The Royal Opera’s new opera, Last Days, based on Gus Van Sant’s 2005 film of the same name, is a new take on the film’s fictionalised account of the last days of a musician, loosely based on the life and death of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of grunge band Nirvana, who committed suicide in 1994. The production forms part of the Royal Opera’s 2022-23 season.
The Royal Opera House (ROH) has now announced full production details for this world premiere which brings a modern tale of self-destruction to the opera stage. It is a co-production between the Royal Opera and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Last Days was composed by ROH/Guildhall School composer-in-residence Oliver Leith, with a libretto by Matt Copson. The production will be directed by Copson and Anna Morrissey. Regular Leith collaborator Jack Sheen will conduct strings orchestra 12 Ensemble, with guest musicians George Barton on percussion and Siwan Rhys on piano.
Set designs are by Grace Smart, with lighting designed by Prema Mehta.
The opera tells the story of Blake, a musician who has recently escaped rehab to return home. But he is haunted by objects, visitors and memories distracting him from his true purpose – self-destruction.
In her West End debut, French actor Agathe Rousselle takes on the non-singing role of Blake. She is joined on stage by sopranos Patricia Auchterlonie as Superfan and Mimi Doulton as Delivery Driver and Housemate, mezzo-soprano Kate Howden as Mormon and Housemate, tenor Seumas Begg as Mormon and Housemate, bass Sion Goronwy as Groundskeeper and Private Investigator, baritone Edmund Danon as Housemate, and actor Henry Jenkinson in the non-singing role of Magician. Auchterlonie, Doulton and Goronwy are all alumni of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Composer Leith, who describes himself as a huge Nirvana fan, commented: “Everything in the world of Last Days is musical – from cereal bowls to bin bags – except for Blake, our lead, who simply mumbles. The music mumbles and murmurs too in a bittersweet haze.
“The pit score is written for my long-time collaborators, 12 Ensemble (strings), George Barton (percussion) and Siwan Rhys (piano/synthesiser), together creating a very particular quality – trying to make the opera sound like it might look.”
Librettist Copson added: “I wrote Last Days as an existential farce. A tragedy infused with both the absurdities and banality of death and life. A battleground of the contradictions which form the world around us playing out in the maze of an opera. I hope it’s a total assault on the senses.”
Last Days opens in the Linbury Theatre on 7 October and runs to 11 October. Tickets are on sale now, costing from £15. The ROH states that the production is suitable for ages 16 and above, and it contains depictions of mild drug use and nudity, swearing and themes of suicide.
The performances will also feature a record played on set, composed by Oliver Leith and sung by American songwriter, producer and singer Caroline Polachek. Accompanied by the 12 Ensemble, recorded by Dave Rowell, produced by Danny L Harle, and mastered by Heba Kadry, the limited-edition LP will be available to purchase.
An Insight into Last Days will precede the opera’s world premiere. Audiences can join composer Leith and librettist and director Copson to learn more about the production. The Insight takes place in the ROH’s Clore Studio on 27 September.
Composer Oliver Leith, and directors Matt Copson and Anna Morrissey will bring their new opera Last Days to the Royal Opera House in October (Camilla Greenwell).