St John’s undergraduate’s opera to take centre stage
Charlotte Eves, third year undergraduate at St John’s, will be bringing a reworked version of a Russian opera with her brand new score to the stage this month.
Charlotte, currently in her third year at the College, has written new music to the abstract Russian Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun. Charlotte will be bringing the epic work back to life with her score, and the two performances of the opera will take place on 21 and 22 January at the Round Church, Cambridge.
Victory Over the Sun, which originally premiered in 1913, was the centre piece of the Russian Futurist movement, a movement of Russian poets and artists which championed innovation and progress in the arts, and sought to create controversy by rejecting art and literature of the past. This was the first and only Futurist opera, and the story tells of the Futurists attempting to kill the sun and set the world free of time.
The original music was written by Mikhail Matyushin, the libretto was written by Aleksei Kruchonykh in ‘zaum’ language – a Russian Futurist experimental sound language – and the abstract stage sets and costumes were created by Kazimir Malevich, Charlotte’s favourite artist. Only parts of the libretto, costume designs, and reputation of this epic opera remain from that era, and Charlotte has adapted the work, and rewritten the entire musical score. The opera also features new costumes inspired by Russian Futurist art.
Charlotte came up with the idea of writing the opera a few years ago when she went to a Malevich exhibition at the Tate. There was a room dedicated to Victory Over the Sun, and she discovered that only 24 bars of the original score remained. She felt that it didn’t match the level of innovation that went into the costumes and libretto, so she thought, “I’ll write my own!”
“I started writing the overture last year where I established the main musical themes for the Futurists and the Sun, and tried to capture the dynamic, aggressive and artistically progressive nature of the Futurist movement,” Charlotte said. “The bulk of the writing of the opera itself, however, took place last term (to the peril of my essays) and took the whole term and the first weeks of the Christmas break to finalise. It was nice being able to work on the opera while knowing what singers and orchestral players would be performing it as I was able to tailor my writing to their strengths and personalities so they could really embody the characters they were playing.”
Charlotte worked with the translated libretto over the summer, deciding how much she wanted to keep and how her musical ideas would flow with the narrative. “The original libretto is largely nonsensical and also incredibly long so I wanted to find a way streamline the libretto, highlight the narrative and create a feeling of progression, whilst also maintaining the ‘wacky’ flavor by keeping chunks of nonsensical musings and dialogue which give the work its character.”
William Barnes-McCallum, Charlotte’s good friend and the Musical Director of the opera, encouraged her to go for the project. “Working with William and watching him interpret the work and live it, and watching the singers and dancers do the same, has been incredibly rewarding. I’m incredibly excited about it being performed for the first time! I cannot overstate my gratitude to all those taking part in the opera. There is something so special about being in a room full of people all putting their time and so much energy and so much talent into bringing your creation to life. I feel incredibly proud that it has inspired excitement in others, either to take part or to come and watch and am so excited myself to see it being performed.”
Victory Over the Sun, a St John's Music Society production, will be performed at 9pm on Sunday 21 January and Monday 22 January at the Round Church, and runs for 40 minutes. Tickets are £7/£3 for students.