You Bring out the Monster in Me ; Mary Shelley's Waking Dream at 19 Spawned Arguably the Most Famous Horror Creation. Now Sally Beamish Has Turned the Author's Life into an Opera. It Was Pretty Scary, She Tells Robert Dawson Scott
Scott, Robert Dawson, The Independent (London, England)
It is an opera created in two acts about an act of creation that was itself concerned with an act of creation. Monster, Sally Beamish's first opera, which will be premiered in Glasgow by Scottish Opera on 28 February, is not about Dr Frankenstein's monster. Nor, lest anyone caught in the cross-hairs of the Disney publicity machine should get the wrong idea, is it anything to do with Monsters, Inc. It is about what it was in the life of the young Mary Godwin that led her, at the age of 19, in 1816, to dream up one of the most imitated horror stories in European literature.
That very peculiar house party in the Villa Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva, with Byron, Shelley, Dr Polidori and the rest of them, provides a framing device for the opera. But most of the action is spent revisiting Mary's short but fraught life - her mother's death while giving birth to her, the death of her own child, the rejection by her father when she falls in love with the already married Shelley, the attempts to revivify the drowned Harriet Shelley and Mary's possible (though not proven) visit to the castle on the banks of the Rhine that may have given her the name. Some sort of distillation of all that led to Mary's famous waking dream.
Beamish's librettist in this - though one might more accurately call her the co-creator - is Janice Galloway, the novelist, whose work to date has been very much concerned with the female experience (and whose forthcoming novel, Clara, is about that unjustly neglected female musician Clara Schumann). If you are intuiting that two women artists, both with children of their own, found a rich source of material in ideas surrounding creativity, birth, femaleness, oppression, repression, reproduction, parenting and blood, you would be spot on.
There has even been a Frankensteinian tinge to Beamish's compositional method. She has cannibalised musical body parts from all over - a chord from Scriabin, which he called his Prometheus chord; bits of Beethoven's Prometheus; wisps of Britten; some inspiration from Patrick Doyle's rather good music for Kenneth Branagh's rather bad film of the story; Beamish's own early version of the same material, a half-hour piece for chamber orchestra originally commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 1996. "All sorts of things went in," says Beamish, "and, of course, that's the way the monster was built - out of bits stitched together."
And then, each character - Mary; William Godwin, her stern father; Shelley, her husband; Byron; and so on - has an instrument and a theme. Mary is played by a viola; Shelley by the cello. We are asked not to treat as significant that Beamish herself was a viola- player and her husband is a cellist (and will actually be playing in Scottish Opera's orchestra). Unlike the mad doctor's monster, however, there are no bolts in the neck of Monster. Only the most attentive study of the score will reveal how some of those elements have been incorporated.
Beamish and Galloway go back a …
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Publication information: Article title: You Bring out the Monster in Me ; Mary Shelley's Waking Dream at 19 Spawned Arguably the Most Famous Horror Creation. Now Sally Beamish Has Turned the Author's Life into an Opera. It Was Pretty Scary, She Tells Robert Dawson Scott. Contributors: Scott, Robert Dawson - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: February 21, 2002. Page number: 11. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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