It’s hard to define a piece of music, harder still to define an opera, which is one the reasons I love the form. The task of composing an opera is simply huge.
When the artistic team began to turn our attention to the events of 9/11, after some years of discussing what the subject of our opera would be, the very idea seemed unimaginable, risky and impossible; the biggest challenge of all. But I slowly realised that the enormity of this challenge was something that opera, with its infinite capacity to adapt and to reach for the highest heights and deepest depths, could embrace.
There are many layers to the opera and the story is told or seen from a myriad of perspectives. Searching for the language for text was difficult, but we found inspiration in the thousands of messages released by Wikileaks, that were sent across New York on that day. We also used the language of news and weather reports for that morning; it was of course a stunningly beautiful September morning.
The messages sent between New Yorkers on that day started out as normal, with things like ‘good morning’, ‘the average high is 82’ etc, but by 8:46 AM the entire body of messages had changed to things like ‘I love you, be safe’, ‘please call’, and as the events of the morning unfolded, shifted on mass to direct and heartfelt expressions of love; ‘you made my life’, ‘I wouldn’t change anything’. The simplicity of these loving messages became the DNA of the earthly narrative, which is echoed in the clarity of the word setting. The central story; of those trapped in the towers; in the eye of the storm became the simplest in its style and expression. This central simplicity enabled me to travel musically outwards, through the orchestra, shaman and chorus, into wilder, abstract areas to explore freely the spiritual and physical aspects of the opera.
Much of the action is held within an imaginary ‘cradle of the cosmos’, and the face of the cosmos appears as the figure of the Shaman (Counter-tenor) who relays messages across time and space; between the living and dead. A spiritual connection opens up between the Shaman and one of our five protagonists, the Janitor. Their bond eventually enables four characters trapped high up on an office floor to connect with loved ones, in their final moments. Elements of the latin requiem mass are woven through the opera, as a vehicle for the voices of the dead to reach their loved ones on earth. These voices and messages are like lines of love that remain in place after the physical connection has been cut; between those inside the towers and their loved ones outside. The lines continue to grow, branch-like, through the music; forming an interconnected web of light and love; connecting the living and the dead.
In taking on the enormous darkness of that day, I felt and hoped that as an artist, I was responding to the tragedy with creativity, focus and love; driven by the desire to transform or transcend; to find light in darkness; to turn bad into good. In order to rise to the challenge and the truth of the subject, our work must aim to match the power of the darkness, with light.
The process or journey of composing Between Worlds was a transformative experience for me; it felt like an endurance test beyond anything I had experienced before. But in pushing through what I felt to be a deeply painful time, I gained strength from the making the work; I felt that the act of working at such a deep level of thought and feeling was healing me at a fundamental level. My highest hope was that this healing would radiate outwards through the work, into the real world.
In 1974 the famous wire-walker Philippe Petit rigged a high wire between the Twin Towers and performed on it, making eight crossing over the course of an hour. This act of beauty remains with us, in the sky; in the space he created in our imaginations and memories. Like Petit’s wire walk, lines of love are traced back and forth throughout the opera, enabling steps and leaps into the unknown; into spaces only definable by opera.