"I don't do opera.”

Peter GoldsworthyLibrettist - Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

At my first meeting with Richard Mills, he told me the story of the diva, Montserrat Caballe, amply proportioned, who was asked to sing while walking down a flight of steps in the role of Carmen. “I don’t do steps,” Miss Caballe told the director. “I don’t do opera,” I told Richard.

Partly this was because the division of labour and credit deterred me. Who listens to the libretto? You hum the tunes on the way out, you don’t whisper the words.

There was also the problem of adapting a classic text. A librettist has only a fraction of the number of words to play with. in my draft, I pared things back to what I thought was the bare minimum of plot, and in so doing, threw out most of the babies with the bathwater.
I also caused some anxiety to Ray Lawler and the process of writing the libretto, was, to some extent, a tug-of-war between my desire for simplicity, and ray and Richard Mills (and later, Richard Wherrett) keeping me honest, and more attuned to the tightly plotted structure of the play,

There was also the problem of style, of turning vernacular, often laconic Australian speech into something that could be sung.

Although the libretto is only semi-formal in verse-structure, as a rule of thumb tetrameter (four stressed lines) seemed more suitable to the economies of Australian speech than the predominant pentametric (five-stressed) rhythms of English poetry.

A decision was also made to allow the music a wider emotional range, representing the interior monologue of the characters, even their unconscious, or pre-conscious, thoughts, and in that sense, the opera operates on two levels of discourse.

What results is not the play, of course, and never can be, and does not aim to be. It is both something similar and something different, according to the constraints of a different medium.

 

Peter Goldsworthy
Librettist – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

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