Anyone Can See I Love You, a small-scale opera about the last days of Marilyn Monroe, gets its first workshop performance in Banff this weekend, with a performance by Faroese singer Eivor.
The work is being composed by Gavin Bryars, a U.K.-born, B.C.-based composer who has straddled the pop and classical worlds, beginning his music career with the likes of John Cage and Brian Eno and now well-known for his chamber and new classical music.
Monroe herself was in Banff in 1953 to shoot River of No Return. The blond bombshell actress went through a series of husbands and lovers before dying in 1962 of a drug overdose, an apparent suicide.
Bryars told CBC News he had only a layman's view of Monroe until he read the poetry of Marilyn Bowering, the Canadian poet.
"Marilyn [Bowering] was a neighbour on Vancouver Island, a novelist and she gave me a volume of her poetry, Anyone Can See I Love You and some of the poems deal with Marilyn [Monroe]," Bryars recalled. "It seemed to me there was material there for a chamber opera."
Anyone Can See I Love You had been made into a radio play by BBC Scotland, a play Bryars found "terrific."
"I liked the idea of doing something that is almost a kind of a solo piece — that spotlights just one person for the whole opera," Bryars said.
"I was also attracted by the idea of chamber opera. I've done three large-scale full evening operas. They're terrific, it's great, but they're a huge amount of work for very little reward at the end. You have five or six performances … but you spend a couple of years writing."
Bryars' full-length operas include G, Doctor Ox's Experiment and Medea.
Bryars said he works frequently with small groups in the U.K., including Opera North, which is always looking for smaller-scale, more portable operas.
He worked out the libretto with Bowering, who is at Banff to help with the piece as it emerges. He's been working feverishly on the score and has about half an hour of music, enough for two scenes of the opera, now completed. He is planning a one-act work of about 75 minutes, with a small cast and simple staging.
In this workshop production, a single singer, British baritone Richard Morris, plays three of the men in Monroe's life.
Bryars' first choice to play Marilyn was Eivor, a Faro Islands singer with an otherworldly voice with whom he's worked previously. She jumped at the chance to come to Banff.
"I decided we would not have a kind of operatic voice for Marilyn herself. We wanted someone who was able to sing in a quite intimate way almost internally as if singing into a microphone," Bryars said.
"She's a very versatile singer. A lot of the material she sings is folk material. She sings with a minimum amount of vibrato — it's a kind of pure early music kind of voice. But she does have classical training … and she has a big range."
Bryars said his mainly operatic score will incorporate some of the jazz and pop sounds of the 1950s and '60s. Monroe herself sang songs such Anyone can See I Love You, Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend and I Fall In Love Too Easily, but the rights to such properties are too expensive for a small production, he said.
The Victoria, B.C.-based new music ensemble Aventa is to play and will work with Bryars over the next year as the full opera emerges.
The period in Banff is a rare opportunity to have uninterrupted time for the composer, who juggles commissions in North America and Europe with family life in Vancouver Island and the U.K.
His next commission is music for a ballet by Edouard Locke's La La La Human Steps.
"I started out as a philosophy student and a jazz bass player, not a composer, so a lot of connections I make are from thinking in a slightly more oblique way," Bryars said.
"I used to have a rule that I would say yes to any project, then work out how on earth I could possibly do it. That way I find myself in very interesting company."
Anyone Can See I Love You will be performed Saturday evening in Banff, along with Bryars' 1969 composition, The Sinking of the Titanic. It will be performed in Vancouver and Victoria in 2012.
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