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The Project - A Note from Sandy Clark

When I first began writing this work, I was in two minds about whether to call it an ‘opera’ due to the baggage that comes with the word. When people go to see an opera, they expect a certain style of music, theatre and entertainment. However, in recent years, ‘operas’ have been so varied in their compositional and theatrical approaches that the definition of the word is up for debate. From the sublime performance art of Bora Yoon, through M. Lamar’s marriage of opera, Afro-American spirituals and black metal, all the way to Juliana Snapper’s innovative underwater opera You Who Will Emerge from the Flood…, the opera world is changing.


So I decided to stick with the word, and call this multimedia episodic work an ‘opera’. My first challenge was finding a writer who could transform the original story into a libretto. Luckily, I found Mary Aherne, whose poetic language brought the story to life. In spite of my many requests and proposed additions, Mary was always willing to make revisions, and they were always of an excellent quality. The final product lent itself beautifully to composing the vocal lines, and inspired the composition of some of the instrumental parts, too.


Once the libretto was largely set in stone, I began work on the composition. After several initial attempts, I finally decided upon a series of three chords around which to base the work. As anyone who has read a fairy tale will know, three is a magic number: three little pigs; three tries to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name; and three trials in The Water Fairy. The three chords I decided upon are in three equal points on the Circle of Fifths. Beginning on C, these chords are C, E and Ab. Part of the magic of these chords is that each one has at a note that can be found in the other two chords. Compositionally, this allowed me to experiment with overlapping of chords, and has the power to create a sense of uneasiness, or a sense of gratifying resolution depending upon my desire.


Regarding instrumentation, I researched Oscar-winning film soundtracks from the past decade and a pattern that appeared was that many used piano and strings almost exclusively. In order to create a filmic sound, I decided to follow this trend, whilst also adding electronic sounds and, at times, flutes, clarinets and French horns. The resulting sound world is one that develops and varies over the six episodes, going from a very electronic-heavy sound, to the entirely acoustic episodes 2 and 6.


Having begun in June 2017, I completed the composition in December 2017. The next task was to organise the filming of episodes 2 to 6; despite episode 2 being live, the ending was filmed. Fortunately, I found Jamie Nowell who would direct, and Ed Cotton as a cinematographer. Jamie worked excellently with the cast in preparation for filming in March, and Ed filmed all the scenes in our filming week with expert efficiency; we were able to film everything in four days! Ed has been working since filming week on editing the films whilst I moved on to the next part of the project, rehearsing and recoding the instrumentalists.


The students who were involved in playing and recording worked incredibly hard over long days to get everything recorded. Their playing will be used in all the films of each episode. Alex Dexter-Mills has been instrumental in the success of this project, acting not only as Violin 1 in the ensemble, but also recording engineer, and helping with the post production of the music. I look forward to welcoming the ensemble back for the live performance of Episode 2 on 25th July.

As well as the orchestra, the cast have been a pleasure to work with. We faced some challenges in filming week - namely singing along to a pre-recorded track, which was a new experience for all. In preparation for the live performance of Episode 1, we had little rehearsal, but what we did have was intense and the cast worked extremely well under these conditions. 


All that is left for me to say is I hope you enjoy the project. The release dates of each of the episodes on this website are available under the 'Episodes' tab above. 


Sandy Clark (Composer/Producer)

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