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Tod Machover: Skellig opera to premiere at The Sage

Tod Machover’s new opera, Skellig, based on David Almond’s award-winning novel is premiered at The Sage in Gateshead on 24 November 2008, with performances running through to 29 November.

Commissioned by The Sage, Skellig is intended for all ages. The new opera combines a libretto by David Almond himself with music by innovative American composer Tod Machover, and the premiere production is directed by Braham Murray, designed by Rae Smith and features choreography by Mark Bruce. It is performed by a cast including Omar Ebrahim, Paul Keohone and Sophie Daneman, with Northern Sinfonia conducted by Garry Walker.

Mysterious, eerie and enthralling, Skellig leads audiences into the coarse world of an ambiguous angel and transcends all preconceptions of traditional opera. It’s the story of Michael who is desperately worried about his premature baby sister: between anxiety about her and the move to a new house, Michael’s parents don’t have much time for him. Exploring the condemned garage at the end of the new garden, Michael finds a half-dead, spiteful old tramp. Skellig is a filthy, smelly, ungrateful old man, who feeds off dead bluebottles, Chinese takeaway, Newcastle Brown Ale and the dead mice that the owls bring him. However, Michael and his new friend Mina look after him, wondering about the bumps where his shoulder blades are and why he has such an affinity with owls…

Author and librettist David Almond explains the appeal of the story and why the time is right for this new opera version, “Skellig has now been translated into 33 different languages worldwide, it is local yet universal, encompassing all of human life. But it’s still a story rooted in the North East and this feels like a home-coming. It’s been a long journey, but has felt right from the very beginning. Skellig is a story of transformation, and the story has transformed itself into this new opera version.”

Composer Tod Machover writes of the operatic collaboration:
"It has been a great pleasure working on the opera version of Skellig: over the past two years to shape the project with collaborators David Almond, Braham Murray, and the wonderful team at The Sage Gateshead; and most intensely over the past year to imagine the musical melodies and textures that could bring this magical and mysterious novel to life in a new form. I was first drawn to creating a musical version of Skellig because the whole book is bathed in sound: enveloping sounds of nature and 'the world' that define each scene and situation, and tiny sounds – from beating hearts to baby birds – that can only be heard with careful listening and growing awareness. In fact, the personal and spiritual transformations – and the birth of hope from disinterest and despair – in Skellig are conveyed with extreme subtlety, as if 'in between' the words and 'beyond' the action. I believe that music can express these intangible states in the most powerful way, and that musical continuity – more than just a collection of songs (although there are tunes aplenty in this opera) – helps to transport each of us on Skellig’s unforgettable journey.

“Another aspect of Skellig that drew me in was the fact that it speaks in such a special way to young adults while also being relevant and deeply moving to those both older and younger than that target group. In reading the book and then in creating the musical world of the opera, I realized that I could identify with every single character as if their predicament were my own, something I have tried to intensify through music. My hope is that this potential sympathy for everyone on stage will allow a multigenerational audience to better understand one another, and in so doing, to enjoy Skellig together as a truly communal experience.

“In creating this unusual new version of a beloved classic and for bringing it to the widest possible audience, I could not have found a better partner than The Sage Gateshead. I know of no other international performing arts organization that is so deeply committed to presenting serious and stimulating work in a direct and simple way, to intermingling classical tradition and popular dynamism, to emphasizing both expertise and fun in it’s public outreach programs, and to using the arts to bring together – rather than to divide – audiences of different ages and backgrounds. Since my whole career has been dedicated to these same goals, the partnership with the Sage Gateshead has felt very special indeed. Together I believe that we have been able to create a new work that defies easy categorization and that will hopefully bring Skellig to new audiences, revealing rewarding and surprising aspects of this great book to all who listen."

For further information visit The Sage’s Skellig website.

24/25/27/28/29 November 2008
The Sage, Gateshead

Composer: Tod Machover
Librettist: David Almond
Conductor/Music Director: Garry Walker
Director: Braham Murray
Designer: Rae Smith
Choreographer: Mark Bruce
Northern Sinfonia

Image: The Sage, Gateshead

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