We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
The Richard Eaton Singers, Timothy Anderson, actor, Dr. Leonard Ratzlaff, conductor, The Winspear Centre for Music, Edmonton, AB, Sunday, March 13, 2016 (western Canadian premiere; see poster below for further details)
Orpheus Choir of Toronto, Geraint Wyn-Davies, actor; Maeve Palmer, soprano; Robert Cooper, C.M., conductor, Trinity-St. Paul's United Church, Toronto, Saturday, April 23, 2016 (this performance will take place on the day Shakespeare died in 1616)
No Mortal Business (title from a line in The Tempest) is a large-scale choral/orchestral work with text by Shakespeare, and although it wasn't originally intended as an anniversary work it strikes me as something that would be very suitable for any 2016 concert program wishing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of the bard.
No Mortal Business features an important part for an actor who is known in the score as "the prologue". In Shakespeare's time the prologue gave short speeches providing necessary historical background or plot advancement. The part of "Chorus" in Shakespeare's Henry V is the bard's best example, and I admit to being influenced by Derek Jacobi's wonderful portrayal in Kenneth Branagh's film of this play. The prologue in No Mortal Business speaks only the words of the bard but his lines are extracted from many of his plays and sonnets and reassembled in a way that provides a possible vision of the actor himself in his final years. What emerged in this lengthy process of research and (respectful) re-creation was a vision of a mighty talent who was plagued by self-doubt, frustrated by the stress of life as a struggling artist and consumed by the thought of his impending death. In No Mortal Business, Shakespeare's words become haunting 'soliloquies' appearing between the choral numbers and also over and above the music that I have composed. The role of the prologue in No Mortal Business is challenging, as it requires an actor who is capable of portraying a wide range of emotion, is familiar with the Elizabethan stage, and has enough musical background to stay in sync with chorus and orchestra.
The part for the soprano soloist is dramatic in nature too - she portrays the Angel of Death who sings alternatively comforting and disquieting words that resonate deeply in the soul of the prologue and stir reaction from the actor, the chorus, and the chamber orchestra.
No Mortal Business is in five 'Acts' and is thirty-five minutes of intense, non-stop musico-dramatic action. It contains substantial choruses intended for a large mixed-voice ensemble, most of whose text comes from Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest (e.g. new settings of Full Fathom Five, The Cloud-Capp'd Towers, and Where the Bee Sucks) but there is also snippets of ancient plainchant (In Paradisum, Requiem Aeternum) and a powerful new Kyrie Eleison. The latter liturgical passages reflect the fact that Shakespeare was born into a Catholic family and that he was a noted recusant (one who refused to attend services of the protestant Church of England), as well as an author well-versed in the questions of faith.
Full score, vocal score, and parts are available thru the Canadian Music Centre. Contact the composer for further details.