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Fire on the snow : an opera in two acts

by Scott McIntyre, Scott McIntyre and Paul Weingott (2012)

Work Overview

Based on the Radio Drama Fire on the Snow by Douglas Stewart. Libretto by Paul Weingott and Scott McIntyre.

We witness five courageous men, led by one of the most distinctive figures in Antarctic exploration, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, whose driving ambition to be the first to reach the geographical South Pole in the cause of British science and industry, would inevitably lead them all to their terrible deaths in the bitter and unrelenting environment of the great ice continent.

The libretto's narrative consists of a number of movements or episodes, each punctuated by the Announcer who foreshadows and comments on the action much as a Greek chorus might do. The narrative no longer takes the linear path it does in the play text but now acts like memory where form is malleable, fluid and changeable. Each episode sits inside the moving poem of the whole work and behaves in the way that memories do; triggered sensorially and viscerally by association. The opera opens with Scott, trapped in his tent; freezing to death as his comrades have before him. Scott is writing his final diary entry; alone with his memories. Outside the tent, a blizzard batters and rips into his last minutes of life. It's in these opening moments that the audience is engaged in Scott's dream and the action of the opera. First, to the frigid nightmare at the pole and then back in time through their extraordinary struggle for survival and concluding with the warm irony of the initial high emotions of anticipated success.

The narrative concerns the dash to the Pole by the tragically flawed British Antarctic Expedition 1910 -13. On arriving at the Pole, the intrepid five, find they have been beaten there, only a matter of weeks before, by Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian team. Desperately disappointed and exhausted with having to man-haul their sledges, they become trapped by the unpredictable weather. The way the men met their fate struck a chord with the English-speaking world. Despite it being the most incompetent failure in the history of Antarctic exploration, the plight of the heroic five became a symbol of resolve, and an inspiration for those who followed. One hundred years later this tragic event has taken on mythic proportion and continues to resonate in the collective memory.

Work Details

Year: 2012

Instrumentation: 2 tenors, 2 baritones, bass, narrator, percussion (1 player), horn in F, 2 trumpets in C, tenor trombone, bass trombone, keyboard (doubling on percussion), strings (doubling on percussion).

Duration: 78 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: Act One: Scene 1 (Prelude): Death -- Scene 2: Before the End -- Scene 3: The Final March -- Scene 4: Two Days Out from Ninety Degrees -- Scene 5: Something Black in the Snow -- Scene 6: Beaten to the Pole -- Act Two: Scene 7 (Interlude): Turning Back -- Scene 8: Death on the Snow -- Scene 9: The Blizzard -- Scene 10: Oates Shall Leave -- Scene 11: Approaching the End -- Scene 12: Remembrance of Setting Sail from England -- Scene 13 (Postlude): Hope.

First performance: by Gary Wain, Paul Weingott, Jamie Allen, Benjamin Martin, Michael Lampard, Phillip Joughin, Nick Caddick — Recital Hall, Conservatorium of Music, Hobart, TAS

Performances of this work

Unknown date: Recital Hall, Conservatorium of Music, Hobart, TAS. Featuring Gary Wain, Paul Weingott, Jamie Allen, Benjamin Martin, Michael Lampard, Phillip Joughin, Nick Caddick.

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