By Jessica Zammit, Marketing and Communications Assistant

Photograph by Keith Malone.


23 May 2019

As part of our meet the composer series, we had a chat with Emma Ruth-Richards. 

Extracts from Emma's opera Traffick will be featured in the National Opera Studio contemporary scenes production Voices of Now on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th June 2019.

Could you tell us about the musical ideas that came to mind when you first read through Nic Chalmers’ libretto for Traffick?

Nic's writing is visceral and immediately jumps off the page to me every time I read it, so it is always very clear to imagine an effective sound world; I can almost hear the pulse of each scene as I read it, as she often writes the text on the page in an architectural way using different fonts, sizes and gradients of font colour. With her words she creates something immersive, dynamic and intimate where every word counts, and there is always an effective pacing strategy to intensify the emotional impact of every scene; once knitted together, each scene joins together to make a dramatic arc to the opera which also therefore helps me to plan the musical structure.

How closely did you work with Nic in bringing Traffick to life, and how would you describe your composer-librettist relationship in developing this fascinating work?   

Nic and I worked extremely closely throughout the entire process. We would often spend hours together talking about the colour, shape or texture of the words, action and music, and fitting them together so we were working to the same goal. There were times when the musical ideas developed quicker than the final text and vice versa. Artistically, we think in very similar ways and often based our ideas around other art forms such as dance, painting, photography and architecture. Nic often included imagery in the libretto to show me the visual markers that had impacted her writing.  

When I came to setting the text, there were of course times when I needed to ask her about cutting and/or expanding something, so our discussions were always very dynamic and lively, and we enjoyed challenging and questioning each other. We are a great team and always found a way to make it work for both of us. 

What do you hope audiences will discover from Traffick?

In examining the human instinct for survival, even in the face of extreme suffering, we seek to question the limits of endurance and control. Sex trafficking is an atrocious violation of human rights and it desperately needs more attention. Traffick is about something that is happening right here, right now, in every town and city in this country. 

Media reports usually give us tiny insight into a trafficked person’s individual experience – necessarily so, in order to protect their identities – and so the spotlight inevitably turns to the perpetrators, leaving us with only a generalised impression of the men and women lost to statistics. But these Anonymous have a name and we want to give them a voice. Highlighting not only the experiences they have endured but also, once 'rescued', the horrific procedure they have to submit to in order to gain the necessary 'victim' status required to seek asylum in the UK - this is something that most people don't know about it. 

In establishing a meaningful relationship with them – the protagonists in private, unguarded, as subjects not objects – we have chosen to focus on an interior world inhabited only by trafficked men and women. The figure of male tyranny is all the more terrifying in his absence, for once the beast is revealed, once it has a voice and a recognisable form, it will never again be so frightening as the evidence testifying to its existence. The potential for violence, for death, is always present – it might burst through the door at any moment, or else these women would not do what they do – but we never see the threat embodied.

The sexual and physical abuse itself is bodily, of course, but everything else lives viscerally beneath the surface: chaotic, conflicted, and difficult to articulate. The sex slave has no jurisdiction over their own body, but their mind is the one thing of which they retain ownership. Imagination becomes a means of survival, therefore; it is a secret chamber and a way of resizing a relationship to the world around them.

Scene 2 of Traffick features in the National Opera Studio contemporary scenes production Voices of Now (Friday 7 June, 7.30pm; Saturday 8 June, 3.00pm, 7.30pm).

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