As Michael Zev Gordon's Raising Icarus Opera with The Barber Institute, and our NEXT Concert of his works are fast approaching, the composer has given us an insight into what it feels like to essentially hand your work over to musicians and have them add their own voice.

It’s a very exciting and elaborate business to bring an opera into being – as I’m discovering.

Towards the end of February, we had an early read-through with some of the singers and BCMG of Raising Icarus. It was really great to hear, at a relaxed distance from the première, the opera’s instrumental colours and dramatic arc – and to be reassured that the sounds in my head were coming out well.

But now, in the first week of all-day rehearsals with a full cast and partial set and props, the intense putting together is properly underway. And it feels as though it is bound to intensify further, as we count down to the end of April. I have the strong image in my head of the tapering funnel of an hourglass, the flow of the sand speeding up as it empties.  

It’s absolutely fascinating to see how the music and libretto, so long honed in private, are becoming public, and being interpreted by others. Naturally, that process always happens with a composition: a score is taken up by the performers and they bring their own ideas to it. But opera feels to me of another order. It is deeply inspiring to see the extraordinary commitment that comes in the singers’ learning the music from memory; how they internalise it; how – as Margo Arsane who sings Icarus explained to me today – a singer, at least for her, can only properly know the music when she also has the dramatic action entirely inside her body.

Many others are of course involved too: the director, the stage designer, the lighting designer and so on. They all bring their own marks to bear, and I feel that as the days tick on, more and more the opera is not simply mine anymore. This is unsettling. But it is also deeply energising to realise that I am only one cog in a richly interconnected operation.

The story of Raising Icarus may culminate in a flight leading to a tragic fall. But the process of making it is proving to be one of the most uplifting creative experiences of my career.

Michael Zev Gordon, 6th April 2022


Want to experience the music live?

The Works of Michael Zev Gordon

Raising Icarus Opera