Susie Self’s brilliant new opera, Quilt Song, premiered on Friday, October 19, 2018, at the Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham, 100 years since the premiere there of Abraham Lincoln, the play by John Drinkwater from which much of the text for the opera is drawn. Woven around the assassination of Lincoln are the stories of Rosa Parks, civil rights activist, John Drinkwater himself as The Poet, his Muse, the bus driver James Blake, on whose bus Rosa took her fateful stand against racism, and The Boatman who ferries passengers across the River Styx. Mixing historical fact with fantasy, fabulous choruses, and beautiful solos, the opera blends musical styles and stories in a quilt-like fashion.
Listen also to Richie Anderson enthusiastically interviewing Susie Self and Maureen Brathwaite (who sings Rosa) on BBC Radio Birmingham. Click here: the segment starts at 1 hr 33 mins.
A new chamber opera by Susie Self premiered in Vienna on September 1st, 2016. Based on the novel by Will Self, the opera traces the bizarre trajectory of its hapless protagonist, Tom Brodzinski, as he falls prey to a cunning plot to deprive him of his family, his money and finally, quite a significant part of his mind. Is his wife in on the plot? Who is behind the sophisticated scam? Why does Tommy Junior have a scar running down the back of his head?
Musiktheatertage Wien, a festival of modern music theatre, is co-producing this staging of The Butt in the contemporary venue of Werk X together with Selfmade Music Theatre. Conducted by Susie Self and directed by Thomas Desi, the cast features six exceptionally talented opera singers backed up by two cellos, percussion and piano.
Tom Brodzinski, an ordinary man, is on a family holiday in an un-named imaginary country whose laws place an extraordinary emphasis on the control of smoking. Deciding to give up his filthy habit, Tom negligently flicks his final cigarette butt over the balcony of his holiday apartment. It lands on the head of an elderly man below, burning his scalp. Tom apologies profusely, but the old man (an honorary elder of the tribe of his wife) has to go to hospital where he ends up in a coma. Tom now finds himself on trial for assault, and possibly attempted murder, owing to the extremely harsh anti-smoking laws, combined with the notion, adapted from native beliefs, that there is no such thing as an accident. Tom is found guilty (wth the connivance of his wife, who appears in disguise as his defence lawyer) and must make reparations to the offended tribe, in person. He duly sets off and eventually arrives at the village where he falls into the hands of one of the architects of the scam, Von Sasser, who is not only a hare-brained sociologist with delusions of grandeur, but a self-taught surgeon with a penchant for lobotomies. Overwhelmed by his experiences, Tom surrenders to Von Sasser and his persuasive arguments, and eventually becomes a bum scrabbling in the street for cigarette butts. Alone and penniless, lobotomy has liberated him, in a final ironic twist of fate.
As a singer/songwriter, Susie Self’s influences range widely, from John Dowland, Stephen Sondheim, Joni Mitchell and k.d.Lang, to the minimalists Philip Glass and John Adams, as well as diverse world music and folk sources. Her songs explore very different moods using her own unique and exquisite harmonies and beautifully crafted melodies. Some of her music is meditative, some dramatic, some with timeless archetypal images. The overall effect is, paradoxically, both relaxing and stimulating.
For the Seachanges programme, she draws on the Seachanges CD, launched this October, as well as songs from previous albums. She normally accompanies herself on guitar, but the programme can also be given in an augmented format with the addition of cellist Michael Christie, or percussionist Chris Brannick, whose brilliant drumming features on the CD. Some songs are accompanied by original backing tracks.
A vocal workshop, Singing with Ease, is available in conjunction with Seachanges. This is a workshop for anyone who wants to be able to sing but has felt held back by shyness or nerves: one of Susie’s aims is to empower people and their belief in themselves through singing, and Singing with Ease has helped innumerable participants to achieve this aim for many years now. Through gentle group vocalisation, guided improvisation and simple vocal exercises everyone can rediscover their natural voice and reclaim it for themselves, at whatever age or present ability.
