PIERROT, A BIOGRAPHY

Pierrot, a Biography was conceived as a companion piece to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

 

Performed by The Knack

Lyrics Tamsin Collison

Direction Rufus Norris

Music Direction Mary King

 

1

what is his name?

Piero

Bigolo

Bertoldo Bartoldino

Cacasseno Pagliaccio Gian-Farina Jean-Farine

Gros-Guillaume

Pedrolino Paillasse Peppe-Nappa Gilotin Pirolino Pierrot and even Petrushka

 

who is he?

a man

when was he born?

when God and his parents decided to make him

he didn’t meddle with the decision

what is his country?

The world

 

2

he looks after the livestock

he guards them from theft

the dogs give him devotion

the only devotion he gets

dogs monkeys bears and mules

 

he is a man

he is a boy

a warm-up man

a decoy

 

he can run like a hare

he can handle a horse

he can track down a stag

he can shoot any bird

on the wing

hares horses stags and birds

 

he is bullied and abused

his wit is drowned out

he is heckled and abused

he is an understudy underdog a whipping-boy

a dogsbody underdog a whipping-boy

but he understands them

 

pale as the moon

mysterious as silence

supple and mute as the serpent

straight and tall as the gallows

 

3

he works for the doctor

the doctor he works for

is a doctor who makes no cures

he works for the doctor

a very pompous doctor

who is a doctor of verbal diarrhoea

 

no diagnosies – no cures

no diagnoses – verbal diarrhoea

 

he works through the night and

he faithfully does his chores

he works and he works and

he works till his candle burns out

he works and he works and

he works while the doctor dreams and snores

 

4

he is a ragman a dustman a customs man

a gardener a barber and a bureaucrat

 

it dit toujours la même chose, parce que c’est toujours la même chose

et si ce n’était toujours la même chose, il ne dirais pas toujours la même chose

 

his head is as large as a pumpkin, his ears enormous and his tiny eyes peer out from under upturned lids; his mouth runs from ear to ear and he has but two teeth – but his mind is keen and his judgement sound; his fellow citizens prefer his instructions to a priest’s; he settles their disputes more wisely than judges; and he causes more laughter than all the charlatans and clowns

 

he is a wise man an honest man an optimist

a prankster a trickster and a pessimist

and the despair of his mother

 

5

a silver bell a black cat a peacock and a box of rain

a golden key a looking-glass a coffin and a bag of nails

a billiard cue a skull a book of law a bunch of white roses

 

three barking dogs a streak of lightning

a ladder a compass an arrow a lock of hair a clap of thunder

 

pale as the moon

mysterious as silence

supple and mute as the serpent

straight and tall as the gallows

 

white flour

white candles

out of tune violins

 

6

Pierrot loves Columbine and Harlequin

Harlequin loves Pierrot and Columbine

Columbine loves Harlequin and Pierrot

does it end happily?

no no not for Pierrot

 

when Columbine deceives him he

blames himself for

letting her down

and he weeps

tears of remorse

 

Pierrot loves Columbine loves

Harlequin loves Pierrot loves

Columbine loves Harlequin loves

 

he gives her roses

one for each day of the week

he offers her his life

he offers her his death

too much his constant love

his devotion

 

white flour

white candles

out of tune violins

he is full of despair

 

7

he is full of despair

he has nightmares

 

he loses his love of life

he loves only death

he thinks only of death

 

they say that he kills a man

he loves only death

he thinks only of death

 

his moon is a skull

his sky is empty of wonder

 

he is silent

 

pale as the moon

mysterious as silence

supple and mute as the serpent

straight and tall as the gallows

 

ci-git un comedien

qui a tout dit

et qui n’a jamais parlé

 

*

 

Score available on request

TALL STORIES

Music by Richard Chew and OG

Performed by The Shout

Directed by Rufus Norris

Designed by Katrina Lindsay

 

‘Listen!

We have come from far away

A great journey made in silence.’

 

In the early years of the 20th century emigrants flooded to New York from Europe, from China, from the Deep South. They dreamt of a land of opportunity, and for some of them it was; for most of them it was more a matter of substituting one kind of hardship for another.

