September will see the stage premiere of a new opera by Raymond Deane to a libretto by Gavin Kostick. The Alma Fetish – which carries the tagline ‘how do you claw back from the abyss of despair?’ – is Deane’s third opera, based on the story of Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka, and his commissioning a life-size doll of Alma Mahler, the woman he loved. It will be the second opera presented by Wide Open Opera, the company formed last year by Fergus Sheil, following last year’s production of Tristan und Isolde.
The composer describes the genesis of the work and it’s story:
“I was approached in 2006 by Ethna Tinney, then opera person in RTÉ Lyric FM. The painter Pauline Bewick had suggested to her the idea of an opera based on the relationship between the painter Oskar Kokoschka and Mahler’s widow Alma, in which the 6 fans Oskar painted for Alma would provide the basis both for the scenario and (ultimately) the set design. I expressed interest, and Lyric commissioned one scene (now Act I Scene 3) from me and from my chosen librettist, playwright Gavin Kostick. This was recorded by RTÉ in January 2009 with Owen Gilhooley, Sylvia O’Brien and the NSO conducted by Fergus Sheil. Lyric even did a documentary about it, but no further commission was forthcoming (financial crash…). Gavin and I decided to go ahead and finish it anyway. I received 2 bursaries from the Arts Council to enable its completion and the preparation of performance materials – composition took place between 2006-2012.
The turning-point of the story is the doll that Oskar has made in Alma’s image after she dumps him, and his disappointment that it turns out nothing like her. Gavin Kostick’s libretto traces the loss of Oskar’s capacity to paint and his recovery, in part by using the doll as a model and in part by having a fling with his maid Hulda. While we know every detail of Oskar’s and Alma’s subsequent long lives, Hulda disappears from history around 1920 – for me she’s in many ways the centre of the opera, and there’s a political dimension to her “disappearance”, i.e. a mere servant, of use to the great folks.”
In this concert performance Alma Mahler will be played by Majella Cullagh, Oskar Kokoschka by Leigh Melrose and Hulda by Daire Halpin. Wide Open Opera director Fergus Sheil will conduct, with lighting design by Mark Galione and visuals by Pauline Bewick. The performance takes place on 17 September at the National Concert Hall.
Watch an extract from a discussion about the opera between Raymond Deane and the opera’s librettist Gavin Kostick, recorded in February 2013