Don't miss: the RCM's unsettling double-bill

Don't miss: the RCM's unsettling double-bill

Jenna Simeonov

Wednesday, June 27, London’s Royal College of Music presents an intriguing double-bill, pairing Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse with Huw Watkins and David Harsent’s In the Locked Room (based on Thomas Hardy’s short story, An Imaginative Woman). Conducted by Michael Rosewell, Stephen Unwin directs the two one-act operas, each telling eerie stories of uncertain realities.

We spoke with mezzo-soprano Lauren Morris, who sings the role of Susan in In the Locked Room; with input from fellow castmates Beth Moxon, Josephine Goddard, and Katy Thomson, Morris talks about the opera’s take on human relationships, and the beauty of sharing a rehearsal room with the composer and librettist.

What do you find are the unique qualities of opera based on literature? Are there any challenges in bringing it to the stage?

On the whole, opera is based on literature of some sort, be it a play or novel. What was so special and unique about this project was being able to work and liaise with, not only a living composer (Huw Watkins), but also a living librettist (David Harsent). It was so interesting to work through the text with David, and to hear of how Thomas Hardy’s short story, An Imaginative Woman inspired him to create this wonderful libretto.

The two main challenges we faced when staging In the Locked Room were creating a clear timeline over which the action takes place, and trying to find ways of differentiating when the poet, Ben Pascoe is real and when he is a figment of Ella’s imagination. I think we have been successful in overcoming both of these challenges and the lighting has played a big part in that.

Lauren Morris, mezzo-soprano, singing the role of Susan in In the Locked Room at the Royal College of Music.

What do you think In the Locked Room says about relationships and human behaviour?

This piece shows us the extremes of real life relationships: friendships, dysfunctional marriages, unrequited love, toxic relationships, marital rape, etc. It explores how humans react differently to emotional and physical abuse, stress and loss. It really does cover a lot of ground for a work which is only 45 minutes or so in length!

What can you tell us about the roles in In the Locked Room?

Ella is a housewife stuck in a loveless marriage. She looks to poetry as an escape and becomes obsessed with Ben Pascoe in order to block out her reality.

Stephen, her husband, is a businessman. Whilst he showers Ella with money and material objects, he still treats her like a commodity, and does not understand why their marriage is in ruins.

In Ella’s imagination Ben Pascoe is a dark and brooding romantic who knows everything about “real” love. The reality is that he is a lonely and troubled alcoholic who is crippled with depression.

Susan is the “enabler” of the piece. Whilst we “see” Ben Pascoe on various occasions, he is purely a figment of Ella’s imagination. The only way that the audience has any real insight into Pascoe’s character is through his one scene with Susan and what Susan says about him. Susan is the landlady of the house who has a secret relationship with Pascoe: a relationship which she knows is unhealthy but which she cannot resist.

If you could give any advice for young singers beginning their serious music education, what would it be?

  • Immerse yourself in the arts. Go and see plays, operas, musicals, stand up comedy, exhibitions; all art informs what we do as performers.
  • Try to learn foreign languages as early as possible to save having to worry later.
  • Everyone will, and is entitled, to have an opinion about you and what you do. You cannot change that. What is important is to surround yourself with a core team of people whom you trust (your teacher, coach, etc).
  • Enjoy what you do and remember why you do it.

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