They learnt English by listening to the radio, and by mimicking actors on stage. When the matinee idol Wayne Burnett dropped dead on stage, a Sicilian butcher took over, knowing his lines and his blocking meticulously, and money did not have to be refunded.

Many took jobs building skyscrapers & excavating subway tunnels, creating the infra-structure, in fact, of modern New York - dangerous, debilitating work but not without a certain kind of exhilaration.

‘Suddenly the jib line moves and he is swinging in the air, in nothingness. He adores this feeling. Alone, on steel, above the city. Nothing on his mind but this swing through the air.’

 

Tall Stories is a series of songs each of which tells a story of these immigrants. The songs are extremely diverse in mood and texture, some involving the whole choir, some just a few singers, some serious and emotional, some light and humorous. All the songs are a cappella.

 

Score available on request

FORTUNE COOKIES

Fortune Cookies is a meditation on chance. Seven short pieces are combined randomly with seven fortunes. The text is by Caryl Churchill.

 

The piece was commissioned and performed by the wonderful string ensemble the gogmagogs, who made extraordinary, pioneering and sometimes dangerous music-theatre. It was directed by Lucy Bailey.

 

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During each section of music someone draws a fortune cookie and reads it out.

 

Today you’ll be walking down the street and you’ll see someone so astonishingly beautiful that after they’ve gone you’ll still be standing there.

 

Today you’ll think did I just make things worse?

 

Today you’ll drink too much.

 

Today you’ll meet a man who says come to my house and while you’re looking out of the window he’ll tell you a secret and your life will be different after that.

 

Today you’ll be frightened and you won’t know why.

 

Today you’ll throw a glass against a wall and you clear it up you’ll get a splinter of glass in your finger.

 

Today you’ll suddenly run very fast down a hill.

 

*

 

Demo and score available on request

 

FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD

An a cappella oratorio for crowd and ranting MC.

Feat. Janice Kelly, Richard Suart, Wills Morgan and a chorus of five hundred singers.

Lyrics Tamsin Collison

Directed by Stephen Langridge

Music direction Mary King

 

The Coliseum. A place where the family man could bring his wife and children without risk of embarrassment - a variety hall, the biggest theatre in London. Six days a week, four shows a day, in two separate programmes - every week a different programme. A battleship. An Alpine Lake. Horses, ventriloquists, acrobats, ballet companies, tap dancers, comedy acts. Gondolas passing under a Venetian bridge. Table tennis, terrier-racing.

 

1915 The Futurist F.T.Marinetti demonstrates his noise machines. The singer Vesta Tilley recruits soldiers from the audience. 1930 James Logie Baird: the inventor of television transmits images onto a large screen. 1936 King Kong: 10000 people a day come to see the giant ape. 1941 Winston Churchill: a speech to the nation. 1999 Bjork.

 

And, oh yes, opera.

 

*

 

The auditorium is full of singers. They are mostly amateurs, from many different choirs, but they come as individuals, sitting with their friends as if coming to see an opera. They sing an a cappella piece, from memory, with no conductor. The piece is as long as a firework display.

 

The music is based on the sounds that crowds make – whispering, shouting, heckling, cheering, chanting, singing in unison……. It is more sophisticated than one would expect from a crowd, but it is still very much music for a crowd. Ideas start with one singer and spread gradually. Unison singing is approximate. Call and response is an important feature. There are elements of anarchy. But at some moments there is, surprisingly, four-, five- or six-part harmony.

 

The event is sometimes like a rally, sometimes a religious service, sometimes a football match, and sometimes a visit to the opera. The crowd does what crowds do – they read their programmes, they do Mexican waves, they stand up, they clap, they try to dance in a limited space. A blind person is led through the auditorium, singing inspirational calls, inviting responses.Two deaf people sign the lyrics to each other, over a distance.

 

The piece is a ghost-like, impressionist, brief(!) history of the Coliseum. Events that took place here – variety shows, operas, demonstrations, political speeches – are briefly summoned up. Fragments of text & music are built into a large choral structure. It is as if the hazy collective memory of a hundred years of Coliseum audiences becomes the basis of a choral piece.

