A Short Opera performed in the Circle Studio, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Thursday 22nd Jan – Saturday 24th Jan 2015
Composer: John Harris
Libretto and Direction: Zinnie Harris
Cast: Pauline Knowles and Alan McHugh
Commissioned and produced by: Sound Festival, Aberdeen, Scotland
Duration: 40 minutes
"The Garden" is a gentle tale of love and hope, set in a high rise flat where a couple discover a strange plant growing through the floor of their kitchen. The more they pull up its roots, the more it grows back, its gentle insistence eventually reminding them of important but forgotten emotions, and ultimately providing a way of reconnecting and finding each other. It is based on the original short play of the same name by Zinnie Harris, which was commissioned by the Traverse Theatre in 2009 and won a Scotsman Fringe First Award as part of “The World is Too Much With Us” season.
This new small-scale 40 minute operatic version was commissioned by sound, Scotland’s festival of new music, and premiered in October 2012 site-specific in a flat in Aberdeen. The music was composed by John Harris and the words were adapted by Zinnie Harris from her original play. The initial sell-out performances in Aberdeen attracted excellent reviews, and the production was re-mounted in August 2013 at Scottish Opera’s Paterson’s Land venue during the Edinburgh Fringe, at the Tete-a-Tete Festival in London, and at NeuKollnerOper in Berlin. It is being remounted in the Circle Studio at the Citizen’s Theatre Glasgow this January and touring to Potsdam in Germany in June 2015.
Although a through-scored opera, it is of a new musical form that seamlessly combines spoken-word, sung-spoken and fully-sung elements. It casts two singing actors - Pauline Knowles and Alan McHugh - and the score is performed by the composer using full-range studio monitor speakers and sub-woofers on a vintage Yamaha DX-7 synthesiser, with additional computer-triggered samples.
‘This libretto was based on a play that I wrote for the Traverse. In both pieces I wanted to explore what it might be like to live in a world that is similar to ours but set sometime in the future. A world that has become so overpopulated, and under-resourced that there is hardly any green vegetation anywhere. I had this idea for a scientist, who became Mac in the opera, who spends all day working in a scientific institution that is tasked with solving the world’s environmental problems while his wife, Jane, sits in their high-rise flat stifling in the heat, and wishing that they were somewhere, anywhere, else.’
(Zinnie Harris, 2013)
“’The Garden’ is a beautiful play with which I was very familiar when I began to set it to music. The challenge was to find a musical form which transformed it in to an opera but retained the subtlety, lightness of touch and intimacy of the original. In answer to this I have created a piece in which speech and song are part of the same musical continuum, where one can transform in to the other seamlessly and naturally, even in the space of the same sentence. I have aimed to make musical the pitches inherent in the spoken word, and not lose the sense and clarity of the sung word when it is set to music. For this reason, and for the intimacy of the piece, we have cast singing actors, rather than acting singers.
A similar approach has been taken to the instrumentation of the opera; at one end of the spectrum, sounds which are not normally taken as being traditionally “musical” colour our perception of the environment in which we find Mac and Jane; at the other, there are traditional notes, melodies and harmonies; in-between we find drones and pedal tones which play their part in binding both speech and song together.”
(John Harris, 2013)
The Garden reviewed in The Scotsman newspaper (****), October 2012
“An intimate city-centre flat was the location for “The Garden” by Zinnie and John Harris, a bleakly dystopian tale of overpopulation and a despairing urban couple (played compellingly by Pauline Knowles and Alan McHugh) who discover an apple tree growing in their living room. The real revelation, though, was the way Harris’s astonishingly expressive vocal lines slipped effortlessly back and forth between speaking and singing.”
The Garden at the Circle Studio, Citizens Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street, G5 9DS
Thursday 22nd Jan – Sat 24th 2015 at 8pm, additional matinee on Sat 24th at 3pm