Generous support from the PRS Composers Fund has enabled Matthews to realise a long-held dream in one of the few genres he has yet to tackle: opera. The first act of what will eventually become a 100-minute opera in two parts was performed with piano accompaniment at the National Opera Studio on 16 March.
The opera – provisionally titled An Angel Passes – is set in a central European country during the 1989 revolutions, and deals with the seismic fall of communism, with its unforeseen and disturbing consequences. It is a subject close to the heart of Matthews and his librettist, the late Sir Roger Scruton, who both knew Czechoslovakia well in the communist period when they were part of an underground university and met many dissidents.
Matthews’ ease in handling large-scale forms, sensitive word-setting, keen dramatic instinct, and vast experience in writing for voices, all make him a natural opera composer. ‘For much of my composing life I have longed to write an opera,’ says Matthews, ‘but, until now, have never found the right subject, librettist, or opportunity. I learned much about vocal writing as Britten’s assistant, and it has always been my central preoccupation; I think of music above all as song.’