Between Worlds is the highly anticipated operatic debut from composer Tansy Davies, in collaboration with librettist Nick Drake and director Deborah Warner on the world premiere at London’s Barbican Centre on 11 April 2015.
In this sensitive, spiritual and ultimately uplifting journey inspired by the events of 9/11, a disparate group of individuals is trapped high up in one of the Twin Towers, caught between earth and heaven, life and death.
Described as possessing a ‘rare power to remind listeners of their own inner freedom’ (Guardian), Davies’ distinctive sound world combines unrestrained exuberance with emotional depth. Her requiem for choir, strings and electronics, As with Voices and with Tears, was nominated for a 2011 South Bank Sky Arts Award.
Nick Drake, librettist, explains the process and decisions he went through in creating the libretto for Between Worlds, a new opera inspired by the events of 9/11.
We all remember where we were on 9/11. So many lost, so much devastation. In one way or another, we were all changed by it. Now, nearly 14 years later, in New York new towers are rising on the site of the tragedy, and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, and the September 11 Memorial Garden in Grosvenor Square commemorate that day, and those who died, and their families.
The events of that day have variously inspired novels, films (notably United 93), countless documentaries – even a strip cartoon. Opera has always dealt directly with vast human emotions and experiences. It allows us to approach and reflect on difficult subjects, and almost unimaginable situations, with feeling and dignity.
Perhaps only opera can take us collectively to the emotional place where human beings in extremis confront life and death; to the place where words cease, and only singing and music can help us forward.
This gave us courage to imagine the story of that day as an opera. Between Worlds focuses on the relationships and emotions at the centre of the tragedy, inside and outside the towers. Our story centres on six fictional individuals whose days start like any other, but end in the most devastating of circumstances. Trapped on a high floor, they face the unimaginable possibility that they will never see their loved ones again. A Chorus acts as witness to events as they unfold.
We were acutely aware this was dark and perhaps controversial matter for any drama; but, horrified and moved by what happened on that day, we wanted above all to create an opera that was poetic, spiritual, and ultimately uplifting. We wanted to create a requiem for the inconsolable losses, and yet to draw some kind of light out of the terrible darkness – darkness which must be acknowledged, but might be held by the beauty and power of the music, in a cradle of spirit and love. Ultimately, this opera is about the enduring, transcending power of love.
But how to find words for something so unbearable, so unspeakable? The first answer came from the recorded material from that day; first-hand accounts, news and radio broadcasts, and above all the messages, released by WikiLeaks, which begin with the routine business of daily life – and then suddenly transmute into confusion, shock, terror, and finally the desperate need to communicate last messages of love. The heart-breaking poetry in these devastating, elemental communications inspired the DNA of the libretto.
Between Worlds is about a very contemporary event. But at the same time, it belongs to the universal story of human sorrow and grief to which art attests. The Latin Requiem Mass is the greatest text of all in this respect, and has inspired countless composers. So the libretto counterpoints, and sometimes collides, the two languages, the modern and the ancient, drawing on the timeless words of grief and consolation as a huge, ancient support.
Between Worlds explores the tragedy of 9/11, but it also reaches to the enduring, transcending power of love, and we hope leaves the audience deeply moved, and with a sense of hope.