G is an opera based on the life of Johannes Gutenberg. It was commissioned by the opera house in Mainz for the year of the 600th anniversary of Gutenbergıs birth, 2000, although due to delays in the rebuilding of the opera house it has been postponed to 2002.
The libretto is by Blake Morrison, with whom I wrote Doctor Oxıs Experiment and who wrote the text for Doctor Oxıs Experiment (Epilogue) the concert piece, written in 1988, which was a draft for the opera proper. We have also worked together and continue to do so, most recently on my First Book of Madrigals for the Hilliard Ensemble. In the course of conducting research for the libretto Blake wrote an entire novel on the subject, The Justification of Gutenberg, which was published in August 2000.
There is little reliable information about Gutenberg and no likeness from the period. The only images of him date from more than 100 years after his death, and show him with the well-known forked beard. In reality he was almost certainly clean-shaven! During the greater part of his life he was called Johannes Gensfleisch and only used the name Gutenberg in his last years. For that reason, or at least partly for that reason, we have called the opera ³G², but have given it a lengthy subtitle, in the manner of an 18th century English novel:
Being the Confession and Last Testament of Johannes Gensfleisch, also
known as Gutenberg, Master Printer, formerly of Strasbourg and Mainz
This absence of hard information enabled Blake and myself to develop many facets of Gutenbergıs life and character in ways which are not precisiely given by historical records. We do use the facts that are to hand - his various court cases and documentary evidence where it exists, but we have felt able to be more inventive than might otherwsaie have been the case.
For example I decided to approach the characterisation of Gutenberg in a, perhaps, unusual way. In developing his character I thought that Gutenberg could be a very different person in Act 1 (in Strasbourg) than in Act 2 (back in Mainz). In Strasbourg I portray him as an opportunist, entrepreneurial, even quite shady, businessman, whereas he becomes more high-minded, serious and idealistic in the second act. A consequence of this is the idea to have a different singer for Gutenberg in Act 2. The two are of a similar vocal type, are be dressed and made up to look the same, but there would be a physical difference. The opera need not always be done this way and it is written in such a way that a single singer could sing the whole part, but it is my ideal and this is the way it will be done in Mainz.
One source for this idea came about when I was in discussion with Hans-Jurgen Syberberg about a possible collaboration in the mid-1980ıs. In his film of Parsifal (which is mimed to playback of course) Syberberg uses two different people to play Parsifal - the first is a teenage boy who could not possibly have Parsifalıs tenor voice, the second is a girl. Both are present in the Epilogue, and I have them sing together, but not always in unison. We also see the moment when the second takes over from the first - in Act 2 scene 2 while the Good Angel sings.
At the end of the opera G - the more mature one - sings alone on stage (with the other G in the shadows) - acco,mpanied only by a group of baroque strings, on stage with him, rather as if he were singing a Bach cantata. This gives a progressive reduction in the forces, reinforced by occasional cadences played by the Wagner tubas, who remain in the pit.
In Mainz the opera will be staged by Georges Delnon ( intendant of the Mainz Opera House) and designed by Atelier Rosalie. Rosalie is one of the most interesting designers working in German opera and theatre, as well as exhibiting paintings. The conductor will be Gernot Sahler.
Gutenberg I (in Act 1, Act 2 scene 1 and part of scene 2 and Epilogue): bass baritone
Gutenberg II (in Prologue, Act 2 scene 2 and Epilogue): bass
Fust: character tenor
Schoeffer: counter tenor
Nicholas of Cusa: bass
Evil Angel: tenor (sung by Fust)
Good Angel: bass (sung by Nicholas of Cusa)
Ennelina: soprano - preferably with quite a pure, early music voice
Beilbeck: low mezzo soprano/ contralto
Christina, Schoefferıs fiancée: soprano (similar to Enneline)
Elliwibel (Ennelinaıs mother): coloratura mezzo soprano
Jorg Dritzehn: baritone
Andreas Dritzehn: baritone
Claus Dritzehn: bass baritone
Matthias Heilmann: baritone
Judge: bass baritone
(These singers all come from the Mainz company)
2 flutes (both doubling piccolo)
3 cor anglais (1 doubling oboe, 1 doubling oboe dıamore)
1 clarinet (doubling E flat)
5 horns (four doubling Wagner tubas)
2 trombones (both doubling alto)
celeste/ harpsichord (one player)
18.104.22.168.5 (the Mainz string strength)
The composition of the orchestra is intended to be relatively conventional, although the fact that 3 of the orchestraıs 4 oboes play the cor anglais gave me the opportunity to reduce the input of an instrument which I dislike and to vary the palette of double reeds (I have available 1 oboes, 1 oboe dıamore, 3 cor anglais, 2 bassoons and one contrabassoon in this department). In addition, of the orchestraıs 8 horn players 4 also play the Wagner tuba. As the first horn does not, I decided to write for 5 horns, four of whom double Wagner tubas, with the first horn being a soloist. In addition as both tenor trombonists also play alto trombone I include this slightly old-fashioned instrument too. These factors of instrumentation also give the piece a somewhat historical character.
The opera was completed the piece in June 2001 ready for the February 2002 premiere.