BEATING TIME © 2001 (re-write 2003)
Otto Klemperer, successful conductor, failed composer, manic-depressive, theatre revolutionary, survivor of the 3rd Reich, multiple near-death experiences and 87 years of adulation and mockery. Then...but what do you expect in an opera, a happy ending? ON-LINE SCRIPT
-on-line music project (estimate 90 mins).
Picture - set design for Die Fliegende Hollander, Kroll Opera.
Otto Klemperer; orchestral conductor, artistic revolutionary, magnet to musical and theatrical innovators, legend. He featured in a story by Thomas Mann, a sketch by Monty Python, his Beethoven 5th is still probing the outer reaches of our solar system onboard Voyager 1. A stranger to mental and physical health, he died more times than most people have lived. He is also one of my personal heroes. I was a musician and lover of music long before I considered the idea of being a playwright, coming to theatre via a passion for opera. I saw Klemperer perform many times in the opera house and concert hall but never met him. I particularly failed to meet him on the occasion of his 85th birthday despite his gruff insistence, backstage at the Royal Festival Hall, London. How could I, an atheist all of my adult life, have stood in that same room, there in the presence of a God?
NOW LOOKING FOR A STAGE.
UPDATED EDIT TO: 20 May 2007 14:37
The 'rejection letter' from his daughter, Lotte, was the one that appealed to me at the start of the writing process. I like the idea of "quite unreliable" narration as punctuation for the action and Lotte appears in this role as principle observer; always well-meaning but often over-protective. Some of the action is based upon dependable evidence from various sources, much of it repeated in the late Peter Heyworth's thorough biography, Klemperer's "Recollections" or both. The happy(?) coincidence of Lotte's actually rejecting any idea of a play about her father gave the writing process more edge.
The play has been the subject of a rigorous work-shopping process, during which severe criticism was made of the linear structure, episodic quality and lack of purpose. Some of these criticisms have been taken on board and script-in-hand reading by actors has permitted some fine-tuning. Call it finished, for now, although the opening shown on-line here is the first draft..
.Lotte Klemperer a rather more than footnote - has recently (July 2003) died. I thought I would mention this because, although the play is about her father and the minor role of "Lotte" in my play is but a caricature of a person who I respected but never met - she had arranged for us to have tea "some time when she next came to London".
Her influence on both Otto and this play is indisputable. Indeed, the play was partially inspired by correspondence between us, ending with her stubborn insistence that I should NEVER, NEVER write about (her) Papa's "long and hard life", in turn causing an otherwise helpful and encouraging EMI managers in London to flatly refuse permission to include any CDs from their extensive Klemperer range during future performances of BEATING TIME. This in turn inspired me to seek advise from Writers' Guild lawyers and eventual permission from the publishers of the principal biography before even submitting the text for a public reading.
Writers explore many avenues of research before deciding to commit to a new work, often deciding against an idea if it is too obscure or, in this case, too close to home. "Never write about your own heroes", is sound counsel, my Glass Hero, Victor Grayson, was the hero of a director I worked with who couldn't set down his ideas because his partiality would prevent inventiveness. Without Lotte I might have questioned the wisdom of continuing past the research stage, the usual burial ground for shelved projects. It was as much the stubbornness of Lotte in her attempts to silence me as it was the human catastrophes of Otto that inspired me to persevere with this play. It was, I guess, that same obduracy that allowed her to stand up to both her fallen giant of a father and a straight laced musical establishment whose attitude to his unreliability and many eccentricities would have otherwise buried him artistically and prevented many thousands, myself included, from ever seeing the miracle that was Otto Klemperer in live performance.
Shouldn't a play about a musician contain music? Yes of course. But what music should I choose?
Why not the work of the composer Klemperer? Composer? A recurring tragi-comic motif in the play is that he hated performance and really wanted to be a respected composer like his hero Mahler. Although I happen to own CD's and quite like some of his music I am aware that my musical opinion is in the minority. Everyone - Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Hindermith, Zemlinsky, Barenboim, even his own father - the only possible exception is Mahler - they either actively disliked or at most had little respect for his composition.
So what about the currently available CD's? I have shared the script with EMI, the company with which Klemperer recorded from the 1950's onwards. These current recordings had not available for play performances, due to EMI's contractual obligations to Lotte Klemperer and her obvious prior claim on their loyalty.
So why not use opera? Klemperer was a man of the theatre, concerned with modernisation and accessibility for all. This poses a different problem; should there be leitmotifs or clues for opera buffs and cognoscenti or theatrical mood music for the general public? My preference is for layering. People familiar with the chosen music can feel satisfied but the uninitiated won't feel completely left out.
And using musicians for acting? Just an idea, and one that I suspect Klemperer would have loved. Use opera singers to play "straight" roles; great experience and cross-training. And live music onstage.
Funding? Rights to perform? Please hit the "contact" picture for details
THE PLAY-SCRIPT - a health warning; an online script once stood here. Like Klemperer's life, the play has rambled and encountered many problems. Further changes will take place before this is ready for performance.
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