Flourish 2015 Finalists' Showcase

OperaUpClose presents a public performance of extracts from the four finalists of the Flourish Opera Competition 2015. Now in its fourth year, Flourish aims to raise awareness of the wealth of contemporary opera being written today, and provide a platform for emerging and established composers and librettists. 

Since the inaugural competition was held in 2012, OperaUpClose is delighted to have produced and staged three brand new operas; the 2013 winner The Blank Canvas, was staged at the King's Head Theatre in September 2014 and won the OffWestEnd.com award for Best Opera Production that year. Last year's winner Ulla's Odyssey, a family friendly opera about a young girl's solo sail around the world and the mythical creatures and environmental obstacles she encounters on her journey, is currently in the middle of a 4-performance run at Kings Place, before it returns in 2016 for a UK tour.

The judging panel for the 2015 competition consists of James Clutton (Producer, Opera Holland Park); Jonathan Lennie (Chief opera critic, Time Out and Events Editor, Sinfini), Sarah Minns (Soprano, currently starring in Ulla's Odyssey for OperaUpClose); Robin Norton-Hale (Artistic Director, OperaUpClose); Elizabeth Rowe (Senior vocal and répétiteur coach, GSMD and Head of Music, Opera Holland Park). The audience and judges will hear 15 minute extracts of each opera. The judges will then announce the winning opera on the night. The winner will be developed with the composer and librettist and be professionally produced by OperaUpClose in a full length production, at Kings Place in Autumn 2016.


The 2015 competition finalists are:


The Rue Morgue

Edgar Allan Poe's dark and sinister mystery story turned Operatic. 

Composer & Librettist Louis Mander (Cantata Dramatica, Tête à Tête)

The brilliant yet jaded detective, Dupin, takes on a private (and secret) case of a mysterious double murder of an elderly mother, Madame L'Espanaye, and her spinster daughter in an apartment in Paris, originally set in the 1840s. This production has much scope for skillful ensemble writing, tense dramatic coups and an evocative and haunting Parisian sound world, with a baffling and sometimes whimsical plot. 

Opera Bingo

Opera - with added balls!

Composer Eve Harrison (Opera North Youth Company, National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, Tête à Tête)
Librettist Andrew Loretto (Opera North Youth Company, founder of Sheffield People’s Theatre)

This immersive musical theatre piece puts the audience in the centre of the action during a Bingo game, which has life changing effects for it's players. Introducing The Bingo Caller, the ferocious Babs, Maxx the Barman, Agnes, Loner Pete and the sharp words of the lacquered hair of Ladies Who Lunch. At this highly irregular Bingo game, secrets will get out. Who will win the grand prize? 


Concrete Music

Satire on modernism set during the 1960s reconstruction of Britain.

Composer & Librettist Jonathan Pease (ENO Mini Operas 2012, Director of Music at Christ Church Isle of Dogs)

Concrete Music scrutinises the clearance and reconstruction of Britain’s great cities during the 1960s. Modernist architect Charles Bronstow climbs from ignominy to fame through a back-slapping relationship with an east London mayor; but victory turns to depression and ultimately suicide when he realises that even his most ardent backers don’t really understand his utopian vision. Though set some decades ago, the themes of ideology, political pragmatism, enlightened self-interest, un-keep-able promises, the “old boys’ network” and the fine line between artistic genius and charlatanism will nonetheless feel uncomfortably familiar to a contemporary audience.

They Came Back

Mankind is enlightened or living through it's darkest days

Composer & Librettist Martin Ward (ROH, Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Polka Theatre)

It is the near future and the world is in the grip of a compelling phenomenon. In small but ever growing numbers the deceased are returning, making brief ghostly Visitations to their living loved ones and delivering hauntingly beautiful messages. What many interpret as a great unifying human experience others see as a dark omen.  

They Came Back tells the stories of six individuals struggling - in a familiar world made unfamiliar - to come to terms with this phenomenon, with what it might mean for them personally and for mankind as a whole.


Sunday 22 November 2015: 7pm to 9pm
Box Office: www.kingsplace.co.uk | 020 7520 1490 | Tickets: £9.50  

How to be a Flourish Competition Winner: Guy Harries

With the Flourish Submission Deadline fast approaching, we got in touch with our inaugural winners to find out what advice they had for this year's competitors. Here's what composer, Guy Harries, had to say...

2012 Flourish Competition Winner
Two Caravans
Composed by Guy Harries
Libretto by Ace McCarron

What were your reasons for wanting to submit an opera to OUC’s 2012 Flourish Competition?
We had the dream of turning the novel Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka into opera – it had all the ingredients: larger than life characters, comedy, action and drama. Initially we worked on the first stages of this opera at Kameroperahuis in the Netherlands together with Ilonka van den Bercken (initiator and director) and saw the huge potential of developing it further into a full production. OperaUpClose, with its fresh approach to opera, seemed like the perfect production company to do this with, so we decided to apply and see if we might win. We believed in the concept and the power of our material, so put in a lot of work into the application.

