Birmingham scores a world premiere


An opera written in 1999 is finally to receive its world premiere when it will be performed by students from Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University.

Scoring A Century, which was written by British composer David Blake, charts the 20th century by following a pair of characters Mr & Mrs Jedermann (pictured; translated ‘Everyman') through the decades. The work, which mixes opera, cabaret, dialogue and musical theatre will be directed by renowned opera director Keith Warner, who also wrote the libretto. It is being conducted by Lionel Friend.

The work was first scheduled for premiere by Portland Opera (Oregon, USA) and later by Dublin Opera Society, however neither production took place - both were cancelled due to the detrimental effects of September 11 on arts production and attendance across the globe.

The Birmingham premiere was suggested by Lionel Friend - the Conservatoire's Conductor in Residence and a close collaborator of Keith Warner on other projects such as Malcolm Williamson's English Eccentrics and Wagner's Ring. Having worked with the vocal department at Birmingham Conservatoire for many years, Lionel felt its vocal students would excel at presenting the work's varied musical styles.

The work is unusual in its mix of styles and genres, juxtaposing opera, cabaret, dialogue and musical theatre, so it has wide appeal; younger audiences may enjoy the variety and sketch show pace of the work, while older audiences may like to reminisce about the times covered. The original flexible scoring for 10 vocal performers will be played by a cast of 47, plus a mixed ensemble of 32 instrumentalists. Additional music was composed in 2008 specially for this premiere production.

Keith Warner writes: "It concerns a middle-aged couple, the Jedermanns, a song and dance act. Beginning in Trouville in 1901, they perform their way through the twentieth century with cabaret and music hall numbers, encountering Nazis, commissars, hippies and yuppies. They do not age and only grudgingly get wiser.... they end up in Hollywood, bewildered and overwhelmed by media technology, but remain true to each other as global warming threatens."

The leads (pictured above) are Lucie Louvrier, a French postgraduate student who studied at the Sorbonne before coming to Birmingham, and Matthew Cooper, who is studying for a Postgraduate Certificate. Michael Barry, Director of Theatre Studies at the Conservatoire, said: ‘Keith Warner has worked in all the world's major opera houses. International singers, designers and conductors wait to work with him and so the fact that he is spending two months out of his hectic schedule to work with students at the Conservatoire is a staggering opportunity. He is paying Conservatoire singers the compliment of treating them as just another opera company and so they are learning what is expected at the highest level of the profession they aspire to. Students are also picking up technical advice and audition techniques to take forward in their careers.....opportunities don't get much better, or bigger, than this.'

The performance is being staged at the Crescent Theatre (Main House) Brindley Place, Sheepcote Street, Birmingham from Thursday 4 to Saturday 6 March.


1.    Performances will take place:

Thurs 4 Mar, 7.30pm

Fri 5 March, 7.30pm

Sat 6 March, 2.30pm

Sat 6 March, 7.30pm

Tickets are available through the Crescent Theatre Box Office

2.    The work is published by University of York Music Press. Premiere performances are by arrangement with them.

3.    DAVID BLAKE was born in London in 1936. He read music at Cambridge, where his teachers included Patrick Hadley and Peter Tranchell. In 1960 he was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship and studied with Hanns Eisler in East Berlin. After three years as a school teacher, during which time he composed a highly successful schools musical It's a Small War (OUP), he moved to the new University of York as its first Granada Arts Fellow. In 1964 he was a founder member with Wilfrid Mellers and Peter Aston of the York Department of Music. He was made Professor in 1976 and Head of Department from 1980-1983. He retired in 2001. David Blake's first commission was from the York Festival for his Chamber Symphony (1966) and subsequent important ones were from English National Opera for two operas - Toussaint (1976) and The Plumber's Gift (1988); from the Leeds Festival Lumina (1969); from the BBC for two concertos - for violin (Proms) and for cello (Cheltenham Festival 1993) - and for Rise Dove (1983). He is also published by OUP, Schott and Novello. "One of the hallmarks of Blake's rich and varied output has been its consistent commitment to high technical standards and beliefs which are fundamental to his ethos as an artist, and which transcend passing trends... David Blake is an example of an increasingly rare breed of creator; he has a technical range and command covering every aspect of composition; he is one of the very few contemporary composers who still write powerfully expressive counterpoint and his melodic invention, ability to characterise musical ideas and his gift for music drama combine to make him a very complete artist..." Robert Saxton

