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.