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Lindsay Vickery: running up an opera noir

Andrew Beck

Lindsay Vickery Lindsay Vickery
Lindsay Vickery has been based in Perth for the last 10 of his 15 years composing and performing New Music including works for acoustic and electronic instruments in interactive electronic, improvised or fully notated settings, ranging from solo pieces to opera. He has been commissioned by numerous groups and has performed in Holland, Norway, Germany England, the USA and across Australia. In December he will be resident again at STEIM (Amsterdam) working on an interactive video project and in January he will undertake a 9 states tour of the US culminating in a residency at the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia (CEMI) at the University of Northern Texas. Vickery also lectures in music at the Western Australian Conservatorium of Music where he founded the laboratory Study for Research in Performance Technology.

…one can observe that numerous important elements coincide with real facts with a strange recurrence that is therefore disconcerting. And, while other elements of the narrative stray deliberately away from those facts, they always do so in so suspicious a manner that one is forced to see there is a systematic intent, as though some secret motive had dictated those changes and those inventions.

The genesis of Lindsay Vickery’s creation, Rendez-vous—an Opera Noir, is reflected in these opening lines. Adapted from Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel Djinn, Rendez-vous has strayed with systematic intent through the decade of its making. Over coffee, between teaching and rehearsals, Vickery spoke about his latest work.

“At the end of ‘93 Warwick Stengards, who was the Artistic Director of Pocket Opera, came to see me. He was interested in commissioning a work. I actually suggested a number of things before Rendez-vous because Djinn was quite a difficult work to adapt…”—Vickery gives a short laugh “…Stengards wasn’t interested in any of those but he thought Rendez-vous sounded like a great idea.

“So that conversation resulted in me writing a libretto. We applied for money to write a score. I wrote a score…Rendez-vous was completed back in 1995 so that gives a measure of how difficult it is to put on new opera…particularly in Perth. There is no infrastructure to put on work of this nature. So, there was a workshop period back then in ‘95. Then Pocket Opera went bust and Magnetic Pig picked it up and did a concert version, just the music (in ‘97) which was so we could get recordings to push the work forward. Since then it’s been a period of collecting bits and pieces of grants to develop this part, grants to develop that part, collaborations with various people. Finally, this last 18 months or so has seen Black Swan (Theatre Company) coming on board, Tura (Events Company) coming on board.

“We had a meeting the other day where all of the various partners who are involved in this work were in the same room. And, you know, it really is indicative of the difficulty of doing this that it has taken 6 or 7 major collaborators to come together to be able to put this thing on.”

Vickery, along with Cathy Travers and Taryn Fiebig, has been performing excerpts from the opera for the past 5 years.

“That’s been quite an important element in keeping the work alive. One of the songs has been recorded for Musica Viva and has been touring schools and that kind of thing.” He laughs. “It is so innocuous that it has been to primary schools.”

There have been other diversions for Rendez-vous along the way.

“Just in frustration really. A couple of years ago I took some ideas from it and made a separate piece called Noir which used the Miburi jump suit as a midi controller, controlling lights. Noir didn’t use any text appropriated from Rendez-vous, Robbe-Grillet’s text; it was an original text. But there is a little tiny bit of the music from Noir which I pinched for the car chase scene. But essentially Noir was a work, a separate work, a quite closely related second-cousin.”

When asked if, at that stage, he just wanted to see something completed, even if it was a second cousin, Vickery replied, “Yes. It felt really great to be in this room with people who were all pointing in the same direction, and keen to see a work finally up and running.”

Now Rendez-vous is up and running. At the time of the interview it was only days away from rehearsals and all of the video footage, for the virtual set, had been shot and was being edited.

“We have a really great team of people working on it. Obviously, like so many contemporary artists, they are not being paid a heap of money. Well, particularly Vikki Wilson of Retarded Eye. We came up with the idea of having virtual sets, projected sets, maybe 3 years ago, and she and I have expended an enormous amount of energy discussing how we were going to create this work and what it was going to look like. She’s got a great visual sense and a really encyclopaedic knowledge of the postmodern literature scene, the postmodern theory scene, which comes through in her work in a way that’s not overbearing. She creates really incredibly beautiful images.

“Talya [Masel, the director] was in on the process right from the beginning. She ran the first workshop back in ‘95. She has been in on the various stages and transformations, incarnations, of the work. She’s been ideal; she’s definitely got a sense of French literature and postmodernist literature.

“Andrew Broadbent, who plays Simon, has a music-theatre background. Taryn Fiebig, she crosses over between the classical music and contemporary music streams, and also music theatre. Then there is Kathryn McCusker who is firmly planted in the Australian Opera, in the classical tradition. So there is a kind of hierarchy there which is reflected in the characters they play.”

Vickery’s “kind of hierarchy” also contributes to the development of the opera’s narrative and its structure.

“In film noir where everybody is talking at the bottom of their range, and everybody is being as cool as possible, is as far away as you can get from opera where everyone is talking at the top of their voices, as loud as they possibly can. We needed a transition through that. So, we picked up on the increasing complexity that you get in the novel by having the characters begin at the bottom of their range in a style that is much closer to natural speaking, and they gradually go into more and more heightened speaking and eventually full singing. I hope that this will be a seamless thing. That’s part of why we cast the way we did.”

Vickery concludes, “Tos Mahoney (see RT 41 p32) at Tura (Events Company) has been really important. I think this is the most complicated single work that has been put on by Tura”—looking across the table Vickery laughs—”this is definitely the most complicated work that I have put on.” Then, suddenly serious, “I hope the momentum from putting something like this together can remain for other projects out there. After this, hopefully, they’ll know it can be done successfully.”

At the end of the year Vickery will be taking QuickTime footage of Rendez-vous to a number of venues and producers in the US. The University of Northern Texas has already made enquiries about staging it.

Lindsay Vickery, Rendez-vous—an Opera Noir, Rechabites Hall,
Perth, Nov 21 - 25

RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 pg. 33

© Andrew Beck; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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