A snippet from the new opera, The Boats: I Will Try You. Dogs that won’t behave and hand clapping skills. The Smiths and How Soon Is Now. Emergency couples therapy, The Marriage Of Figaro and fishing boat captains. The inner voice revisited. La Boheme revisited. Bring on the soaring guitars.
Roger CortonPower chords.
RCIt starts out with the hand clapping.
JCHSo it’s breakfast and Móirín and Ciarán are doing what lots of households do, having a fight whilst taking care of chores. In this case she’s calling in one of the dogs.
RCFrom the farm.
RCWell, it’s not really a farm. But yeah, the property where sheep graze. Sheep dogs. And the dog isn’t minding and it’s exasperating. So she’s clapping that pattern over and over. And that blends in with her telling off Ciarán. But his mind is off somewhere else. It’s just this background noise.
RCThe repeated pattern. I see. And she’s had enough with the whole bank revolt?
JCHRight. It gave him a heart attack. So there’s this point in every marriage where you have a spouse like him who’s being self-destructive and you’ve tried to be supportive but you’re just fed up and then you have to put yer foot down and say, “Stop fucking around!”
RCSo it’s a pun, obviously.
JCHCiarán starts out saying over and over “I will try. I will try.” In Irish that’s the expression for “Yes, Dear. OK, Dear. Anything you say, Dear.”
RCBut then it morphs into “I will try you.”
JCHRight. That’s his inner monologue.
RCBut you said last time we talked that you weren’t going to do that. You said that that is what ‘real’ operas do and you weren’t going to do that.
JCHI had my fingers crossed behind my back, OK? It’s here because it’s obvious.
RCThe pun is obvious?
JCHThe fact that he’s talking from inside his head is obvious. When Mimi is singing her guts out on her death bed in La Boheme, you don’t know that it’s her inner voice unless you walk into the show knowing the ground rules, but you don’t need that here. Anybody who’s ever been married will take one look at Ciarán and know what’s the what.
RCSo then it takes off with a really soaring melody.
JCHThat’s Móirín. Nothing ‘inner’ there. She’s letting loose.
RCNow why all the throbbing? It reminded me of The Smiths. How Soon Is Now.
JCHExcept with bassoons. I guess I could say it has all this multi-layered symbolism, but for me, it’s just the constant pounding I feel in my right temple these days (laughs). Let’s just say that our hero has a lot on his mind these days.
RCSo the clapping builds into this repeating pattern. And then the ‘you’. I get it. So then you have these bits where I guess she breaks into that.
JCHRight. Like I said, she’s fed up. It’s OK to zone out on yer spouse sometimes, but every once in a while you have take them seriously.
RC(laughs) Preach, brother.
JCHAnd not to go too far astray, but this is actually the “love story” part of the show.
JCHWell, couples who are going to make it reach this stress point and either a) Móirín leaves or b) Móirín complains and Ciarán just keeps ignoring her and then she leaves.
JCHOr you have that moment where yer husband rolls over and shows his soft belly. (laughs)
RC(laughs). So is that the waltz business at the end of this snippet?
JCHRight. When Móirín makes it clear, this is one time she’s about to walk, Ciarán finally snaps out of it enough to tell he gets the message–even to try ‘courting’ her again a bit. And that’s another part of that whole “love story” business.
RCBecause she falls for it? (laughs)
JCHBecause he’s being sincere. It’s something that comes up again and again in Mozart’s operas and I had to rob from it. In Marriage Of Figaro there are several couples that have been together a long time. And they get angry for different reasons, then find a way to forgive one another. And it would seem preposterous to us unless we accept the premise that, hey she’s been with this shmo for twenty years already and she knows whether or not his “mea culpa” is sincere or not. So if she really buys it, we have to buy it. The writing is great that way. If it were a crap opera, we’d say, “Don’t do it girlfriend!” (laughs).
RCThat never occurred to me. You’ll hear someone say “, don’t judge me!” all the time and that’s very true.
JCHThat’s the thing. They’re really solid. He’s taken it to the edge, but we need to see that he’s not fucking Ahab. He knows when to quit. And by the way, that’s the mark of a good fisherman as well.
JCHYeah. They never get obsessed like you see on those stupid reality TV shows. If you get too nuts about anything, people die. It was essential to me to have a scene that shows clearly that Ciarán’s head is screwed on tight.
RCCool. I think we got it. Any last words? Music? Arrangement?
JCHWell, there’s always the whole “Where’s the guitaaaaaaar”? whinging and this is one example of a place where I think the guitar functions properly as a member of the band.
RCWhich is what you’re always driving at.
JCHRight. The thing I always think about when I’m arranging this stuff is, “Which instruments are the right fit?” And in this case, I found this space where that needed that ‘soaring’ thing for just a few bars–nothing else can perform that function in quite the same way. And that’s when it feels organic. And when that happens? I honestly could give a shit about the ‘shred factor’. It’s just so satisfying to have a part that fits.
RCSo then all that’s left is just trying to make it pretty.
JCHYeah, that’s “all” it takes with any of this stuff (laughs).