Described as a ‘resonant and multi-layered work’ after its premiere in April 2015, Tansy Davies’s critically acclaimed opera Between Worlds received the British Composer Award for Stage Work at a ceremony at the BFI Southbank.
A bold and highly individual response to the events of 9/11, Tansy Davies’s operatic debut opened at the Barbican Theatre, London on 11 April 2015. Co-commissioned by English National Opera and the Barbican, it saw Davies collaborating with librettist Nick Drake and the renowned director Deborah Warner. Contemporary music specialist Gerry Cornelius conducted a cast including countertenor Andrew Watts as the Shaman and mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley as the Mother.
Lasting around 90 minutes, with no interval, the opera is scored for 16 singers, chorus and a modest orchestra of 35. Davies describes the work’s goal as turning ‘something very complex and difficult into something healing and beautiful.’
Between Worlds presents a disparate group of individuals trapped high up in one of the Twin Towers, caught between earth and heaven, life and death. Davies’s preoccupation with shamanic thought (previously explored abstractly in her piano concerto Nature) here comes to fruition through the figure of the Shaman who – suspended above the action – sings, whispers and whistles, his silvery countertenor intertwined with the other voices to striking effect. Davies’s vividly imagined score (her most expansive to date) is dominated by foreboding, veil-like textures for strings and harp. Between Worlds is both an opera and a requiem, with the chorus playing a central role throughout. In the closing scenes, the work’s subtly shifting verdigris harmonies open out into a cathartic ballet sequence (brilliantly choreographed by Kim Brandstrup) where glockenspiel, string harmonics and flutes dance in the stratosphere, before falling back to earth for a final scene of lamentation.
Further Information about the BCAs can be found here
‘A fabulously inventive aural fabric: exploding shards of sound frozen in a kind of cosmic aspic. That spiritual quality results from the composer’s expressed resolve to salvage vestiges of humanity from unspeakable horror…a resonant, multi-layered work… A poignant acrobatic tableau, depicting the final release of a soul, lingers in the memory.’
The London Evening Standard (Barry Millington), 13 April 2015
‘The vocal settings trace the shifts in diction without awkwardness, while the orchestra submerges everything in shimmering, jittering continuities which build up a musical version of the kind of inverted vertigo experienced when one is near a tall building, looking up. The aeroplane strikes themselves, eerily prepared by a sudden change in the Shaman’s muttering to a piercing, high-pitched whine and refracted by the chorus chanting from the Requiem liturgy, sent the orchestra into wild paroxysms of hyper-activity which grind the present into an excruciating, lurching continuity. Davies also proves herself wonderfully adept in marking out shifts in the perception of time, using exaggerated rhythmic profiles to spur on the drama before dissolving them into oases of reflexivity.
The opera’s most beautiful moment occurs at the end, in a dance between the sister and the suspended corpse of the Younger Man. The pair twirl, to music of gentle movement and unspeakable intimacy…The fact that the opera made its presence felt at all, creating something so beautiful and troubling against a backdrop of something so awful and upsetting, speaks volumes about the artistic talents of all involved.’
The Times Literary Supplement (Guy Dammann), 17 April 2015
‘Towards the end, the platform on which the characters stand shifts ever so slightly, and an uncanny groaning sound comes from Davies’s modest-sized orchestra. This hint was all we needed… The music never shrieks at us. The desperation ruffles the surface of Davies’s music, which remains essentially meditative…a remarkable piece of work.’
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 12 April 2015
‘Davies at times reaches that place of emotional embodiment that only music can capture, and wraps it in a dark yet cathartic embrace.’
The Arts Desk (Jessica Duchen), 12 April 2015
‘Davies’s delicately-inflected sound-world creates an all-embracing ambience…The psychological truth of this inexorable drama comes across with awesome power... Davies suggests sonic immensity through abrupt musical understatement... This beautiful and extraordinary work leaves you transfixed. It may be an operatic debut, but it announces Davies as the most original new voice in the game.’
The Independent (Michael Church), 12 April 2015
‘A tremendous score, intense but carefully balanced. [Davies] evokes the utterly bewildering sense of unreality, manipulating time and somehow creating a space beyond and apart… [It] may well come to be seen as one of the crucial music-theatre pieces of its age.’
Opera (Stephen Pettitt), June 2015
‘A distinguished score by a young composer whose style, at once stark and beautiful, bespeaks a genuine operatic voice… After the devastation, a virtuosic sequence where fleeting high-note figures flutter like debris above sustained low basses strikes me as music of the highest order.’
What’s On Stage (Mark Valencia), 16 April 2015