comment from the composer
This opera is out of this world as it is a dream, but it is also incredibly relevant to today. It's like a mirror.
When Kazushi Ono emailed me out of the blue, asking to commission my 3rd opera for full chorus and symphony orchestra, he asked for a story with contemporary relevance.
I thought that H.G. Wells’ short story was a perfect grist for the work.
The story, written well before the first and second world wars, is about a totalitarian world at war which is described through a conversation between strangers on a train.
I was immediately hooked by this story, as for 20 years, my librettist collaborator and I have wanted to make an opera starting from a scene on a commuter train!
We never made that opera, not only because we were 20-year old’s who had no possibility of a commission, but also because we couldn't fully decide what would happen after the initial train- conversation.
Now I have an offer, AND the short story starts from a train conversation which turns into the story of a dream which is oddly prescient.
With this project, I collaborated with Librettist Harry Ross who I have worked with for over 20 years for so many of my vocal works, and director Lydia Steier. We have all been trying to find a project to collaborate on for several years, as I feel her vision will give my music wings.
In this work the chorus changes from a train of commuters into a bloodthirsty army. The chorus predicts a possible future for us all...
All of the dramatic scenes move in and out of a dreamscape. You're never sure what is fact and what is imagined. There's a futuristic moving corridor, and future music in a dance hall which is, according to HG Wells, indescribable. Dynamic characters inhabit this future dream world, and their emotional, political views are sung out over a lyrical story line.
It had to be an opera It had to be a dream, one from which I hope we wake up.
『アルマゲドンの夢』は夢の物語であり、現実とは思えない世界を描いていま すが、今日の社会にも強く結びついています。鏡のように、いまを映し出して いるのです。
大野和士さんからの突然のメールで、僕の三作目のオペラ、それも合唱と管弦 楽を伴うオペラの作曲を依頼された際、大野さんは現代に関連した物語を要望 しました。
そこで僕は、H.G. ウェルズのこの短編がぴったりだと思ったのです。『アルマ ゲドンの夢』は2度の世界大戦よりも前に書かれた物語ではありますが、見知らぬ他人同士が電車内で交わす会話を通じて、戦時下における全体主義的な世 界が描かれています。
僕はこの小説にすぐ夢中になりました。台本作家と僕は、通勤電車の場面で幕 を開けるオペラを作りたいと、20年以上も思っていたのです! それから結局 作らないままになっていたのですが、それは20歳の僕たちにはそのような作品 委嘱の機会に恵まれなかったというだけでなく、電車の場面からどう物語を展 開させていくか、うまく決められなかったからでもあります。
comment from the librettist:
As a British school boy I grew up with H.G. Wells. He is a quintessentially English author, and although visionary, he is a also product of his time. When writing Armageddon in 1901 the British Empire and English exceptionalism were at their zenith. Universal suffrage was almost three decades in the future.
Society can move backwards as well as forwards. Britain has embraced an authoritarian populism which looks recidivistically to the exceptionalism of a violent empire. How did this happen? We are all to blame.
I based this Armageddon on my own thoughts of how we, as "liberal elite" may be directly responsible for an impending Armageddon, thanks to our own inaction and bubble living. We live in froth.
Bella and Cooper are well-off people who have agency, they might be politicians, they might not. The point is that we might see something of ourselves there. In Dai and my version Bella is the daughter of an elite politician. In HG Wells’ original Cooper is a politician who has given everything up for love. The fact is that their lives are so out of step with the majority of other people that something has to give, regardless of how well intentioned they are and how much they love each other.
Bella is based on a real person I once knew in the early thousands, who was a squatting anarchist activist. She was also the daughter of a wealthy and influential businessman. She's no longer an activist…
When populace is whipped into a frenzy by a demagogue, it is like being in a bad dream. Reality bends and chaos supersedes logic. All are harmed. I spent three years as a part-time soldier. People get persuaded to behave in shocking ways. My father was a full-time soldier, and was witness to the awful events in the Balkans, and in Ireland. Both happened in my adult lifetime, and having seemingly slipped from our collective memories, seem possible once again. As I write this the UK government seems prepared to break both the Good Friday Agreement and the EU Withdrawal Agreement, in order to drive its authoritarian nationalist agenda forward.
Dai and I made political parallels to several different schools of thought, aiming for a surreal timelessness in these parts. However, these demagogic threnodies are still rooted in the exact language of today. We live in a world of decontextualized soundbites. Take Back Control, In This Together, For the Many not the Few – the UK’s current descent into nationalist exceptionalism has been moulded to some extent by the phatic language of modern politics. We are all to blame.
I was writing this work in the aftermath of the Grenfell Fire, the tower-block which burned down as a result of the greed and negligence of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who are being investigated for the manslaughter of 72 citizens. I didn’t experience this in the abstract. I was there. I lost colleagues and friends in the ongoing fall-out from such a devastating and avoidable incident, which continues to scar the consciousness of all who were touched by it. In fact, I was employed by the Borough’s arts service at the time. Having heard for years the pleas of residents for equality and agency, the incident left me feeling like the community arts wing of the Death Star. The point is that no matter how good our individual actions might be we have to zoom out of ourselves and consider what whole we are a part of.
It felt like a war zone. A war started by froth and negligence.
Have I run from this, like Cooper and Bella?
I wrote this libretto on a boat in Rotterdam, in self-imposed exile from a country I no longer recognized. I now split my time between the Scottish Highlands, the Netherlands and London, torn in my responsibilities and fearful that the apocalypse will follow me wherever I go. This too is privilege. There are other poets whom the apocalypse has followed more closely. Rest in power Abdel Wahab Yousif aka Latinos, who drowned in the North Sea, stuck between The EU’s burning migrant camps and The UK’s Hostile Environment.
For me, A Dream of Armageddon is our ever possible future, a future accelerated by populism, weak politicians and inactive bubble-living urbanites. Cooper's dream gives him pause to consider this. And in seven decades, when we're all dead, these conditions will probably come around again, and we will dream anew.
Harry Ross, Feijenoord, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Revised, Lossiemouth, Morayshire, Scotland