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13 August 2015

Seven Deadly Sins - the angry Perth and the envious Hobart

Seven Deadly Sins - the angry Perth and the envious Hobart

I'm currently involved in a fascinating project in which myself and three other composers (Ian Whitney, Julian Langdon and Jessica Wells) are crafting a contemporary and localised response to Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins. The conglomerated work will be performed on 6 November at Hamer Hall by the Victorian Opera, in conjunction with a performance of Weill's original work by the cabaret singer Meow Meow.

Jessica has provided an overview of the project here. As we have worked separately on our own sections, we have not had the luxury of an overriding story arc or common characters to hold the thing together. Whilst we have all taken different approaches, our individual contributions somehow share complementary musical syntax, and there are even a few fortuitous gestural relationships.

As each movement is short, I decided to mine recent history (Murdoch tabloids!) for recognisable characters associated with my allotted cities and sins. Thus, Perth's anger is demonstrated by the wife and daughter of a wealthy industrialist screaming insults at eoach other, whilst envy in Hobart is represented by a three-way contest for the hand of a foreign prince in marriage (set as a reality TV program, of course).

The singers who will bring this all to life are the current batch of Victorian Opera/Melbourne University Master's of Music students. The work is partly designed to be a graduation for them, and with this in mind I have tried to give as many of them as possible personalised solo features. The workshop process has enabled me to consult directly with them and to tailor the roles to their specific strengths and vocal characteristics. It's been extremely valuable, in particular, to be afforded the opportunity to speculatively try things in more than one way, and to have the luxury of rewriting.

The project's most recent activity was a workshop with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Tahu Matheson. By this stage, the vocal parts have been largely finalised, and the workshop was an opportunity to see how our variously styled orchestrations balanced with the voices. Huge lessons learnt by all in terms of how not to accompany the voice.

As this workshop had no performance outcome for the Tasmasnian Symphony Orchestra (the eventual performance will be in Melbourne) Tahu used the opportunity to very gently guide the orchestra through the scores, rather than stopping to rehearse until perfect. By around the third play-through the orchestra had generally developed enough empathy with the music for us to hear what worked and what didn't, and how successfully the drama was developing. The singers were not granted the same attention as had been the case in the earlier vocal workshops, as on this occasion the focus was primarily orchestration. ('What do you mean it's not about the singers? Of course it's about me, it's always about me!')

The workshop was supervised by the project's director Richard Mills. Many valuable lessons were learnt, not least the need to possess the discipline and objectivity of a master craftsman. Many an over-orchestrated passage went under the red pen, entire slabs of work dispassionately consigned to the cutting-room floor. The overall work will be leaner and more compelling as a result of Richard's suggestions.

On the whole the journey has been extremely rewarding so far. For me, the most striking aspect has been my re-engagement with text. I have not attempted (in fact, have consciously avoided) writing words since my adolescent efforts at poetry and songwriting. Putting them in the mouth of a character as a part of the compositional process seems to have relit the pilot; I'm intrigued as to where this might lead. In the meantime, I am currently finalising the score and looking forward to the next step - considerations of staging when the project is finally brought to fruition in November.

AMC resources

Mark Viggiani - AMC profile
Jessica Wells - AMC profile
Victorian Opera: Seven Deadly Sins - event details in the AMC Calendar


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