An Opera. Op. 12
score and libretto
Listen to audio in the notes below
Notes on this work
An extract from a performance of Irma by AMM, Union Chapel, London, May 1988
IRMA: The Score
The general score of IRMA comes from treated fragments of a Victorian novel, A Human Document, by W.H. Mallock. In that I originally bought this book for threepence in 1966, IRMA is thus, authentically, a threepenny opera.
IRMA was composed in 1969, completed in fact on the day a man first walked on the moon. It was first published in a small french avant-garde review (OU: ed. Henri Chopin) in 1970. The score exists as an autonomous artwork and is in the Altmann Museum in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.
The score takes the form of a large sheet with prose directions (each a treated fragment of the novel) for the libretto, the Mise en scène and the sound vocabulary of the piece, together with instructions, performance suggestions and a group of melodies. It is to be thought of as the surviving elements of a lost work whose performance tradition is unknown. Realisation of the opera involves the ordering and piecing together of these fragments to a performable work; as an archaeologist might reconstruct a possible coherent pot from scattered shards.
IRMA: Performance History
The opera was first produced at the Bordeaux Festival in 1970 as a concert work. It was first staged by the Ceolfrith Arts Association at the University of Newcastle in 1972. An ambitious second production in 1973 was the result of a performance project for the postgraduate students of the music department at York University, where realisations of IRMA and the mediaeval Play of Daniel (which poses many similar problems of interpretation) made up an imaginative double-bill under the direction of Richard Orton.
Except for one recorded version and the odd performance by a student group the opera became a sleeper until its first London performance in 1983 when it formed part of Adrian Jack's enterprising MusicICA series at the ICA: on that occasion it was presented as a double bill with itself, in two contrasting versions; one a spare chamber performance by Jean Yves Bosseur and the French group Intervalles (in which I sang the part of the Narrator) and the other an augmented revival of the original York version, lavish and erotic, in which Elise Lorraine created the role Irma. Thus two performers from wildly divergent productions come together in the 1988 AMM recording of IRMA for Matchless Recordings.
IRMA is now part of the repertory of Intervalles and of AMM and has thus been performed all over Europe. AMM, pioneering interpreters of open-score ensemble music, gave a London performance at the Serpentine Gallery in 1986 and the U.S. première which took place in 1992 at the Stewart Theatre of the University of North Carolina in Raleigh (making my positively-the-last-farewell-appearance as The Narrator I was fortunate to participate in a performance that almost exactly matched,in terms of sound, my first imaginings). Phil Mouldycliff who assisted in the production of the CD recording (and who opened the batting at my 50th birthday cricket match) has also developed a performance which stresses the visual and scenic elements: this version was first staged at the Corner House in Manchester with Maurice Watson as narrator and with ingenious costume designs based on various paintings of mine, by the students of Blackburn College of Art, who performed the work.
edited extract from Work & Texts 1992. p277-279