But Is It Opera?
By our Opera Correspondent Gunter den Linden
There was much last-minute activity in Criipplestyle last night as performers and crew hurried to finish preparations for Cripplestyle Opera's world premier production of Addinsell Threadbone's The Temptation of Brian. Written more than 60 years ago during the composer's most ascetic "second serial" period, the "opera" [a mixture of speech, sprechstimme, pantomime, circus, mystery play, disco, cinema verité, masque and mime with liturgical intermezzi and long wholly aleatoric passages in which performers are encouraged to "do more or less anything they like"]* it has never before been performed in its entirety. Many had given up hope of ever seeing a fully-staged performance; whilst music lovers more generally had breathed a collective [if premature] sigh of relief. Monday's upcoming performance will certainly make a splash.
* anything even vaguely recognisable as operatic then? [Ed]
The opera has a suggested running time of anything between 5 and 8 hours, though the Drama Committee of the Parish Church of Our Lady of The Noxious Farts [host to the production] has assured audiences that "with an early 5pm start, everyone should be in recovery by 11pm at the latest"].
Though ticket sales are said to be "sluggish", organisers are confident that the audience will build during the run. Many will come, no doubt, to witness the extraordinary acoustic of the newly refurbished crypt of the Parish Church of Our Lady of The Noxious Farts which has been redesigned to mirror the inside of a cello by Yorkshire acoustic experts A'yup Partners. To preserve the acoustic excellence of the venue and to make room for the many performers, the audience will be required to stand for the duration - something described even by the promoters as "somethimg of a trial". There will be one 15 minute interval during which the local St John's Ambulance Brigade is expected to be "fairly occipied".
Tickets are still available, not least for the "matinee" performance on Friday which begins at 9.30 am.
Historical Note by Opera Archivist Ophiclede Serpent
The Temptation of Brian is by far the most ambitious of all Addinsell Threadbone's works for the theatre, demanding vocal and instrumental resources unlike those of any other opera. A cast of almost 40 "singing" characters is supported by a chorus of 80 and a 50 strong children's choir together with 32 speaking and 82 non-speaking actors and a medium sized corps de ballet. The instrumentation comprises a full-sized symphony orchestra [miminum 12 double bases] augmented by a baroque string orchestra [HIP], two jazz bands, a big band rhythm section [Act 2 only], skiffle group, 12 piece rock group, pipe band, military band, string quartet, piano trio, electric keyboards, clavichord, harmonium and a church organ. Amongst a battery of usual sound requirements the score asks for an industrial car-wash, mixed iron-foundry noises and a [small] jet engine [ad libitum].
Shortly after the opera's completion [1959-71], DBC Radio 4 broadcast three scenes from the Second Act and the composer later extracted a more "populist" 4 minute Suite drawn from the opera's 15 ritual dances. A recording of the Suite was briefly available on Hornimint Record's Music of Our Time label. Long out of print, it is something of a collector's item - the last copy to be put on the market sold on Threadbay in 2021 for £0.99 plus £18 P&P.
When a Dorset Arts-sponsored production was being scoped in 1986, willing participants were hard to recruit, despite the fact that the Thrupiece Philharmonic Orchestra [under the direction of the composer] had agreed to play that part of the score written for full orchestra. Tenor Alfie Bowes-Lyon famously refused even to consider the part of Brian "not least because it was written for a soprano" [see Alfie Bowes-Lyon  This Stage of My Life, Threadbone Autobiographies, The Threadbone Press.]