Black Feather Rising has its origins (as I remember) in a musical concept that had no need of a libretto. It began life as a possible commission from the Netherlands harpist Godelieve Schrama for a virtuoso work for solo harp. But in Param Vir’s inner hearing this soon began to attract to itself the sound of a female voice. So my first sense of the project, as he proposed it to me, was of a 30-35 minute scena for soprano and harp: nothing dramatic as such; rather, a tableau .
I had collaborated with Param Vir nearly 20 years previously, on a one-act music-theatre piece for the Munich Biennale. For us both, this collaboration had proved an exacting process – not only because of the dramaturgical difficulties inherent in the narrative we had chosen (essentially a contest between two instrumentalists), but also because of the creative and self-critical demands we were making of each other. The libretto evolved over a three-year period, undergoing seven comprehensive reworkings, each reworking itself several times revised. Yet the final version is in essence already visible in my first draft. And the work that we thus generated, Broken Strings , proved (I can honestly say) beautiful and masterly in performance on the space – and, more to the point, effortless-seeming and spontaneous: as though it had come naturally right first time. Which I think is how it should be.
For all that, when Param Vir suggested, in 2006, this further collaboration, I was reluctant. We had for years been endeavouring to develop a larger music-theatre project, and to secure backing for it, and had not succeeded; and after working five libretti for it, I was quite discouraged. But my reluctance lay deeper – in my decision, personal and private to me at that time, to abandon theatre for a more intimate genre. I had in fact already begun work on a stage-play that was telling me it would be my last. I consented to this new collaboration only because I understood it to be a non-dramatic work.