Talented Len Lye revealed in unique '21st-century' opera
Len Lye: The Opera, by Eve de Castro-Robinson and Roger Horrocks
Len Lye: The Opera, which promises to be a unique theatre/music work, will have its premiere in September.
It is an attempt to imagine “a 21st-century opera”, say its creators, composer Eve de Castro-Robinson and librettist Roger Horrocks.
Lye is one of New Zealand's most celebrated artists who worked for many years in tBritain and the US. His international reputation is based on his innovative achievements as a film-maker and kinetic sculptor.
Baritone James Harrison will sing the role of Lye, with mezzo soprano Anna Pierard as his second wife Ann and soprano Ursula Langmayr as Jane, his first wife. Soprano Lilia Carpinelli plays his girlfriend and mezzo soprano Carmel Carroll that of the artist's mother.
“The artist and film-maker Len Lye had such a colourful personality and such an eventful life that he fulfills the traditional criteria for the central character of an opera,” says Dr Horrocks, an emeritus professor at the University of Auckland.
“But he was always such an innovator that you have to do things differently if you’re going to be true to his spirit.”
So what exactly is a 21st century opera?
“There are some things it certainly isn’t. It’s not a four-hour epic with beefy singers stunning our eardrums as they charge into battle or die of hopeless love,” Dr Horrocks says.
“Our opera follows the life of a modern artist. Of course, it still includes plenty of love and conflict, but not in an overblown opera house style.”
Eve de Castro-Robinson, a leading New Zealand composer who teaches composition in the university’s school of music, adds: “These days opera can take any form. Just vocally, you can run the gamut from aria, through song, to speech, and vocalisation.
"Len can have a bit of everything! He is the quintessential creative personality. His films and sculptures make you glad to be alive – his feeling for movement and energy is palpable and infectious.”
Last year a CD of Eve’s music, Releasing the Angel, featuring the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra included the seven-minute piece Len Dances, offering a taste of the lively music she has written for the opera.
That CD has met widespread acclaim. It was No 1 on the classical charts for several weeks, selected by the Listener as “the outstanding recording of New Zealand music this year” and included by the NZ Herald as one of its 10 top CDs of 2011.
What else besides music makes a “21st century” – or “alt. opera”, as it’s also being called?
Because Lye was a multi-media artist as well as a film-maker, it was seen as important to include moving images. To add to sequences of Lye’s own films, some striking new moving images are being created for the opera by the award-winning film-maker (and University of Auckland graduate) Shirley Horrocks.
In January, she went on a film shoot to Cape Campbell in Marlborough, where Lye lived in the isolated lighthouse as a boy during the dramatic period of his life that forms the first act of the opera.
Her cameraman was Leon Narbey, an Elam graduate who has been the director of photography for many outstanding feature films, including Whale Rider and The Orator.
The project will also involve a range of other talents from NICAI, the university’s National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries, such as musicians from its school of music and its jazz programme under the baton of noted conductor Professor Uwe Grodd.
The staging will be directed by Associate Professor Murray Edmond of the university's English department, a very experienced dramaturge and theatre specialist.
The production will also incorporate elements of dance, as well as unusual staging, lighting and costumes. The set is by noted designer John Verryt.
“Lye died in 1980 but his thinking was so far ahead of his time that there are still many things to surprise us in his art,” Dr Horrocks says. “Some of his plans for moving sculpture are only now able to be realised.
"He used to say: ‘I think my art will be pretty good for the 21st century’, and that comment is being borne out by the rising curve of interest in his work. So there’s no contradiction involved in making ‘a 21st-century opera’ about such an original 20th-century artist!”
The progress of the production can be followed on the website www.lenlyeopera.auckland.ac.nz