"...an archetypal story..."
Oliver Leith’s debut opera Last Days will premiere this autumn in the Linbury Theatre at London’s Royal Opera House. Matt Copson's text tells the story of Blake, a musician, who has recently escaped rehab to return home. But he is haunted by objects, visitors and memories distracting him from his true purpose – self-destruction. Adapted from Gus Van Sant’s 2005 film inspired by the final days of Kurt Cobain, this new opera plunges into the torment that created a modern myth. The opera, which receives four performances in October 2022, is a co-commission from the Royal Opera House and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It is the culmination of Leith’s work as ROH/GSMD Composer-in-Residence; he is the fourth participant in the programme, launched in 2016.
Leith’s score brings together several enthusiastic exponents of Leith's music: conductor Jack Sheen, 12 Ensemble, and GBRS Duo George Barton (percussion) and Siwan Rhys (piano). Matt Copson directs the production alongside Anna Morrissey, whose recent credits include The Taming of the Shrew (Central School of Speech and Drama) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Nevill Holt Opera). Designs and lighting will be by Grace Smart and Prema Mehta.
In the Guardian Leith has described his fascination with Cobain. A “massive” Nirvana fan, Leith says rockstars like Cobain represents “an archetypal story – operas deal well in those”. Nirvana’s music in particular “soundtracked my teens. It’s some of the first music I learned to play on the guitar”, he added. “I owe a lot of how I now make music to the sound of grunge from that time – I had never really thought about where my experimental mess and repetitions had come from.”
Leith is excited about the score. "The opera takes place in a hyper-musical environment where sounds like guns, kettles, fireworks and dogs...are as much part of the score as strings", he says. It is "visceral and musical". His work on Last Days has been intense. "The past couple of years have been like I live in this opera", Leith says, "I go to sleep with the notes of the day...and have forgotten how to converse normally - but I love it."
General booking opens on 27 July. Performances will take place on 7, 8, 10, and 11 October.