What was your professional background before entering the competition – had you written an opera before?
I’ve worked as a composer for many years with a focus on vocal music and drama-based multi-media works. I had composed the music for the opera Jasser (based on a play by Abdelkader Benali, with libretto adaptation and stage direction by David Prins), and produced it together with Ilonka van den Bercken, via the independent production house that I co-founded in the Netherlands – Bodylab Arts Foundation. Jasser was also a socio-politically engaged piece combining some musical traditions from around the world, and Two Caravans drew on these ideas and aesthetics as well.

How did the two of you meet? If you’d worked together before the competition, in what capacity?
Ace was the brilliant lighting designer on the previous opera production I mentioned, Jasser. We got to know each other during work on that production, and I was impressed by Ace’s deep understanding of contemporary opera. Ace mentioned that he’d written a libretto before, and sent it to me to read. When Ilonka and I were looking for someone to adapt Marina Lewycka’s novel Two Caravans into a libretto, Ace was clearly the right creative partner.

For librettists/composers wanting to submit a new opera to this year’s competition, what advice would you give them?
It’s important to think about the production as a whole, and not focus only on separate elements (music, text, stage design etc). Opera is truly a multi-media form and all of these elements need to work well together. Also, I’d recommend selecting excerpts that really reflect the whole gamut of emotions and musical language that your opera explores. Another important thing is to ask yourself who the audience is. Who is going to come and see your opera? What interests them? How are you going to speak to them via your work? Also, as Flourish is a platform for small-scale chamber opera with a limited number of performers, you need to think about how you will be able to create a piece that will work within these limitations. We can all dream of a symphony orchestra, ten singers, a choir and a lavish set, but that’s not the reality in this case. You need to create something powerful taking this into account. There are of course advantages to small scale: an intimate proximity to the world of the characters and their emotional journey, and a strong team that knows each other well.

Describe the stages of collaboration for Two Caravans?
We were quite lucky, as the first stages had already happened in the Netherlands a couple of years previously and we had a chance to see what worked well in terms of pacing, comic effect and drama. The starting point was the story, and very much inspired by the original novel Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka. The novel is quite intricate and includes many characters. We needed to strip it down a bit (less characters and scenes) to fit within 1.5 hours. Marina was also very encouraging and generous with her time and occasionally came over to see the reheraslas and gave us useful feedback and encouragement. Then we got Vincent van den Elshout the director on board, and after casting the excellent singers, started a few days of workshops. Vincent worked with the set and costume designers on the visual aspects of the performance (the colours white and red were to be a central theme, along with tables and chairs that doubled as cars and an astroturf covered catwalk). More intensive rehearsals – both stage-focused and musical – and we were ready to go!

What was important for you as a composer in regards to the processes leading up to submitting Two Caravans
It was important for me to keep the dramatic thrust of the piece going via music. This was achieved via change of pace and atmosphere in the music, with fast switches as well as moving arias. I did a lot of research into the musical traditions of the countries that the characters of the piece come from (Poland, Malawi, the Ukraine and England) and then tried to create a combination that wasn’t a pastiche of these musical styles but a musical world in its own right.

What about after winning the competition, you had a year to develop the opera into a full-length production, care to expand on how that went?
This was a very busy year indeed! We needed to revise the first half of the opera that was already written and create the rest of it! Ace and I met several times to discuss the libretto and we were also in contact with the director Vincent van den Elshout to give him as much information in preparation for his staging plans. The last two months were the most intense, with the last scenes still being composed, and daily rehearsals. It was such a joy seeing it all come together, with Vincent and the wonderful singers coming up with comical and dramatic ideas and putting the whole thing together.

What are you up to now? Has Flourish helped your career in anyway? If so how and would you recommend others to submit an opera to this competition?
Currently I am working on my solo project based on the life of Alan Turing. The album is in the final mixing stages and should be released soon along with some live performances. I am also performing with an experimental sound project called Sonic Rituals (with musician Yumi Hara), and collaborating with visual artist Nicko Straniero on creating a musical alter-ego called Guy XY. There are also plans for two new chamber operas in development. Flourish gave me the opportunity to work with musicians and artists in a very intensive and holistic way and gain new insights into dramaturgical collaboration. I plan to continue working with the brilliant director Vincent van den Elshout on further production.

