Bliss – Dean
‘the libretto is brilliantly fecund…. Amanda Holden’s text is one of the opera’s strongest features…’
‘… first novel by Peter Carey, skilfully made into a libretto by an English past master of the trade….’
‘Dean has an… acute ear for words and Amanda Holden’s confidently unadorned lyrics… deserve the respectful attention they receive.’
Observer – on Songs of Joy
‘Holden’s text…. an ideal framework for Dean’s score.’
‘Bliss… good news for anyone who believes in opera’s future.’
Bliss is the first opera by the Australian composer Brett Dean. Its inspiration was the first novel by Peter Carey, the Australian novelist and twice Booker prize winner.
The work was commissioned by Opera Australia and its premiere took place at the Sydney Opera House on 12 March 2010. The production, by Neil Armfield, was designed by Brian Thomson with costumes by Alice Babidge, and conducted by Elgar Howarth. Peter Coleman-Wright created the role of Harry Joy, Merlyn Quaife his wife and Lorina Gore his muse, Honey B.
The production – which received eleven nominations for the opera in Australia’s annual Helpmann awards – went from Sydney to Melbourne and then to the Edinburgh Festival in September. A second production, directed by Ramin Gray and conducted by Simone Young – who commissioned the opera when she was at Opera Australia – opened at the Hamburg Staatsoper on 12 September 2010.
AH: I drafted the libretto in 2007 and the music was swiftly written the following year. Dean had been planning the opera for some time and had already written an orchestral suite – Moments of Bliss – examining key moments in the narrative, premiered in 2004. As Dean was also commissioned by Sir Simon Rattle to write a piece for his concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in Liverpool on 2 October 2008, he and I wrote Songs of Joy, three arias for the main protagonist – Harry Joy – for this occasion before completing the rest of the opera.
The opera’s finale – Song of Joy 3
Sonnet (after Milton)
At evening mortal memory takes its course
and settles in time’s capsule, neatly locked;
and yet the stings of sorrow and remorse
remain, reminders of a past that shocked.
With my existence humbled by the trees,
contented here, I toil for my queen
to nurture perfumed blossoms for her bees
until the day I vanish from the scene.
And when at last I take that final breath
and disappear eternally above,
it will be just a passing breeze, this death
that carries me away from my true love.
If you would seek salvation, remember this:
a life in Hell can still aspire to BLISS.
Bliss was broadcast on 16 April 2011 by BBC radio 3. The performance was taken from the Edinburgh Festival September 2010 performances by Opera Australia and the BBCSO