A Christmas Carol by Iain Bell

A Christmas Carol by Iain Bell
As part of Houston Grand Opera’s Holiday Opera Series supported by the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, Iain Bell has been commissioned to compose an operatic adaptation of Charles Dickens’ festive classic ‘A Christmas Carol’. A Christmas Carol is a setting of Dickens’ own one-man version of the novella which he frequently performed throughout his career. The libretto has been written by acclaimed British actor/director Simon Callow.

The opera is a true tour de force - a one man show with the American tenor Jay Hunter Morris directed by Simon Callow. The work is scored for a 15-player chamber orchestra and will receive its world premiere in Houston Grand Opera's Cullen Theater on December 5. Thereafter there will be a further ten performances, running until December 21.

Near the end of the working day on Christmas Eve, Scrooge, a penurious businessman, grudgingly gives his clerk Bob Cratchit the next day off for the holiday. When Scrooge returns home, he is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, who died on Christmas Eve seven years earlier. Marley wears a long, heavy chain and warns Scrooge that he faces the same fate unless he mends his selfish ways. Marley warns that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits. Scrooge is visited in turn by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. At the end of the final visit, Scrooge implores the spirit to reverse his fate, promising to be a new man.

Jay Hunter Morris, Narrator
Kevin Ray, Narrator, Dec. 17 and 20

Creative Team
Iain Bell, Composer
Simon Callow, Librettist/Director
Warren Jones, Conductor
Laura Hopkins, Set and Costume Designer
Mark McCullough, Lighting Designer

Iain Bell on the opera…
It was with tremendous enthusiasm that I embarked upon composing 'A Christmas Carol' in early-2013, relishing the opportunity to set one of my most treasured stories to music; a story scaling our deepest mortal fears and highest hopes, told by the most wonderfully sketched characters all of whom I have held in the greatest of affection since my childhood. To be doing so in the one-man form as performed by Dickens himself was also a thrilling voyage in the operatically unchartered waters of a one-man-show.

Before starting work on the piece, I knew I had to be clear in my own mind about the story I wanted to tell. Rather than a cheery Christmas fairytale steeped in mistletoe and holly as it is often portrayed, I was far keener to explore the idea of Scrooge fighting for the redemption of his very soul and the fearful elements of his visitations from all four spectres. It would be through the plummeting of these chilling depths that his ultimate salvation could truly be appreciated and that the joy of a Merry Christmas could be honestly felt.

As a composer, I adore working closely with singers. This piece has enabled me to take this further than ever before, exploring all the nuances of the tenor voice both in characterisation and mood-setting. To be able to work so intensely with Jay Hunter Morris, a singer whose talent I have long admired from afar is an inspiring proposition. I cannot wait to see how he colours each and every character within the piece with his peerless voice and dramatic instinct.

Scoring for single voice also encouraged me into fully explore the coloristic opportunities offered by the chamber orchestra to ensure an atmospheric immediacy and intimacy that a work such as this cries out for, via varied extended avant-garde instrumental techniques, unusual parings and other means. The instruments were specifically chosen to enhance the tinta I sought to evoke, be it the tarnished silver of antique victoriana, the sepia melancholy of the childhood which caused Ebenezer to become the bitter man we know or the iridescent wisps of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Then came the joy of being able to create my own yule-tide sound-world; a delight in itself along with such ravishing moments as the slow-approaching dragging of Marley’s chains and the ominous, all-pervading yet soundless foreboding of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.

To compose this work under the directorial auspices of a theatrical mastermind such as Simon Callow has been a veritable lesson in stage-craft. Knowing the one-man version of the work as well as he does, he was generous enough to share hugely valuable insights regarding pacing, relevant cuts to be made vs. parts of the text to 'marinate in' etc., and I was delighted that we were united in our ideas about the story we wished to impart.

This is a piece I am so excited to have had the chance to breathe life into and I wish you and yours the merriest of Christmases!


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