Six short music theatre pieces by different composers based on the stories of six famous or infamous women: Jackie Kennedy (Andrew Lovett), Maria Callas (Susie Self), Medea (Michael Christie), Mary Queen of Scots (Avril Anderson), Artemisia Gentileschi, 17th C painter (Susie Self) and Shirley Hawkins, shoplifter (Catherine Pluygers). Susannah Self played all six women, changing costume on stage between items. Many of the pieces involved video, prepared tape and slide projection. The work evolved by replacing some of the pieces with new commissions: Camille Claudel (Priti Paintal) and another one about Mary Queen of Scots (Avril Anderson). After an early experimental version was well-received at the University of Warwick, Extraordinary Women was premiered at the Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead, and was also seen at the Brighton, Buxton, Covent Garden and Dartington Festivals, and in Barcelona at the Festival of Pocket Opera, Teatro Malic.
Three By Three
Three pieces by three composers, sung by three singers, all based on the theme of women in society: the Pankhurst suffragettes, three women in a maternity ward and three prostitutes. David Bedford was commissioned to compose the Pankhurst piece ("My Mother's Sister"), Susie Self composed her piece "Three Women" based on a radio play by Sylvia Plath, and Michael Christie wrote the libretto for his piece "Playing the Game". The first performance took place in the Purcell Room in November 1994.
Physical theatre skills came into play as Susannah Self played all six characters, sometimes two at a time! Selfmade Music commissioned Steve McNeff to compose an hour-long piece for solo female singer plus computer-generated score, which premiered in London at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio in February 1996. Will Self’s early New Statesman cartoon strip Slump provided the basis for this satirical cross-dressing look at teenage angst and loopy philosophy, with a witty libretto by Andy Rashleigh." >
Slump has decided to stay in bed permanently, as a "protest" against a world apparently gone mad with a sense of its own power, and various friends and relatives troop in to try and persuade him to rejoin the outside world: his mother, best friend skinhead biker "Armpit", girlfriend Clara, Phil from the men’s group and psychiatrist brother all fail, in the end, to prise him loose from his smelly pit. Physical theatre skills came into play as Susannah Self played all six characters, sometimes two at a time! Selfmade Music commissioned Steve McNeff to compose an hour-long piece for solo female singer plus computer-generated score, which premiered in London at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio in February 1996. Will Self’s early New Statesman cartoon strip Slump provided the basis for this satirical cross-dressing look at teenage angst and loopy philosophy, with a witty libretto by Andy Rashleigh.
Peter Wiegold composed the music for this exploration of the Pope Joan legend, based partly on poems by Jo Shapcott, scored for mezzo, baritone and piano. Selfmade also commissioned an installation artist to create the environment for the work-in-progress showing in 1999 at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, using multiple slide projection, 100 meters of gauze and a multitude of candles! The performance was followed by a public discussion of the work-in-progress chaired by Artistic Administrator Michael Christie and with all the creative artists involved on the panel. This generated a great deal of interesting feedback and positive comment, and was an important new part of the performing philosophy being developed by Selfmade, to involve audiences more in the creation of new work.
Heroic Women - a unique one-woman show
HEROIC WOMEN is a piece of inspired and dynamic music theatre. Designed for small to mid-scale venues, the ensemble is effectively set up for touring with a transportable set, prepared tape, one singer and one technician. The show lasts about one action-packed hour, reeling from the sublime to fantastical. Seven 'Heroic Women' front the bill: Boudicca (Celtic Queen of the Iceni), Zenobia (Queen of Palmyra, Syria), Jeanne d'Arc, St. Teresa of Avila, Pope Joan, Emily Carr (Canadian painter) and Julian of Norwich (Mystic). Not only do we see the heroic side of these women but also we discover their dark and sexy secrets. As the show progresses it emerges that the ORDINARY WOMEN who serve the infamous ones pan out as the real heroines. Prepare for shocking revelations from Boudicca's cook, while a massage in Zenobia's bathhouse turns into an impromptu percussion improvisation on flesh! Nothing is predictable, even St Teresa's spiritual ecstasy with inner voices turns into a whipping fest. The text is multi-lingual making it ideal for international venues and festivals. Heroic Women received its international theatrical premiere at the Taipei International Arts Festival (Taiwan) in May 2002. It has since been performed in various UK festivals as well as in California, and was performed again in Mexico in February 2006.
Clips from Heroic Women, with thanks to YouTube
Heroic Women - Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
Heroic Women - Emily Carr
Heroic Women - Live Painting
Heroic Women - St. Teresa of Avila's Cleaning Lady
Heroic Women - Heart Chakra
Heroic Women - Pope Joan
Selfmade Music will be announcing new
production plans in due course.
Please watch this space!