Watch: Ramin Gray on The Importance of Being Earnest
Exuberant opera by Gerald Barry makes its UK stage premiere
The opera is exuberant bordering on outrageous, with instrumentation featuring megaphones, pistols and wellington boots. It also includes an ostinato for 40 plates, all of which are smashed by goggle-wearing percussionists. In short, it is a fitting match for Wilde’s absurdist comedy of manners.
‘When you hear Gerald’s music it is – in the best way – like a crazy child let who has been let loose with crayons and scribbled all over the manuscript,’ says Ramin. ‘The challenge is to keep that bubbly, champagne-like quality you can get off a concert performance, and make it live as a fully staged production.’
Ramin, the former Associate Director of the Royal Court Theatre, met Barry at a concert performance of the opera in April 2012.
‘Ramin felt it worked so well in concert that one of the tasks of the director was not to screw that up by the wrong kind of staging,’ said Barry in an interview with Michael Dervan for The Royal Opera House Magazine, the publication of the Friends of Covent Garden. ‘The theatre is written into the music, which is something I did instinctively.’
Following sell-out success at concert performances at the Barbican last April, Barry’s fast and furious score has already been hailed as a comic masterpiece. Pushing singers to the extremes of their vocal spectrum, the music careers from distorted snatches of Beethoven and Schoenberg, to fortissimo orchestral eruptions and melodic serenades. In another twist, the aging Lady Bracknell is sung by a bass, delivering the famous line ‘A handbag?’ as a violent retch.
‘Sometimes I think of the opera as being like a jumper that’s been turned inside out,’ continues Ramin. ‘It is the same thing it always was, just seen a different way. This goes right back to what Oscar Wilde’s whole process was: the process of paradox, giving you something and absolutely turning it on its head. You re-think it, you re-see it and re-experience it.’