BBC Music Magazine

BACKSTAGE WITH… Composer Will Todd


The subject matter of Migrations, your new opera for Welsh National Opera, is a particular­ly pertinent one at present…

Yes! It was in fact originally commission­ed to coincide with the 400th anniversar­y of The Mayflower sailing over to the New World in 1620 – because a number of the places that WNO tours to are port cities and towns, the company felt it could extend the subject matter to a wider look at migration. But following the delays caused by the pandemic, migration is now even more topical than it was two years ago.

Can you describe the opera for us?

It’s a massive piece that combines and weaves together six narratives. As well as the strand involving the Pilgrim Fathers, we also have migrating birds, Syrian and Eritrean refugees in the present day, Indian doctors coming to work in the NHS in the late 1960s, a Cree Indian story set both in the 19th century and in the modern day, and a true story about a Caribbean house slave in Bristol in the 18th century and his attempts to escape.

That is quite a wide range of subjects for a librettist to take on board, isn’t it?

There are in fact six different writers who worked on the libretto! We started the process by literally sitting in a room together – it could seem like quite a hard way to write an opera, but what was so powerful was the passion that each of those indivuals had for writing their part of the story. And what I think makes the theme work so well is that with migration, there’s always that duality between going forwards for a positive reason but also that sense of having left something behind.

And to match such a wide range of narratives, do you also feature a varied array of musical styles?

Most of the segments tend to default towards operatic music, though there is a standalone section involving Bollywood music. For this, I collaborat­ed with the sitar player and composer Jasdeep Singh Degun, which I found a great help. There is also music for gospel choir, but that is something I already have a lot of experience of from my jazz and blues compositio­ns. There was, though, a requiremen­t for the music to have lot of different feels to it – if the music sounds samey when you move from one storyline to the next, you can risk losing those stories’ sense of identity.

 ?? ?? Story teller: Will Todd weaves six narratives into one opera
Story teller: Will Todd weaves six narratives into one opera

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom