing and writing the libretto and score for a brand new opera based on the life of Irish revolutionary Roger Casement.
A deeply contentious figure in Irish history, Casement will make a fascinating subject for a dark and probing opera. For some time now, I have been slowly working toward the creation of such an opera, and with the centenary of the Easter Rising approaching, now is an excellent time to look back at Casement’s place in the story of revolutionary Ireland.
The opera will explore the contested figure of Casement through a series of connected scenes from his life. Shifting from imperialist to revolutionary, traitor to martyr, Casement will be dramatised as a Faustian figure. I will explore the idea of having multiple “Casements”, played by different singers, interrupting one another and trying to tell his story in a different way. He will be an unreliable narrator. His closeted nationalism will be counterpointed with his secret homosexuality, revealing Casement’s inner struggle and exploring a nexus of nationalism, colonialism and sexuality.
‘Casement’ will be an innovative and experimental work that explores the space in which we narrate history. It will last around two hours and will tell the audience a non-linear story in which Casement floats uneasily between the contested representations that have developed around him.
The music will develop my personal style of composition, creating a rich and lugubrious sound world, full of motivic allusiveness and an expressive tonal palette. Imagine huge Mahlerian contours weaving through a dark landscape like that of Berg’s Wozzeck.
At the moment, I am trying to figure out what size the cast and orchestra will be – both will probably be fairly small, so I’m thinking it will essentially be a chamber opera. but that may change. Selecting the best aspects of Casement’s life will also be a challenge, as will using them to tell a compelling and dramatic story.
It will be a huge challenge and will be on a scale much larger than anything I’ve written before, but I’m greatly looking forward to it.
As the writing progresses, I shall write updates here with excerpts of the libretto, fragments of music, and my broader thoughts on writing opera and representing historical figures within works of art.
More to follow in the new year…