There has been a small media fuss over Damon Albarn’s new opera on the life and times of the magician, mathematician and court advisor to Queen Elizabeth, Doctor John Dee.
The New Scientist reports;
The opera, Dr Dee, which premieres at the Manchester International Festival in the UK this week, was conceived when festival organisers approached graphic novelist Alan Moore – who created V for Vendetta and From Hell - to work on a new project about the life of an obscure but important figure from English history. Moore chose Dee as his subject, and Albarn, best known as the lead singer and songwriter of the bands Blur and Gorillaz, came on board to write the music. Moore later left “for reasons that we’re not quite sure of”, says Norris, but the seeds of the idea had been sown.
Well, Moore seems to have made his reasons very clear. At the University of Northampton last year, talking to Paul Gravett….
As a closing of this event, I should dash cold water on anybody’s dreams of this Doctor Dee opera with Damon Albarn and Gorillaz. It didn’t work out, shall we say. I wrote a third of it. I met up with them, long story short, they were very anxious that I should do something with them, and they suggested a superhero opera. And I said, well, I’m definitely not your man, I don’t want anything to do with those wretched creatures ever again. They said we want to do anything you want to do. I said I suppose you could do an opera about magic, and if you were going to do an opera about magic, it would have to be alchemy, as opera springs out of alchemy. I said, you could do something about an alchemist, and it’s the Manchester International Festival then a Manchester alchemist, Doctor Dee, who was up there for years in exile.
So they said perhaps if you could meet with us to discuss some ideas, at this point I thought, well actually, I’m doing this new magazine, it might be handy if Gorillaz were prepared to do a little quid pro quo., I am incredibly over-committed, but I could perhaps take this on. It sounds an enjoyable… conceptually enjoyable. And I’d be able to see whether or not I could write an opera or not and perhaps they’d do a couple pages for the magazine. So we met up, and I said, perhaps I’d be able to do the libretto without barely knowing how to spell the word, much less what it meant, and perhaps you could do something for Dodgem Logic and they said “fine”. I went away and started working like mad on this opera. It’s pretty good, the bit that I wrote will appear in the journal Strange Attractor, in the next issue I believe. But… I met with them two or three times while I was trying to get this done to their deadline.
Nobody had done anything else upon the opera. I hadn’t received a contract, and “libretto” was expanded to mean designing the stage, making suggestions for all the costumes, stage directions, the whole story, so this was practically like everything. And then we just got through to the point where I just met them, I said, yeah, I can get the other two-thirds of the opera written by the end of February, middle of March at the latest. It will mean working flat out, but I can do it. You still alright for that deadline for issue three? And they said yep, and it turned out they wouldn’t be able to make that issue three deadline even though we extended it for them for a little bit because they had too many commitments, so at that point I decided I had too many commitments as well. And since I had never received any money or a contract, I was alright saying, yeah, I’m pulling out of this although I believe that hasn’t stopped the circulation of a great deal of rumour in the press that I’m involved but I’m not. I did say to them, when they said what shall we do, you could go back to your original idea, an opera about superheroes, or failing that you can do your own opera about Doctor Dee, I don’t own Doctor Dee, I don’t own the concept of opera. So, they may well be making their best fist of it, but that’s why I thought it would be good to bring this little bit in Strange Attractor. It’s a bit like… non English members of the audience might have a little problem understanding this reference
We used to have a programme called Bullseye that had this host Jim Bowen, who cruelly, if players had failed to win the prize, said well, let’s see what you could have won…
Strange Attractor Journal Four can be bought here.
As to Jamie Hewlett, his split with Damon Albarn is a little more public, and I understand that he is happily ensconsced in Paris with a nine figure bank balance and a young French girlfriend. So he’s probably okay too…