Wednesday, November 19, 2008

John Murrell on Workshop #3

In September 2008, Vancouver Opera hosted the 3rd intensive workshop for Lillian Alling. Probably by now most of you have read the fascinating but sparse historical facts about Lillian’s journey across the breadth of North America, which set our creative imaginations to work.

The first 2 workshops focused on the story, the dramatic structure, and the words for Lillian Alling – that’s my department, as the librettist. With the assistance of several gifted Vancouver actors, Kelly Robinson (our director), John Estacio (our composer), and I endeavoured to shape the incidents, both real and imagined, of Lillian’s saga, and to find the true “folk poetry” of her adventures and her dreams. We remain very excited about what we’ve already discovered – and enormously grateful to the Vancouver opera for commissioning this work, giving us a chance to live in and explore Lillian’s world.

But the 3rd workshop was the most thrilling for me – because we had a chance to hear nearly 40 minutes’ worth of Estacio’s passionately eloquent musical score – eloquent and varied: everything from “pop songs” of the 1920s (the period of our story) to a nobly arching aria for our title character, from a Norwegian barn dance on the prairies to a quartet played on telegraph keys, as well as sung, by young linesman on the Telegraph Trail in northern British Columbia. John has a wondrous ability to blend contrasting musical styles into a unified musical feast, and this opera is clearly evoking his most intricate and heartfelt music.

And, because the music is beginning to be there, so beautifully, Kelly was able to help the five superb singers we had for Workshop 3 to investigate the diverse levels and colours of meaning and human experience which the different characters of the opera share with us – through my words and, especially, through John E.’s complex yet immediately accessible music.

What an adventure we are having. So much lies ahead, yet to be discovered, lived and struggled with, shaped, refined, and ultimately revealed to our first audiences in October 2010. Already, though, there are rich veins of emotion and history, of both the individual and the universal, to be mined from Lillian’s history. I trust and believe that we will reveal her great heart – and, thereby, reveal our own – and those of our audiences.

John Murrell, librettist
November 2008