Composer Claudia Molitor will be performing her new work Remember Me: A Desk Opera on Monday 9 – Tuesday 10 December. We interviewed Claudia about the piece, her compositional process and the inspiration behind the project.
For those who haven’t come across your work, could you give a little introduction to who you are and what you do?
Finding a simple description is always tricky, but I tend to describe myself as a composer and artist, because my work draws on the traditions of what is often called ‘contemporary classical’ music but extends to video, performance and fine art practices. So it often becomes a site where conventions of notation and performance, and qualifications and hierarchies of listening and seeing are interrogated. Exploring the spaces between notions of artistic disciplines and embracing collaboration as compositional practice is also central to what I do.
Could you talk about Remember Me – what’s the storyline, how is it presented, and what’s your role in the performance?
Remember Me is an opera with a difference. It is set in and around a writing bureau and is performed to a small group of people. As a performer this is interesting because you see every audience member’s reaction to what you are doing – quite an unusual experience in the world of opera which is usually much more removed, spatially, from its audiences.
In a time when ‘big’, ‘more’, ‘hi-…’ is often considered better and more exciting, when we are accompanied (or bombarded) by constant sonic and visual stimulation, via all our various digital devices, there is, for me, a fascination with finding a counterbalance to this. Focussing on the smaller, the neglected, the less audible and visible, the quiet and still. Remember Me is in part such a reflection which sets out to take the audience into a more still, rarefied sonic world for a little while. The piece constructs a kind of utopia, a proposition of what an operatic performance might be if the focus is directed towards less vocal voices. This “desk opera” offers an alternative ending to the Dido and Eurydice stories from Greek mythology. Both women are a little fed up with their respective roles, so they hatch a plan… But it is the journey towards this new beginning or adventure that is the focus of the piece… I guess you could say it ends when most operas begin…
As you wrote the music, could you describe the compositional process? Were you inspired by anyone in particular? Which instruments is it scored for?
All the music performed during the piece, as well as the films projected, are pre-recorded and were made by myself, including field-recordings as well as playing the music itself. As this is such a miniature opera performed from the perspective of a single person, who is at times performer, stagehand and narrator, I felt that the music and imagery also had to come from a place of singularity and fragility.
This might sound then like an opera made by one person, but it isn’t at all! Indeed Remember Me is a group effort, a piece that only exists because of a very open process of collaboration with my three fellow creators, three wonderful and incredibly inspiring people, the director Dan Ayling, the designer and maker James Johnson, and the technologist and maker Jack McConchie, though our roles in the project were much more fluid than those the “job description” might suggest!
At the time of writing I was particularly influenced by the philosopher Adriana Cavarero’s writings about the female voice and her understanding of opera as a reflection of the way society understands itself at any given time, in its socio-political or -cultural situation. Sometimes it can also become a comment on this understanding or even an open question.
And finally the question that everyone wants to ask, why is it set in a desk? Could this be the first opera set in such a location?!
The idea formed during a period when two things came together. Firstly, many fellow composers at that time seemed to be working on their operas, which at the time struck me as interesting, if not slightly peculiar, in the context of the 21st century. And secondly, I inherited a writing desk from my grandmother. When I first opened it and explored it, I realised that the inside of this desk was the only physical space that she could have truly called her own: within this small space were so many memories of a long and eventful life. The idea of a life’s story encapsulated within a tiny space eventually developed into the idea of an opera in a desk. An opera, a drama, a piece of music, a choreography first shapes in an artist’s head and then is often developed on their desk, so you might say that every opera is initially a desk opera… it’s just that I’ve kept it there!