University of Sussex Media Release.
. Opera premiere for music lecturer

25 June 2001
For immediate release

The world premiere of a stunning modern opera by a University of Sussex music lecturer takes place at the London Coliseum on July 4, 2001.

A Better Place, composed by Martin Butler, tells the story of a wealthy professional woman whose adoption of two Eastern European orphans coincides with a crisis in her marriage and a ghostly interference from the past.

The work, commissioned by the English National Opera, is the culmination of five years of improvisation workshops with actors and singers of the ENO. "Although this method has been used in theatre, it's unique for opera," says Butler. "I tried as much as possible to let the music come out of these sessions. We were working with such experienced and talented people that our ideas and the focus of the opera were being palpably shaped by them."

Butler and his librettist Cindy Oswin came up with the main themes, which were to do with individual acts of goodness, the displacement of people and modern taboos about death. Butler was keen to have a ghost element and they both liked the idea of setting the piece on the banks of the River Thames. The performers took these ideas further.

"My challenge was how the music might evolve around similar lines," says Butler. "Like most composers, I am used to being a control freak and my inclination is to deny any other influence on my work. But the intense experiences of these early workshops I took away and began to work with."

Butler, whose previous opera, Craig's Progress, was performed in 1994 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, is delighted to see his second chamber opera also premiered on the London stage. "It's very difficult to get new operas on a main stage," he says. "Most of the problems are with funding. I was lucky to have the ENO's support."

As for whether audience will enjoy the work, Butler is optimistic. "It's quite direct and the music is fairly straightforward," he says. "But there's also a new approach to opera these days. It's getting out of the stuffy opera houses and into different venues. It's returning to the sort social inclusiveness it originally had in the 19th century when it was enjoyed by the masses."

Notes for editors

For further information, please contact Martin Butler, Tel. O1273 606755 ext. 2618, Jacqui Bealing or Alison Field, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk or A.Field@sussex.ac.uk.

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