Carol Rowlands provides her perspective of the workshop period and sharings of The Lion’s Face in March 2009
For this workshop I played His Wife.
There were three purposes to this work period. First, to work through the material, trying out any new stuff that comes hot off the press from Glyn Maxwell (poet) and Elena Langer (composer), and getting it, or some of it, ready for the showings. Second, we did improvisations (oh lord) to help generate material for further development of the opera. Third, we generally dug around in the material (including all possible external information on the subject) and in our own thoughts about it and where the thing could go, again to help with the eventual development of the opera itself.
We did several sessions of improvising. I did various scenes involving the Alzheimer patient (sometimes it was me), getting rather obsessive about one particular activity (wrapping something up). This we repeated in various forms for almost a whole afternoon. I think there’s an idea that this kind of material might be one of the ongoing themes of the opera. I’m not sure how representative this obsessive behaviour is of Alzheimer’s patients. I daresay it is one of many different types of behaviour that can come to the fore as the illness progresses. Anyway, I gather the others did some good stuff around the relationship between the caregiver and her daughter, and working around a story-line to do with the mother trying to explain Alzheimer’s to the daughter.
The daughter’s music is very accessible, even more so than the rest of the music, which isn’t, in any case, what you’d call “heavy contemporary” – if I can put it like that! It’s being mentioned that the eventual story of the opera could evolve around the daughter, as a “way in” to Alzheimer’s, since she is the one character who is, to all intents and purposes, ignorant of the disease, to start with, and so comes to it with a freshness – eyes wide open, you could say.
The three chunks of work seemed to be sufficient to arouse real interest from the audiences. I did wonder whether we were offering quite enough in terms of a comprehensive approach to the illness, or what the opera might end up as, but it seemed to turn out that, by and large, the audiences felt they did have enough to go on. They were fantastically responsive and extremely interested and, I would say, excited, that a work of art might be going to emerge which could genuinely help “the cause”, you might say – by enlightening the general public to the creeping presence of the illness, as well as the nature of it; and also showing the signs of hope that exist in the scientific research into treatment and eventual cure. This made these three days of sharings really very thrilling for the cast – if I dare speak for most of us.
The inspiring Professor Simon Lovestone was, of course, the chief conduit for the scientists, and, frankly, there could not possibly be a better or keener or more articulate helper for The Opera Group in this context.