Operatic Wish List

Kokoro - The Japanese Life of Lafcadio Hearn

In 1987 then AO baritone David Brennan asked Ralph Middenway to write him a stage piece about Lafcadio Hearn.

A writer, part-Irish, part-Greek, Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 and died there fifteen years later. He was naturalised (as Koizumi Yakumo). He was a remarkable man by any standards.

Our understanding of everyday life in Meiji Japan (to some extent even the Japanese understanding of it) relies ultimately on his quirky eye and rich prose.

Todai-Ji - (Site copyright Ralph Middenway)

Andrew Taylor was the obvious choice as librettist.

Koto player and Japanese linguist
Kimi Coaldrake was also  interested.

In 1990  the Suntory Foundation in Osaka and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra funded a visit to Japan by all three to conduct research for the project. They were the first of the international visitors celebrating the of Hearn Centenary.

Following their travels in Japan - meeting key contacts and visiting key sites in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Toyohashi, Matsue, Izumo and Inuyama - they developed a clear framework for the piece. The goal would be to show Hearn's gradual assimilation into and affection for the Japan he came to understand so well. 

Although it was generally agreed such a project could work well at an international level - in Japan, parts of Europe, and the United States, they recognise it to be out of the ordinary in the Australian context. They would like to see it through to completion: unfortunately, given present arts funding levels in Australia, putative production companies have been unable to consider supporting it.

It would be scored for baritone, koto, flute(s), clarinet(s), viola, cello and light percussion. Following convention, the koto player would also be a bit player and sing a little. Heian-kyo is a trial run for some of the purely instrumental music.

Enquiries are welcome.


Love's Coming - Images of John Shaw Neilson

John Shaw Neilson - (Site copyright Ralph Middenway)Many wonder that John Shaw Neilson could produce such poetry
from a life of such hardship. The best of his poetry is colourful,
sensitive, charming, strong, penetrating, implicitly dramatic.
In 1994, through Brian Chatterton of Co*Opera, the
Penola Festival asked Ralph Middenway and Andrew
Taylor to plan a lyric drama built around his life.

They settled on using key Neilson poems as short arias
in the continuous arioso texture built on Andrew's libretto.
Two singers would play Neilson and lost love Florence Case,
two others a number of roles, including  Adam Lindsay Gordon,
Neilson's parents, A.G. Stephens, Mary Gilmore and Mary McKillop.

To accompany the singers would be a small wind section, tuned percussion, harp and strings - or flute and cor anglais, string quintet and two electronic keyboards.

The goal would be a directly comprehensible piece unconfined by realism or historical accuracy.

The interested parties so far have been the South Australian SE Cultural Centre Trust, the Penola Festival, and Co*Opera, but everything depends on funding.

Enquiries are welcome.


'No name' (after E.T.A. Hoffmann)

Sandman - (Site copyright Ralph Middenway)The macabre Hoffmann story is highly charged emotionally.

The goal would be a highly dramatic full-length opera.

There would be a cast of four principals and a small chorus,
some of whom would also have vignette roles.

A standard orchestra would be needed.

The scenario is agreed.

The story, like many of Hoffmann's,  has been set to music.

This planned version would have extra dimensions not
previously explored, one surreal, the other real-life,
presenting a real challenge to the company.

Enquiries are welcome.