Composer’s new opera gets royal treatment for Festival

University of Sussex music lecturer and composer Ed Hughes will see a 40 minute extract of his new opera - Cocteau in the Underworld - get a special Platform performance in this year's Brighton Festival thanks to the OperaGenesis initiative at the Royal Opera House.

The opera takes as its inspiration the personal and creative life of the surrealist poet and film-maker Jean Cocteau and explores themes of love, loss and the creative struggle.

The part of Cocteau is played by the baritone Owen Gilhooly, who was a finalist, representing Ireland, in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2007.

In the opera, Cocteau embarks on a drug-fuelled "trip" to the world of the dead where, like the Orpheus of classical mythology, he hopes to recover his dead lover. But he discovers that he must choose between love and creativity as an artist.

The opening and closing scenes, directed by John Lloyd Davies, Head of Opera Development of ROH2 at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, were first performed as a workshop production last year in London as part of the OperaGenesis programme, an ROH2 initiative developed in association with the Genesis Foundation, which funds development of new opera by emerging composers.

Now the opera scenes will be performed again by a cast of professional singers and musicians at a special platform show at the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, on May 4. Platform performances at the Brighton Festival provide an opportunity to showcase new work in progress. The opera is performed in English.

The piece involves complex layers of sampled and electronic sound and piano, as well as soprano, mezzo, countertenor, tenor and baritone voices.

Composer Ed Hughes is particularly interested in film music, and has written soundtracks for classic silent films such as Eisenstein's much-lauded epic, Battleship Potemkin, which was performed with the film at the Brighton Festival in 2005, and later released on DVD by Tartan.

 Ed, who lectures in music at the University of Sussex and whose work has been featured on BBC Radio 3, says: "As a composer I am interested in approaches to music and sound through film. I chose Cocteau as a subject because I was captivated by his films and interested in the Orpheus myth. Cocteau's own film of Orpheus is very funny and dark, littered with symbolic references to the Underworld and death."

 Librettist Roger Morris collaborated with Ed Hughes and the pair draw on some of the rich imagery developed by Cocteau in his Orpheus-inspired Orphée film trilogy. There are allusions, too to episodes from Cocteau's personal life, such as Cocteau's grief at the death of a young poet friend.


Notes for Editors

Cocteau in the Underworld will be performed as a 'Platform' event at the Brighton Festival on Monday 4 May 2009 at 9pm at the Pavilion Theatre, New Road, Brighton. For tickets visit the Brighton Festival ticket office

 Ed Hughes

Ed Hughes wrote the score to the classic Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin which featured in sold-out concerts in the Hove Engineerium in the Brighton Festival in 2005 and was released on Tartan Video in 2007. His 2004 Brighton Festival score Memory of Colour was nominated for a British Academy of Composers award and transferred to the Sydney Festival. His recent film music score for Glyndebourne and Photoworks, AUDITORIUM, was also nominated for a British Academy of Composers award. He lectures in Music at Sussex University. See: Ed Hughes

 Roger Morris

Librettist Roger Morris is an international author whose novels have been published by Macmillan and Faber and widely translated. Noted for his critically acclaimed novel A Gentle Axe (Faber), his recent book, A Vengeful Longing (Faber, 2008), was shortlisted for the CWA Duncan Lawrie Award.

For interviews, images etc please contact the University of Sussex Press office team - Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Danïelle Treanor. Call 01273 678 888 or email


By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 11 December 2009