Wish list

Operatic Wish List: projects planned but unwritten

Kokoro – The Japanese Life of Lafcadio Hearn

In 1987 then AO baritone David Brennan asked Ralph Middenway to write him a stage piece about Lafcadio Hearn. A writer, part-Irish, part-Greek, Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 and died there fifteen years later. He was naturalised (as Koizumi Yakumo). He was a remarkable man by any standards. Our understanding of everyday life in Meiji Japan (to some extent even the Japanese understanding of it) relies ultimately on his quirky eye and rich prose.

Andrew Taylor was the obvious choice as librettist. Koto player and Japanese linguist Kimi Coaldrake was also  interested. In 1990  the Suntory Foundation in Osaka and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra funded a visit to Japan by all three to conduct research for the project. They were the first of the international visitors celebrating the of Hearn Centenary.

Following their travels in Japan – meeting key contacts and visiting key sites in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Toyohashi, Matsue, Izumo and Inuyama – they developed a clear framework for the piece. The goal would have been to show Hearn’s gradual assimilation into and affection for the Japan he came to understand so well. 

It would have been scored for baritone, koto, flute(s), clarinet(s), viola, cello and light percussion. Following convention, the koto player would also be a bit player and sing a little. Heian-kyo is a trial run for some of the purely instrumental music.


Love’s Coming – Images of John Shaw Neilson

Many wonder that John Shaw Neilson could produce such poetry from a life of such hardship. The best of his poetry is colourful, sensitive, charming, strong, penetrating, implicitly dramatic.

In 1994, through Brian Chatterton of Co*Opera, the Penola Festival asked Ralph Middenway and Andrew Taylor to plan a lyric drama built around his life.

They settled on using key Neilson poems as short arias in the continuous arioso texture built on Andrew’s libretto. Two singers would play Neilson and lost love Florence Case, two others a number of roles, including Adam Lindsay Gordon, Neilson’s parents, A.G. Stephens, Mary Gilmore and Mary McKillop.

A small wind section, tuned percussion, harp and strings – or flute and cor anglais, string quintet and two electronic keyboards would have accompanied the singers.

The goal would be a directly comprehensible piece unconfined by realism or historical accuracy.


‘No name’ (after E.T.A. Hoffmann)

The macabre Hoffmann story is highly charged emotionally. The goal would have been a highly dramatic full-length opera. There would be a cast of four principals and a small chorus, some of whom would also have vignette roles. A standard orchestra would be needed.

The scenario is agreed.

The story, like many of Hoffmann’s, has been set to music.

This planned version would have had extra dimensions not previously explored, one surreal, the other real-life, presenting a real challenge to the company.