26 JUL 2013
by Christopher Maltman
“There are few greater privileges in opera than taking the title role in a Salzburg Festival production. I’ve been lucky enough to do it twice. Firstly with Don Giovanni and now with a more English anti-hero. But the joy of being in Salzburg isn’t merely professional. Simply open your eyes and you are assaulted by loveliness of all sorts, man made and natural. Being a mountain fanatic, I could happily spend my two months either walking, climbing or, for variety’s sake, swimming in the one of the gorgeous lakes. My kids (also in love with the area) would probably choose the last option, with a large helping of Schnitzel. However, this summer has been, thus far, six weeks of hard work bringing Gawain
to life, with the odd dose of rest and relaxation thrown in to keep my sanity. It’s been quite a journey.
Any who have had the privilege of seeing their children being born will know what a terrifying, surprising, astonishing, chaotic and messy, but ultimately joyful, experience it is. Those who have given birth to those children might add a few more colourful adjectives, principal among them being, painful. So it is with birth. And so it has been with the re-birth of Gawain, an opera never staged outside its native Britain. We, the largely British cast, came pre-loaded with our expectations of what this modern masterpiece, following the narrative of one of the most lauded dramatic poems in medieval English literature, should, would and could be. Like brand new parents emerging from the delivery room, our romantic, imagined ideals lie somewhat dazed and battered upon the floor, but despite our toddling operatic progeny’s stubborn individuality and wild disregard for what we believed it should be, we love it nonetheless.
Alvis Hermanis, our directorial midwife, has transported Arthurian England and its attendant knights into the near future. Natural global disaster has forced the remnants of humanity into direct confrontation with vengeful Gaia and she, being a forgiving sort, decides to teach a lesson in humility to Gawain, self appointed ambassador of the human race. Thus the green credentials of this fourteenth century epic are supercharged and a stark face off ensues between man and nature. I would let the cat further out of the bag, but I fear it may be eaten and you’ll actually have to experience our Hollywood epic if you want the finer details. In fact I am writing this immediately before our premiere and, as usual, am ping ponging wildly between excitement, anticipation and abject terror. I guess we’ll see which one wins when the cork on this heady brew finally goes pop and Gawain is unleashed on an Austrian audience for the first time!”