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 Gutenberg's birth, 2000, although due to delays in the rebuilding of the opera house it has been postponed to 2001.
The libretto is by Blake Morrison, whom I wrote Doctor Ox's Experiment and who wrote the text for Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue) the concert piece which was a draft for the opera proper. We have also worked together and continue to do so, on a series of books of madrigals. In the course of conducting research for the libretto Blake wrote an entire novel on the subject, to be published in August 2000.
The direction and design is by the Austrian Gottfried Pilz. Interestingly, at the first meeting with him we realised that, for a German opera house, there wasn't a single German on the team (English composer, English librettist, Austrian director and designer, Swiss intendant).
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 "G", but have given it a lengthy subtitle, in the manner of an 18th century English novel.
Gutenberg I (sings in Act 1 and, possibly, Epilogue): bass baritone
Evil Angel: tenor
Enneline: soprano - preferably with quite a pure, early music voice
These singers will almost all come from the Mainz company, though probably one outside soloists will be used, for G himself.
2 flutes (both doubling piccolo)
5 horns (four doubling Wagner tubas)
The composition of the orchestra is intended to be relatively conventional, although the fact that 3 of the orchestra's 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 d'amore, 3 cor anglais, 2 bassoons and one contrabassoon in this department). In addition, of the orchestra's 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 spite of the delay in staging the opera my plan is to complete the piece by the summer of 2000.