A new chamber opera exploring themes of loneliness and connection in contemporary society has its world premiere at Glyndebourne this autumn before touring to venues around England.
glass human (opening 28 October) was created by composer Samantha Fernando and writer and sound artist Melanie Wilson. It is being staged by director Lucy Bailey, whose production of Much Ado About Nothing is currently performing at Shakespeare’s Globe, working with designer Joanna Parker.
The opera features three characters living isolated lives in the same tower block – a young student living away from home for the first time and hearing an unsettling voice in her head, a Syrian refugee waiting for leave to remain and an older bereaved man experiencing the first effects of dementia. All the characters are fictitious but informed by real people who the creative team met during their research for the piece.
Composer Samantha Fernando said: ‘The characters reflect three very different experiences of loneliness but also a shared desire to connect with another person. That’s something they are all striving for, something we can all relate to, I think.’
One of the most distinctive sonic elements of the opera is a fourth character called the sinkhole which was jointly scored by Samantha and Melanie. The sinkhole acts as a sonic embodiment of loneliness and underpins the opera, starting as a low, subsonic presence and building in power and volume as the isolation of the characters increases, until it eventually draws them out of their flats to find its source.
The sinkhole electronics feature the voices of real people reflecting on the experience of loneliness. Their testimony was recorded by Melanie at a series of workshops in each of the towns and cities visited by the Glyndebourne Tour meeting with mental health groups, young people, care home residents and others to explore first-hand experiences of loneliness.
Scored for viola, cello, accordion, harp and percussion, glass human will be performed by five musicians from the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra who appear on stage alongside three soloists – soprano Anna Cavaliero, mezzo-soprano Camille Maalawy and bass Stephen Bowen. Performances will be conducted by Ashley Beauchamp.
Sound artist and writer Melanie Wilson said: ‘Opera today can take many varied forms, and this project is an example of that multiplicity in its use of electronics, contemporary vocal styles and a horizontal relationship between the instrumentalists and the singers on stage. We are excited to offer our audiences a fresh experience of what opera might feel like.’
glass human opens on 28 October at Glyndebourne with performances in Canterbury, Liverpool, Norwich, Milton Keynes and Brighton during November and December as part of Glyndebourne Tour 2022.