Works: Emily (2012)
Emily Davison was one of the more radical figures of the suffragette movement, often carrying out violent direct action against the Government independently of the official body of the suffragette movement, the Womens' Social and Political Union. Her acts of protest ranged from vandalism (primarily window-breaking) to arson (putting lit matches in pillar-boxes) to assault (including one count of assaulting a vicar who happened to resemble Lloyd George). She was repeatedly sent to prison, where her protests continued in the form of hunger strikes, which were brutally countered by force-feeding. This was almost as controversial at the time as it would be today, and in protest against the force-feeding, Emily Davison at least once attempted suicide while in prison.
This video is a recording of a preview of two sections of the opera, in a chamber arrangement, and was performed in March 2012 at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. The complete opera will be performed at the Hippodrome Theatre, Todmorden, West Yorkshire in July 2013 (4th, 5th, 6th), the 100th anniversary of Emily Davison's death. More information is at: emilyopera.co.uk / Twitter: @EmilyOpera
Davison also contrived several clever (and less violent) acts in which she broke into the Houses of Parliament, perhaps most notably "living" in a cupboard on census night 2011, thereby forcing the authorities to record a suffragette living in the Palace of Westminster. The cupboard still exists, and now contains a plaque commemorating Davison, unveiled by Tony Benn in 1999.
My opera Emily unusually takes as the basis for its libretto a wide range of documents dating from the 1900s and 1910s relating to the suffragette movement and Davison in particular, including newspapers, the 1911 Census, personal and formal letters, adverts, propaganda and political pamphlets, medical reports, and police charge-sheets. I pieced together a narrative from these documents, while preserving virtually all the text intact. The subtly different phrasing and cadence of formal and informal language of a century ago has its own music that I wanted to capture within my work. Moreover, I did not want to attempt either a fictional "based-on" narrative or a historical drama in modern (or even pastiche original) language, and working with original texts as a kind of collage solved, for me, many of the problems of creating a libretto on a historical subject.
The opera, therefore, is more a sequence of dioramas than a through-composed narrative, and beginning with a brief account of the ultimate victory of the suffragettes by Act of Parliament, then presents scenes from Emily Davison's life leading to her death at Epsom Downs.
Musically, I have composed a score that relates tightly with the text through a highly leitmotivic technique. While working on the text I identified many strands and themes, some overt and some subtle. Rendered in music (short sequences of notes, some rhythms, some chords / collections), they formed my starting-point. The entire score is comprised of these "leitmotifs", forwards, backwards, upside down, stretched and chopped up, and through juxtaposition with eachother providing a further window on the text.
Act 1: Prologue - House of Commons, 1918. The law is amended by The Representation of the People Act, granting women the same rights to vote in General Elections as men.
Scene 1 - Palace of Westminster. Emily carries out several non-violent acts of protest, and is eventually arrested by the Policeman. These events mostly took place in 1910; the Census incident was in 1911.
Scene 2 - HMP Holloway and dinner at a London club. On one part of the stage, a jailed Emily refuses food and is beaten and brutally force-fed by the prison authorities, while in a London club the Doctor, Politician and Judge debate the policy and agree on its humanitarian and benign nature.
Scene 3 - Outside Parliament. A crowd of suffragettes is demonstrating, attempting to enter Parliament, and is held back by police. The protest turns violent and the suffragettes are beaten and arrested. The Reporter captures the events as they unfold.
Act 2: Prologue - in hospital. The autopsy of Emily Davison has just been completed and the Doctor is proof-reading his notes.
Scene 1 - Epsom Downs. Shortly after Davison's death. Race-goers enjoy themselves, Hawkers sell everything from the drinks and cigarettes to tickets to the latest show, and the Doctor unveils his patented "Fat Cure", complete with slim woman holding "before-and-after" pictures. The Reporter tells of the controversial events of the day.
Scene 2 - Epsom Downs. The evening after Davison's death. The Judge hears the accounts of the Policeman and the Doctor.
Scene 3 - in hospital, at night. A giant flickering film-screen provides the only light-source. The Doctor reads some of the hate-mail lying unread by Emily's bed. Later, Emily's mother reads her final letter to her daughter. Finally, the film of Emily's death (captured by PathÃ©) plays in silence and in ultra slow motion. Off-stage, Emily sings her poem London, and the music ceases at the moment the horse falls in the film. The film ends in silence. Curtain.
Further Information / Downloads
|Premiere:||The Prologue and Scene 1 were performed in a chamber arrangement at the New Music North-West festival in Manchester, March 2012, produced by Re:Sound. The world premiere of the full opera will take place at the Hippodrome Theatre in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, in June 2013.|
|Instrumentation:||The chamber version is scored for fl, cl, string quartet, pf. The full version is scored for single woodwind, tpt, single strings, harp, pf, perc. 5 principals (soprano, baritone, high tenor, tenor, bass) 3 sub-principals (mezzo-soprano, baritone, speaker) Chorus|
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