The Making of Fleeting Opera 2000
by Max Couper
It was the water that had brought my mother’s ancestors to England from Florence in Italy in the 1800’s, and the water that had sustained them once they arrived, as bridge-builders and stevedores.
The first impulse to this opera was the idea of continuous motion, of things in flux. The title Fleeting Opera tied these things together. It combined the word ‘fleeting’, the ancient Thames word describing when a barge floats up on the tide, with the sense of the temporal and passing. Being fleeting opera meant it did not have to relate to land opera, which freed the idea of creating a new way of working.
I avoided working with narrative, or anything which required viewing from beginning to end, and decided to explore ritual instead. This provided an open-ended vehicle, which allowed the spectator to view the work in fleeting abstracted passages. The backing-track, constructed on computer by Trevor Wishart, gave a sculptural feel to the overall piece, and provided a basic cue structure to the score he created. Constructing the vocal passages in different metres to one another added a certain element of chance into the interpretation of the score. This created a polyrhythmic structure where the singers and musicians locked together harmonically in shifting accents. The invented language and costumes reflected a fictional culture fused from many places from over the seas. The metalised silk suspended from the rigging, and the amplified sound and lighting that carried the piece to the shoreline, then had to be of large scale to fit the size of the river.
To me, what makes an event opera is passion and a sense of the absurd. Rivers have always been associated with the idea of fertility and renewal, so sexuality was implicit in the piece right from the start. This fitted my basic operatic idea of attraction and repellance between the opposite sexes, and the two barges, in the opera. The pregnant matriarch at the centre of the opera provided a simple image of fertility to which the performers and audience were naturally drawn towards.