Ahead of our upcoming contemporary opera scenes production, Cautionary Tales, we spoke to composer Judith Weir about her opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom

Judith Weir was born into a Scottish family in 1954, but grew up near London. She was an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and studied composition with John Tavener during her schooldays. She went on to Cambridge University, where her composition teacher was Robin Holloway; and in 1975 attended summer school at Tanglewood, where she worked with Gunther Schuller. After this she spent several years working in schools and adult education in rural southern England; followed by a period based in Scotland, teaching at Glasgow University and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

During this time she began to write a series of operas (including King Harald’s Saga, The Black Spider, A Night at the Chinese Opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom and Blond Eckbert) which have subsequently received many performances in the UK, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and the USA. 

Judith Weir now serves as Master of the King's Music after her appointment in 2014 by Queen Elizabeth II, the first woman to hold this office.

Could you tell us a little more about the story, and where the idea came from?

In the opera, I link three folk short tales (collected in the 19th century in the west of Scotland, originally in Gaelic) so that they form a loose family saga about three generations of people, with many supernatural events. One of the inspirations for doing this was a famous old Ealing film 'Dead of Night' which similarly links several ghost stories into an overall narrative.

You wrote the libretto yourself. When working with opera, what makes a good libretto from the composer’s perspective?

The most obvious things to me are brevity and clarity. Even now that we expect to have surtitles, the words have to sound clearly amidst the musical texture, which will inevitably be busy, including an orchestral score. And the audience have to take as lot in at an opera - so ideally the dramatic impulse will also be clear (whatever the production is doing.)

Has your Scottish heritage had an influence on your compositional style?

This piece is mostly 'about' Gaelic folk heritage, which I didn't know much about. So my heritage hadn't really taught me very much about this style. It was a period of very interesting research.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing The Vanishing Bridegroom?

The opera has a large cast, allowing chorus members also to take small roles. So I hope the audience will have experienced striking performances from a wide range of singers.

Part 1 of The Vanishing Bridegroom features in the National Opera Studio contemporary scenes production Cautionary Tales

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