How to be a Flourish Competition Winner: Fay Wrixon & Spyros Syrmos

Entries are now open for OperaUpClose's 2015 Flourish Competition! We got in touch with our 2013 winners, Fay Wrixon (Librettist) and Spyros Syrmos (Composer) to find out what they're up to now and whether they had any wisdom to share with this year's competitors. Here's what they had to say...

The Blank Canvas  (OperaUpClose) Melanie Sanders & Edmund Hastings. Photography Laura Marie Linck. King's Head Theatre. 2014

The Blank Canvas (OperaUpClose) Melanie Sanders & Edmund Hastings. Photography Laura Marie Linck. King's Head Theatre. 2014

Winner The Blank Canvas 

What were your reasons for getting involved with OperaUpClose's 2013 Flourish Competition?  
Fay: I would like to say the experience but the truth is the prize.

Spyros: For me, it was to have the chance of producing my work and secondly to be a part of this experience.

What was your professional background before entering the competition – had you written an opera before?  
Fay: I had never written an opera before. I was a journalist who turned to creative writing late in the day. I am an opera lover so when the opportunity arose to get involved I could not resist. 

Spyros: I had presented mainly chamber music. The Blank Canvas is my first full length Opera.

How did the two of you meet? If you’d worked together before the competition, in what capacity?  
Fay: We met in Cardiff in 2012 through a brilliant project run by Music Theatre Wales called ‘Make an Aria’.

Spyros: This is where the whole idea started.

For librettists/composers wanting to submit a new opera to this year’s competition, what advice would you give them?  
Fay: Do not hesitate for a second. You have nothing to lose and potentially everything to gain!

Spyros: I would advise them to give their “personal truth” on this, to be as one and live with the character they write, and  most of all to enjoy this wonderful and unique opportunity.

Describe the stages of collaboration for The Blank Canvas?  
Fay: Initially it was Spyros and I but then the world opened out once we were introduced to panoply of the OperaUpClose Team.

Spyros: There are two basic stages. Music and text at first and direction / singing -acting secondly. It was important for me, during the whole first stage of preparation, to keep in mind the second and be very careful at the same time. 

What was important for you as a writer in regards to the processes leading up to submitting The Blank Canvas?
Fay: Writing is normally a solitary exercise; opera is the ultimate collaborative experience. For me that involved being far more flexible than I had ever had to be before on a creative project.  It was important, I felt, to meet Spyros’s vision of the piece and to write in the style that he wanted to allow him to create the music he wanted to compose. (Spyros and I communicated mainly through email and Skype as he lives in Athens and I in Herefordshire.) Initially, I came up with detailed scenarios for each scene and then set to writing the words once we had agreed on the plot development and shape of the piece.  We worked through scene by scene until we had a draft we felt happy to submit.

And Spyros, what was important for you as a composer?
Spyros: The most important was to create a clear score, regarding the ideas, in order to work with the rest of the team under the best possible conditions.

How does one become a Flourish Competition Winner?
Fay: Luck!

Spyros: I would insist on the element of “Personal truth” which I believe is the most important in Art. And yes, of course a bit of luck.

What about after winning the competition, you had a year to develop the opera into a full-length production, care to expand on how that went?  
Fay: In reality we only had 5 months as the initial vocal score had to be ready by March. The time limitation seemed daunting initially but it did mean that we both had to concentrate fully and immerse ourselves in the project which proved exhilarating and exciting. OperaUpClose then kicked in full throttle. The Research & Development sessions were invaluable as was the practical and creative input from you diplomatic and talented director, Lucy Bradley. We were also fortunate that OperaUpClose found the ideal Music Director, Chad Kelly, and put together a superlative performance and production team.

Spyros: At first, I had to compete with myself completing responsibly and in time, a work of a large scale. Then, the preparation part came. Experiencing a production behind the scenes was an enlightening experience for me. In a  new opera there is nothing behind to compare, everything is new. I had to be clear about what I wanted to “say” with that piece but also be flexible as my music was formed to be played on a scene. It was challenging to keep that balance without affecting the main elements of the piece and its structure. Eventually, the score worked very well and I feel lucky that I collaborated with an excellent team in London.

What are you up to now? Has Flourish helped your career in anyway? If so how and would you recommend others to submit an opera to this competition?  
Fay: I am working on an idea for a new Syrmos opera alongside my other writing commitments. I would unreservedly recommend others to enter the competition as the experience is revelatory, educational and inspiring in every aspect. Oh, and it is great fun!

Spyros: I am working on some electronic and chamber music projects as well as this new opera idea with Fay. The excellent critics and an Off West End Award are good benefits for my next steps. I would undoubtedly recommend a submission. Competitions give someone the chance to circulate his work.

Flourish Submission Deadline: 7 September 2015
Flourish Finalists' Showcase: 22 November 2015

More information on how to apply for this year's competition here.