The Poet Librettists
Many of the finest poets have written for the opera, even though it means playing second operatic fiddle to the composer. Michael Symmons Roberts finds out why.
Michael Symmons Roberts is one of our most accomplished poets, and has for some years also built a reputation as a first rate librettist, in collaboration with James Macmillan. In the course of his alternative operatic career he's had much time to consider why so many poets have decided to have a go at writing for the opera stage - even though the collaborative experience is often so alien to poets most comfortable writing alone. He meets some of the modern era opera's most illustrious practitioners, including Harrison Birtwistle, David Harsent, Alice Goodman as well as James Macmillan - and more skeptical voices such as Don Paterson, a prize-winning poet who has been highly reluctant in the past to have his own words set to music as he regards them to have their own internal music already. Michael also presents archive audio from perhaps the greatest poet-librettist of all, W.H. Auden, to try to establish precisely what it is that poets bring to the operatic table that other writers - such as novelists and playwrights - do not; he also investigates how writing for the voice rather than the page affects the writing style of poets.