Programme Notes – Anya17

Composer’s programme note

I have wanted to write an opera for as long as I can remember. I have been stage struck from a very young age, and performances of Die Meistersinger, Peter Grimes and Tosca made an enormous impact on me in my very impressionable teens. For many years after graduating from university I worked in the theatre as a musical director and repetiteur before concentrating on concert composition, but the opportunity of working in the theatre as a serious composer (with the notable exception of a ballet for the Rambert dance company in the 1990s) has eluded me. Of course writing an opera is a deeply collaborative process, and not having the talent or facility like Wagner, Tippett and Sondheim to write my own words I floundered until I was introduced to the librettist Ben Kaye to discuss a project for a work for bass solo, chorus, brass quintet and organ. The result in 2007 was ‘Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall’, a ‘protest cantata’ based on the experiences of the political prisoner John McCarthy. Following this in 2010 we collaborated on ‘Eternal Voices’, a commission from the Royal Marines on the subject of war in the 21st century.

Ben and I had been talking about writing an opera together almost from the time we met. After many lengthy conversations as to the subject matter we eventually decided, for our third collaboration against basing a new piece on any existing literature and chose to focus on a contemporary issue that needs bringing to people’s attention. Details of the horrors of human trafficking and sex slavery can now easily be accessed in books and on the internet. Ben has done an enormous amount of research into the experiences of young people taken from their homes and forced into slavery in an unfamiliar country. In transforming their stories into a musical work for the stage what we have attempted to do is to focus in on the human drama: the girl Anya from an unspecified Eastern European country and her hopes and fears for a new life in ‘The West’, the stories of the other young girls duped into the promise of a new life abroad, Anya’s betrayal, her subsequent dehumanisation, but ultimately with the small possibility of hope for the future. The reality behind the tales of these people taken into prostitution is often so harrowing I felt I needed to suggest a glimmer of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel at the close of the work.

I have conceived Anya17 as an hour long theatre piece and have striven to write music that would work in a theatrical and dramatic context. Sex slavery is a world-wide issue, but in this work, in keeping with the theme of the cultural differences between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ I have attempted to give much of the score an Eastern European feel, but infiltrated by corrupting ‘Western’ vernacular elements as well.   I owe heartfelt thanks to so many people, particularly Ben, the director Caroline Clegg, Clark Rundell and the Liverpool 10/10 Ensemble and the RNCM cast for their commitment and support to this project way beyond the call of duty.

Adam Gorb 2012