CHAINS! – a rock opera
Man is born free; and everywhere is in chains
The original version of Chains! was performed an amateur production at the Secombe Centre, Sutton, Surrey in the 1990s by a young and enthusiastic amateur cast. Since then I have revised the storyline and lyrics and orchestrated much of the music.
The piece has not been fully staged since, though several demo recordings of numbers from the show were made at the time and a couple more have been added, recently.
This is a sung-through fusion of rock concert with classical opera and ‘West End’ musical. It’s eclectic in style, but its mood is undeniably dark and its messages timeless. Influences include Christ’s Crucifiction, Kafka’s The Trial, the assassination of John Lennon and even the often-futile pursuit of fame through TV shows such as the X Factor. Can The Man really be Simon Cowell? Is Mr Nobody Louis Walsh?
Ultimately it’s about the weaknesses and frailty within us all – and our need for idols, the expectancy we heap upon them and their ultimate crime: failure. This is not a light, frothy ‘high school’ musical but a hard-hitting journey through success and failure to one man’s immortality.
Chris Wood composer, lyricist and author
No Way Out!
A trilogy of chamber operas (or a single chamber opera in three acts)
Written and composed by the group’s composer-in-residence Christopher Wood, each piece is approximately 15-20 minutes in duration. The Tart and the Princess is placed first in the trilogy and features a solo soprano.
The second opera, The Dinner Party, is for soprano, tenor and baritone; and Carter in Crisis is written for solo baritone.
The pieces, while running on from each other in real time, as a continuous story, also exist as stories in their own right, each capable of independent performance.
The minimum company required to perform the trilogy is soprano, tenor, baritone and pianist – with the future option of orchestrating the piano parts for a small chamber ensemble.
The Tart and the Princess plays out the tensions of an identity crisis suffered by Hilde, a woman a little past the first flush of youth, living in a seedy room in 1950s Paris. She is elegantly dressed and waiting for a handsome man, who is taking her to dinner and she has a beautiful young daughter asleep in her bed – or so she would have us believe. Slowly, as she waits, the veneer cracks and crumbles as the elegant lady falls apart – and a seasoned whore emerges, displaying her wares at her window. Driven by derisory cat-calls from the street, Hilde is finally forced to face her reality – her man has long since gone; her daughter was taken away and no-one wants her, not even as a whore – a situation which drives her to the very brink.
Two broken hearts they’ll find, Destroyed each other, man and lover, why? Winter only knows …
Sitting at her dressing table, she lifts the gleaming barrel of a pistol to her head and caresses it, in anticipation of her release. As she squeezes the trigger a loud crack marks the sound of – the letterbox. She has an invitation from the well-to-do gentleman upstairs to join him for dinner. She exits in a whirl of newly found coquettishness.
The Dinner Party sees Hilde arrive at the gentleman, Reynard’s apartment. Reynard is obviously besotted but she only has eyes for the opulence of his apartment – and then for the fine figure of Carter, an aging but well-to-do man of some means who, by chance, calls by on Reynard, very much to the latter’s annoyance. The unfortunate situation is compounded by the fact that Carter finds Hilde irritating, obviously preferring the company of Reynard. Neither Hilde nor Carter want to leave, so the three are forced to follow through the sham of a dinner party, during which each becomes increasingly frustrated by the disinterest and distraction of the object of their desires.
Finally, Carter rises and storms out, leaving Reynard to the distraught woman, who takes momentary refuge in his arms. Reynard then makes an ardent advance on Hilde, pressing her against the wall and demanding her submission. She resists; he puts his hands around her neck, to silence her screams… His over-zealous strength is beyond control. After a moment Hilde falls limp into his arms. As Hilde’s lifeless body slides to the floor the sound of a police whistle drifts up from the street. No-one will believe him when he says it was an accident. He looks down to the street through the open window.
Carter in Crisis is placed third in the canon. Set in a park, on a frosty winter’s night, we find Carter making his way home in a more reflective mood after the dinner party. He suddenly finds himself confronted with a statue – the face of a young Adonis – timeless beauty set in stone. He becomes both enthralled and enraged by the boy, a compulsive and erotic attraction which contorts into jealousy and a bitter hatred, finally ending in wanton and pathetic destruction. The emotional turmoil proves too much for the weary Carter. His heart fails him as he realises the brutality and futility of his actions. ‘Two broken hearts they’ll find,’ he says. ‘Destroyed each other, man and lover, why? Winter only knows …’