Doctor Ox's Experiment (Epilogue) (1988)
After the final performances of my opera Medea in December 1984 I was interested in the possibility of writing further operas. One was based on Jules Verne's novella Doctor Ox's Experiment ("Une Fantaisie du Docteur Ox") and I wrote two concert works as pilots for this project. The first work was By the Vaar, an adagio for jazz bass, strings, bass clarinet and percussion written for Charlie Haden and performed by him at the 1987 Camden Jazz Festival. The other was an extended concert aria for high soprano and ensemble for an Arts Council Contemporary Music Network tour in the autumn of 1988. The full opera has been commissioned by English National Opera for performance in 1996.
The action takes place in the Flemish town of Quiquendone, a town that appears on no map, although its geographical location is precisely fixed. It is a town where everything happens very slowly; where an engagement of 10 years is the norm; where the council never reaches a decision; that is, until Doctor Ox and his assistant arrive to install gas lighting, which has a devastating side effect. At the end of the opera, Doctor Ox disappears as mysteriously as he has come, leaving the town to revert to its former existence. At the end, one innocent victim of the doctor, Suzel, recalls at a later date the events that have taken place, and realises that things can never be the same again. The coda from By the Vaar, where the bass is, effectively, Frantz, Suzel's betrothed, appears transformed in this last scene after Suzel has faced the future nervously. The text is by Blake Morrison, librettist for the opera proper, and the vocal part was specially written for the remarkable soprano Sarah Leonard, for whom I have since written a number of other pieces (The Black River, for voice and organ, and The War in Heaven, for soprano, counter tenor - David James - chorus and orchestra).
This piece is dedicated to Ruby, a typhoon which confined me to my hotel room in Hong Kong, and without whose timely intervention the piece would not have been ready in time for the first performance.