4.    KEITH WARNER was born in London and studied English and Drama at Bristol Univrtsity. He has directed over 150 Operas, Plays and Musicals in 15 countries. Of particular note are productions of LOHENGRIN in Bayreuth, WOZZECK at the ROH Covent Garden (Olivier Award for Best Opera Production) and two Different Roductions of Wagner's RING CYCLE at Covent Garden (also filmed for BBC 2) and in Tokyo. Rossini's MOSES, Dargomyshky's "THE STONE GUEST", Sondheim's PACIFIC OVERTURES, Massenet's WERTHER, Puccini's TOSCA and MANON LESCAUT at ENO, where he was Associate Director from 1981 - 1989.  MY FAIR LADY in Houston, followed by a US tour. DON GIOVANNI in Vienna, and Bloch's MACBETH, Reimann's LEAR and most recently the German Premiere of Ades's THE TEMPEST with Frankfurt Opera. He is currently in the middle of a cycle of operas based on the FAUST legend at the Semper Oper in Dresden, where he goes next to do the Gounod version. He has also done several world premiere pieces in both the USA and in the UK. He has written a play , "THE DAUGHTER", and has just completed a second, "THOSE WHO RETURN"; he writes articles and lectures on theatre, especially on Wagner, and teaches acting widely worldwide. Future plans include: TOSCA at the Savonlinna festival, ANDREA CHENIER on the lake stage in Bregenz, THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA and MATHIS DER MAHLER in Vienna, Pizetti's MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAl, THE GAMBLER and STREET SCENE in Frankfurt, a completely new version, being made by the composer, of Pendecki's THE DEVILS in Warsaw with Lionel Friend conducting, and a further three cycles of the RING at Covent Garden in 2012.

5.    A distinguished figure in both the opera house and on the concert platform, LIONEL FRIEND has recently made debuts with Opera Australia (Arabella) and Los Angeles Opera (Grendel). This season began with Martinu and Elgar, and an orchestral Wagner programme follows with Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra. Later this season, after the premiere production of David Blake's Scoring a Century, he will make his New Zealand debut in a production of Le nozze di Figaro. Lionel Friend was educated at the Royal College of Music in London, where he won all the major conducting prizes. Following private study with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and Sir Colin Davis, he made his début in 1969 conducting La traviata with Welsh National Opera and until 1972 was also conductor and chorus-master for Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Glyndebourne Touring Opera, specialising in Mozart. For the next three years he was Kapellmeister at the Staatstheater in Kassel, Germany. On returning to the UK, Lionel Friend held the position of Staff Conductor to English National Opera from 1976 to 1989, conducting more than thirty different productions, including the world première of David Blake's The Plumber's Gift and working with such producers as Jonathan Miller, Joachim Herz, Götz Friedrich, Harry Kupfer, Richard Jones, Keith Warner and Graham Vick. For two years he was part of Daniel Barenboim's team for The Ring at the Bayreuth Festival and in 1992 also acted as his assistant with the Chicago Symphony in a major Mozart project. Until 1996, he was Music Director of New Sussex Opera. As Music Director of Nexus Opera, he prepared a highly praised Curlew River (Britten) for the Bath Festival and subsequent BBC Television broadcasts and a Prom in the Royal Albert Hall. He has conducted opera for BBC Radio (including three further world premières), the Aldeburgh Festival, Radio France, Queen's Festival (Belfast), Netherlands Opera and Opera Northern Ireland. In 1994 Lionel Friend made his début at La Monnaie in Brussels, in charge of the European première of Jonathan Harvey's Inquest of Love. For Portland Opera  he has conducted Bizet's Pearl Fishers. In addition to opera and ballet, Lionel Friend has also given concerts and recorded with many of Europe's principal symphony orchestras and choruses, as well as all the BBC orchestras. Lionel Friend works regularly with students both in Britain and the US. In 2003 he was appointed Conductor-in-Residence at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

6.   Birmingham Conservatoire is a part of Birmingham City University, the substantial arts training provision of which also includes Birmingham School of Acting, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Birmingham School of Media and the National Writing Academy. Birmingham Conservatoire offers several demanding courses at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level in vocal studies. It remains committed to offering all its vocal and operatic students the opportunity to take part in fully-staged productions.

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Added by Chris Davies on January 19, 2010

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