Summary of the Libretto
by Dorothy Porter
Jonathan Mills, Composer (Australian);
Dorothy Porter, Librettist (Australian)
Conductor: Stuart Stratford
The libretto revolves around the elusive character of Arthur Stace - a reformed alcoholic and religious ratbag/visionary who wandered the nocturnal streets of Sydney through the forties, fifties and sixties mysteriously writing the single word "Eternity" in a distinctive copperplate hand.
The libretto is written for four voices. These include the voice of Stace himself (to be sung by a baritone) and three female characters who represent alternatively Stace's sister, Myrtle, a Darlinghurst brothel keeper, and an assortment of female choruses - female freaks at the Royal Easter Show (an annual agricultural event in Sydney with, in the past, a notorious side-show alley), ghosts of female convicts and a gaggle of Kings Cross drag queens. The Eternity Man libretto is a phantasmagorical journey, via Stace's burning sense of evangelical witness, through an intimate, mythical and haunted Sydney.
Statement about the Music
The Eternity Man is scored for 13 instruments. These are; flute/piccolo/alto flute, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet/soprano saxophone/bass clarinet, bassoon, alto/tenor trombone, piano, percussion (2 players), 2 violins, viola, 'cello, double bass. The zealous meanderings of the bible-bashing Arthur Stace through the nocturnal streets of Sydney call for a parallel in the musical structure of the work.
Although far from complete, I am conceiving a piece which shows a clear progression from the conventional instrumentation described above to a quite hybrid sound-world.
The harmonic and melodic gestures at the beginning of the opera gradually transform. Percussion incorporates instruments such as salad bowl water drums and bowl chimes (respectively, upturned wooden small salad bowls floating in water and large stainless steel bowls suspended from the rim with a copper cylinder soldered to the bass and containing a small amount of water in the bowl which modulates the sound of the cylinder and the bowl itself).
As the opera progresses the pianist will be required to play extensively inside and on the body of the instrument and even bow the strings using loose horsehair bows.
A range of other crude instruments will be incorporated into the ensemble as doublings, including a modified fiddle, a detuned hurdy-gurdy, a tea-chest bass and a variety of acoustic found objects which refer to Stace's evangelical odyssey.
It needs to be made clear that the core ensemble will never be abandoned. The juxtaposition of conventional and found or modified instruments will assist in articulating a tension between Stace's own hallucinating ecstatic state of mind and the detritus of his urban trudging.
At the time of writing another element is being explored, namely the treatment and approach to the vocalisation of the word ETERNITY.
I am investigating the potential for ETERNITY to be disembodied and obscured by a series of electro-acoustic transformations of a solo baritone singing variations of a simple phrase. This is not to suggest that ETERNITY would never be sung. Instead my aim is to have the word emerge very gradually from the texture of the music and hopefully take on a character of its own; to become, at the same time, central to the dramatic progress of the opera and beyond the reach of its protagonist.
The Eternity Man
A Joint Statement by Jonathan Mills and Dorothy Porter
This is our second opera together. It has been again an exciting and fruitful collaboration. The Eternity Man has given us much more freedom than our previous opera, The Ghost Wife, as it is not an adaptation of an existing text but a totally fresh idea for us both.
The Arthur Stace story is a very familiar piece of urban folklore in Sydney. Rather than present a biography of Stace our opera seeks to explore and mytholise his life and his unique spiritual relationship with Sydney. The libretto, at this present time, is virtually complete. Two scenes of the score have been fully orchestrated and substantial sketches of the remainder are in development.
Casting at the Workshop
Arthur Stace Keel Watson Bass-Baritone
Women 1 Tara Harrison Soprano
Women 2 Emma Selway Alto
Women 3 Louise Mott Alto
Repititeur: Alex Wells
Flute (doubling piccolo and Alto Flute), Oboe (doubling Cor Anglais), Clarinet (doubling Soprano Sax and Bass Clarinet), Bassoon, Tenor Trombone (doubling Alto Trombone), Piano, Percussion (2 players), 2 Violins, Viola, Cello, Double Bass)
The pre-recorded fragment presented at the workshop was performed by Grant Smith and produced by Steve Adam.