Howard Moody – The composer’s journal
#2 Composer’s response to the synopsis
It was seeing Breughel’s picture in the Musée des Beaux Arts - Landscape with the Fall of Icarus - and reading W.H. Auden’s poem about it that first inspired me to write an “environmental” opera using this myth. As observed by Auden, there can be no turning away from disaster. I had my own ideas and concepts starting to form, however, I was looking forward to seeing how Anna would respond to the brief of the commission and create a full dramatic story.
When I received Anna’s full synopsis, I was blown away by its originality and sense of contemporary urgency. She has managed to reflect the environmental crisis of our times by re-balancing our perception of the Icarus myth.
Talus, (Icarus’ cousin) is put in the centre of the action, starting the opera with him being held over a cliff edge by his uncle Daedalus. Opening any stage show with fast dramatic music is a composer’s dream! Talus’ transformation into a bird is true to the original myth but in Solar, the character is elevated to become an urgent voice for change, a message that will be sung by a dramatic soprano. The audience will have no escape.
Anna decided to have the Children’s Chorus play the Sun. They take on a central role in each scene – interacting with and reacting to the human world. Brilliant trained young voices are sure to transmit the raging power of the Sun itself, importantly giving the next generation the loudest voice. The role means that the youngest performers can be fully involved in every scene of the action and invites energetic, rhythmic music that will really play to their vocal strengths.
Meanwhile the human action covers a such a huge range of emotions and complex relationships. The main characters reveal so many sides of themselves, which enables each aria to have a distinct mood and intention. I have my work cut out! Daedalus, who becomes trapped by his own invention as well as by his envy, has a complexity that is ideally suited to a baritone voice. In contrast, there is the more piercing timbre of a tenor voice poised to play the manipulative control of King Minos.
Anna introduces Icarus at a moment of utter sadness. Anna decided to weave in a close connection between Icarus and Talus which is another of her own additions to the original story. This makes the death of Talus all the more acute as Icarus must confront the fact that his own father has killed someone who was like a brother to him. The scene in which Icarus and ‘The Apprentices’ (played by the Youth Chorus), mourn the death of Talus will enable some virtuoso singing from the distinct countertenor voice of the soloist playing Icarus. The opportunity to layer this with the voices of the Apprentices and also the soprano playing Talus, immediately sparked musical ideas.
Solar has all the key elements that make a story deserving of operatic treatment, and the musical challenge to express the urgent message at the end of the opera will be a demanding one. Here goes...