News and Features

Writing a libretto from scratch

Charlotte Alldis spoke to Anna Moody about writing the libretto for Glyndebourne’s new community opera

Agreed will be performed on Glyndebourne’s main stage from 1 – 3 March 2019. There is also a Performance for Schools on 27 February 2019.

Howard’s starting point for composing a new work is always the libretto. Having spent nine months working on what was to be his fourth libretto for his own operas, Howard had found the themes he wanted to express but was unable to frame it dramatically. He turned to his daughter Anna for help. She soon drew together the different themes to shape a story and characters, at which point the job was hers!

Howard writes ‘the rhythms and images of Anna’s text entirely drive the pace for the​ singers as well as the dramatic action. Both her instinct for dramatic action and the crafted style of her writing have given me the perfect reason to write music.’ Here, Anna tells us a little more about her process.

What inspired you when writing the story?

I started by reading lots of ancient myths and stories, seeking ingredients that could weave together the different themes. I already knew that there would be five soloists [Zara McFarlane, Nazan Fikret, Michael Wallace, Louise Winter and Tom Scott-Cowell], a chorus of mixed ages and a group of musicians on stage. I needed to find a way to bring these components together dramatically.

When shaping the characters, I was very influenced by different sounds. Elin and Maya are connected by the memory of a melody for example, and Korimako was inspired by birdsong. As for the narrator, Kronos, I heard Zara McFarlane’s track ‘Open Heart’ and immediately knew the character. It is amazing that Zara will actually be singing the role in this production.

How long did it take you to write the libretto?

When I began, I was starting my second year at university and needed to have the first draft completed by Christmas. I would use the early hours of each morning to work on it before lectures. I then had a couple of months to re-draft and edit as the music started to take shape. Compressing the text to facilitate music was a steep learning curve for me and I quickly had to learn to cut words which stood in the way of song.

How did it feel when you first heard the music your father had written, inspired by the story?

It was very exciting and extremely moving. His music responded to every twist and turn of the text and gave it a life I couldn’t have imagined when I was writing. Lines of poetry which pass by on the page have become melodies which will never leave my head.

How did it feel when you first saw the designs for the stage production?

To see Simon and Cordelia [director Simon Iorio and designer Cordelia Chisholm] present the story visually, scene by scene, was amazing. With its shifting worlds of water and landscape, this story presents many challenges for the stage. The designs interpret many specific details of the text and it was beautiful to see something which has been a picture in my head take on new shapes and be given a different life.

Agreed is on stage from 1 – 3 March 2019. There is also a Performance for Schools on 27 February 2019.



Agreed is made possible with the support of MariaMarina Foundation, The Chalk Cliff Trust, The Charles Peel Charitable Trust, John S Cohen Foundation, The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, The Leigh Trust, Newby Trust, The Radcliffe Trust, RVW Trust, Jules and Cheryl Burns, Martin and Dani Clarke, Wendy and Nicholas Heesom, Davina Hodson, Joanna Dickson Leach, Mr Frederik Paulsen, George and Patti White, Mark and Rosamund Williams, and in memory of Jeffrey Vaughan Martin through Glyndebourne’s New Generation Programme.

Glyndebourne’s education programme is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

Our Education projects would not be possible without our generous donors.

‘For a number of years we have been supporting schemes to help young people to find a career in the arts, particularly in dance and theatre. Since becoming supporters of Glyndebourne we have been very impressed with its educational programme and particularly with projects such as Belongings in 2017 and Agreed this year which commission original operas and bring around 80 young people to the theatre to perform on the main stage alongside professional singers and an orchestra, which in itself offers opportunities to young musicians. It is such a good introduction and opportunity for those young people to develop a passion for opera’. — Jules and Cheryl Burns

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