 

The – er – audience is seated in any vacant seats in the auditorium. They are not warned in advance that the rest of the ‘audience’ will sing. Everyone, singers and audience, has the same kind of ticket, the same programme, the same ice-creams.

 

Score available on request

 

LIP

Composed and performed by The Shout

Directed by Emma Bernard

Lighting by Adam Crosthwaite

The choir is in a bar, late at night, singing love songs to each other, and doing a certain amount of drinking. It's a karaoke night without the karaoke machine (though there is a wind-up gramophone on hand, which makes a curious appearance in one of the songs). It's a hen night which coincides with, and becomes involved with, a stag night. It is, though, perhaps most like a certain kind of gathering in Georgia in which polyphonic songs are sung and drink is consumed; the toastmaster, or tamada, proposes a series of toasts which introduce the songs and provide a framework for the endless drinking.

 

The piece is about what you tell your friends about your love life, and how they react. Who sings each song, who listens, who joins in, who ignores the song – all these things are important. It's not so much about love itself as about how love affects your relationships with your friends, with the rest of the world. The sequence of songs is interwoven with one woman's account of the first moments of a love affair at a funeral.

 

‘And then there was a tall guy who I’d never seen before, chaotic, has he ever worn a suit before? His height upset the balance of the coffin, it tipped dangerously, slid forward. The men wrestled with it, trying to look as if they weren’t. Christ, let’s hope it doesn’t spill open, I’m not that keen to see the old bag again. Somehow they managed, it was horizontal, we could relax. The tall guy caught my eye, smiled at me, almost apologetically. He was the only one who acknowledged that anything unusual had happened. And when he smiled, I knew absolutely for sure that I was going to fuck him. Not just sometime vaguely in the future. That very afternoon.’

 

Scores available on request

 

ANCESTOR IN CHALK

for teenage chorus, adult chorus, orchestra

Libretto by John Agard

Directed by Clare Whistler

 

A bunch of disaffected teenagers go on an outing to the Long Man of Wilmington, a chalk figure in the downs in East Sussex. When they mock the Long Man.....

 

‘He hasn’t got a willie,

Hasn’t got a gob.

What’s the use of a giant

Without a knob?

A knob with a ring

Will keep him smiling.

He’s right for a piercing,

A knob will do the job.’

 

.......the Long Man (played by the adult chorus) gives them more than they’d bargained for....

 

‘I am the mystery of Windhover Hill.

If I were to arise from this bed of chalk

I’d bleed across your sleeping conscience

And stain your wayward days.’

 

‘Quick, hide the spray paint.’

‘Act like we’re ramblers and we’re lost.’

 

Score available on request

 

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MAN FROM THE SEA

Libretto by Gwyneth Lewis, based on the short story by Gabriel García Márquez

Music by Richard Chew and OG

for the chorus and orchestra of Welsh National Opera and 500 amateur singers.

 

Gwyneth Lewis:

There can't be many choral works that have been written on a boat, but last year (2004) I wrote the libretto for an oratorio based on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez, while my husband and I were rescuing our boat from Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco. We had been forced to abandon the boat there the previous year, when our first attempt to cross the Atlantic two-handed was disrupted by my husband falling acutely ill and being diagnosed with stage IV cancer. We left our boat, Jameeleh, in the hands of sailors in Ceuta and returned to Cardiff. During a difficult winter, I began work on The Most Beautiful Man from the Sea. The piece tells of a body washed ashore in an impoverished fishing village and the far-reaching effect on its inhabitants. As the unhappy residents contemplate the corpse, discuss its fate and prepare it for burial, they begin to transform their lives for the better.

 

It's easy to be romantic about water while sitting at your desk, but having crossed Biscay in October and experienced the storm that sank the oil tanker Prestige off Cape Finisterre, we had no illusions about the sea as a friend. Indeed, we felt that we had come to know the type of fishing community Márquez portrays, even though the story was originally set in South America. All along the Atlantic coast off Spain and Portugal, we often moored alongside small fishing boats, their men with hands swollen like bunches of bananas from long immersion in sea water. We used to skirt them untangling their nets on dry land, and visited the fish markets where they sold their catch.

