For many modern composers, the largest challenge is to write an opera. Even though the composer’s name is usually on the score, an opera is a very much a collaborative enterprise. A librettist has to write the words and in the theatre there is a producer and a designer for the costumes, sets and lighting. As important as any of these, a venue has to be found and large amounts of funding to pay for the composition of the opera and its staging.
Not surprisingly, composing an opera is sometimes the most exhilarating time for a composer and the most frustrating. There is a great deal of pressure to ‘get it right’.
James MacMillan composed a chamber opera in 1991 called Tourist Variations, and in 1995 a two-act opera entitled Inés de Castro. At present he is working with Welsh National Opera on an opera based on Welsh myths from the Mabinogian, a collection of Welsh Arthurian legends.
Here he reflects on the difficulties of working on an opera, and offers some advice to younger composers. He also talks about his collaboration with Welsh National Opera.