A Reflection on Make an Aria
Another hugely successful Make an Aria project concluded with a Public Masterclass at the beginning of June. Michael McCarthy reflects on the project this time round...
Our latest Make an Aria came to a conclusion at RWCMD on June 2nd, but I’m only able to reflect on it now having been on the road ever since. This particular project was made especially strong due to the choice of Immigration as the theme as well as the participation of Wales Refugee Council, to whom I want to pay special thanks.
I chose the theme of Immigration for two reasons: Firstly it’s the central issue in our forthcoming production – The Golden Dragon by Peter Eötvös based on the remarkable play by Roland Schimmelpfennig. The movement and exploitation of vulnerable people has always been a human and societal issue, but it is especially relevant to current British and European life and it felt right to explore this through the medium of opera, not least to show how opera can be a relevant and important way to explore contemporary topics. Secondly, I wanted to find a theme that would really resonate with the participating composers and writers and get them fired up!
The idea sprung from the experience of mounting Make an Aria at St Fagan’s museum last year; responding to the people, stories and collected items from the WW1 hospital which had been housed at the museum, as well as the personal stories of members of the armed forces who spoke to us at the start of the project. The contact with real life, real people, real events and a real location made that project incredibly powerful and I hoped that the theme of Immigration would do the same. But I wasn’t prepared for the impact of the presentation from the Wales Refugee Council, and in particular from the asylum seeker who shared his story with us. Everyone in the room was deeply touched by his experience, and there is little doubt that this not only gave the project deep meaning and significance, it also demanded a personal engagement with the subject that lifted all the artists onto a new plane. This inspiration carried itself through the entire project and into the Public Masterclass, where the arias were sung by three wonderful performers.
Another first for us was the involvement of Stuart MacRae as the masterclass leader. His insight into both music and text, informed by his intense creative partnership on three operas (two for Music Theatre Wales) with the writer Louise Welsh, gave the composers and writers, and the audience, some illuminating insight into each aria and provided a powerful stimulus to continue with the good work and think of opera as something they can do. It’s a message that we’re keen to get across at Music Theatre Wales. If emerging artists aren’t given the chance to explore opera we’re less likely to find the opera creators of the future - and we need them!
The evening was rounded off with an exceptional performance by Bevin Magama who told the story of The Rat and The Porcupine. Again, this had come directly from the participation of Wales Refugee Council who had brought Bevin and one of the participating writers to the project. Bevin is an established storyteller and when it wasn’t possible to include him in the aria writing he asked if he could present a story accompanied by his Mbira (thumb piano) on the same theme. I had mentioned the story of The Cricket and The Ant that is part of The Golden Dragon and he offered his own version of that tale. It was a magical response!