 

This experience made it possible for me to write duets such as the one for the fisherman and his wife, in which both express their very different views of the sea. She is unashamedly sentimental: "When I was a girl/ I knew that the sea/ Was a husband and made love to me" and is disappointed in her lot. "Paco is fine/ but a fisherman's hands/ are rough ..." Her husband, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the sea's threat to him: "Dark nights at sea. I may never come/ Ashore again/ To my woman's arms." The drowned man himself, to whom the sea has done its worst, has a more mystical relationship with the ocean. I wanted his words to have something of an Andalucian cante jondo about them: "My true love is the water:/ Not staying but always changing,/ Not losing but never gaining,/ Dying and yet becoming."

 

Given that the main character in the story is a corpse, the change of genre from novel to libretto presented one major dilemma - should the dead man on the beach sing or not? Characters can only live vocally in an oratorio, so I decided to be bold and make the drowned man sing. In fact, once he'd started to talk, I couldn't shut him up; he wanted to take part in a vigorous dialogue with the villagers who found him. Eventually, I decided that the villagers would only be able to hear the man from the sea when they had stopped communicating with each other completely. The children still have some imagination (and they are the first to hear the beautiful man sing) but the men and women are locked in apathetic resignation. As each of the groups reaches a crisis, they hear the drowned man, whom the villagers name Esteban. He becomes a blank canvas on to which they can project their fears and, eventually, their new hopes. The men are the last to embrace the ultimate image of disaster he embodies, but, once they face the reality of death, they give Esteban a joyful funeral, in which he's carried through the village streets like a local saint. I wrote this final scene shortly after we had returned to the boat in Ceuta, only to witness the feast day of the local saint. Two brass bands accompanied the effigy around the city and this is, musically, how I imagined Esteban's cortege.

 

The story of a depressed place regenerating itself has resonances for me. I was born and brought up in Cardiff, once the greatest coal port in the world, but a city that, since the 1970s and the closure of heavy industries in South Wales, hadbecome very run down. The oratorio opens: "Our home is on a cape of winds:/ The soil's so thin no flowers grow./ We bury our dead in shallow waves,/ Fear for the young when westerlies blow." My father had worked in the Port Health Authority, so I had been familiar with the docks area of the city from an early age. Indeed, one of the reasons my husband and I went sailing in our 35-ft sloop was that I wanted to trace the coal trade routes out of the city to the rest of the world. We saw a piece of Welsh coal salvaged from the bottom of Gibraltar Bay, where I dived on the Rosslyn, a Cardiff-registered steamer wrecked in 1916. Since the Cardiff Bay Barrage has made the seafront a huge fresh-water lake, the regeneration of the area has transformed it. By the end of the oratorio, the villagers don't recognise their own home: "The breezes are kind/ The sun so bright/ It dazzles my oceanic sight./ The cape of roses."

 

I have a personal connection with the Wales Millennium Centre in which this oratorio will be performed, in that I composed the words of the inscription, the letters of which appear in its 6ft-high stained- glass windows, and may well be the biggest poem in the world. With the silhouette of the new National Assembly of Wales building, designed by Lord Rogers, and to be opened in March 2006, the skyline of the old docks area, with Tiger Bay behind it, represents a vibrant cultural and political scene. The corpse of the docks has, indeed, been revived by a collective effort.

 

When my husband had finished his chemotherapy and was ready to go back to the boat, we returned to Ceuta, where I wrote most of the libretto. A year of facing cancer had taught my husband and me to live as best we could in the middle of death, a big theme of the oratorio. The Most Beautiful Man from the Sea ends with the community discovering a more energetic spirit to enable it to revive itself. As we were crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in a sharp westerly wind, with my husband as if back from the dead and me not believing we were taking up our voyage again, we were astonished and saddened to hear an announcement on Tarifa Traffic Radio: all ships were requested to look out for a body in the water and to report its location to the Coast Guard.

 

Score available on request.