By Grace Waters
We all know the gothic story of Frankenstein. However, I doubt that many of us have seen the story told through opera. Now Brixton-based composer of contemporary classical music, Robert Hugill, has provided us with exactly this. I met the man behind the score to find out more.
Robert Hugill’s eclectic opera, The Genesis of Frankenstein, made its premiere at the CLF Arts Café in Peckham, last month. An esteemed classical composer, Robert staged his opera with the Helios Collective, a socially and politically motivated collective who specialise in keeping opera and theatre relevant and exciting to today’s audiences.
The Genesis of Frankenstein traces the roots of Victor Frankenstein’s haunting obsession via three soloist singers and four instrumentalists, using words from Mary Shelley’s infamous novella. Talking to Robert, he tells me that the idea for the opera began to take shape when he was writing a piece about resurrection; finding himself stuck for words, he decided he would use other people’s perspectives, specifically Victor Frankenstein’s at the moment he creates his monster.
Robert Hugill first came to Brixton in 1986 as a director of a cabaret group. Having had two operas premiered to date (When a Man Knows and Song for David on his Birthday) he’s no stranger to London’s music scene. Robert credits his success, at least in part, to living in the hustle and bustle of SW2: “I couldn’t live in a little terraced house in the middle of nowhere – I have to be somewhere exciting and diverse. When you come out of the tube station, you know you’re in Brixton, you can’t mistake it for anywhere else.”
One of the most important things for Robert is the cultural diversity of Brixton, something which he tries to reflect in his work with the Helios Collective. When he first arrived, his neighbour was in a reggae band and influenced his own work. His own compositions strive to provide something for everyone that is completely accessible. Asked whether he thought opera was an elitist art form, Robert assures me his work with the Helios Collective is a celebration of variety and different cultures, a far cry from your standard opera fare.
Whilst his work may have wide appeal, it’s still very difficult to produce. Robert’s own advice is “to write good operas, do it badly and then learn from it”. The best opera composers are the ones that have been invested in and have been allowed to learn from their past mistakes.
What’s next for Robert? “Probably a bit of time to take stock,”, he laughs, as well as completing a mammoth set of 72 pieces (a whopping 45 hours of music!) that he hopes to put on his open access website, “for choirs all over the world to perform”. Find out more and listen to Robert’s work online: www.planethugill.com