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A powerfully moving drama with a clear melodic line, this substantial recital piece is a wonderful vehicle for an unaccompanied, solo soprano to display both her acting and singing talents.
Jack’s Visit portrays a woman in extreme old age sitting alone in a care institution.
Her story unfolds as she day-dreams about the past but she knows the truth of her situation in the present. She is alone, unwanted and afraid.
Jack’s Visit is a concert drama: music-theater for solo, unaccompanied soprano, performed on the concert stage without special lighting, costume or props except a chair.
Jack’s Visit was directed as a concert drama by Nicholas Hytner for performance at the Buxton Opera House.
Click to read and listen to an extract
The music at a glance:
"I found his work interesting, stimulating and sometimes very beautiful (particularly his work for unaccompanied soprano called Jack’s Visit). He has a great awareness of the words he is setting, and commitment to the dramatic possibilities of his text."
Penelope MacKay soprano, AGSM.
More of what Penelope MacKay has to say can be read here: Solo Voice Feedback.
"composed with passionate intensity"
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH [London]
"effective because of its reflection of real life"
Stephen Pettitt, THE TIMES [London]
Placing in the voice
In an unaccompanied solo as long as this one the singer’s pitch is very likely to wander from time to time. Learning the piece at the correct pitch will place it in the voice so it is unlikely to wander far and all the shapes and phrases will be correct in themselves.
The acting requires passion and committed focus. I would rather the pitch stray a bit than the passion and drama are lost in getting the pitch right throughout.
Of course a singer with perfect pitch will have no such problem.
Jack’s Visit is a tonal work built around the polarity of A.
It is in three sections: an exposition and two different developments ending with a very short coda.
It is constructed out of recurrent phrases, many of which, but not all, correspond to repeated phrases in the text.
The music follows the natural lilt of speech, and at the same time endows every phrase with the appropriate characterisation and emotional weight, sometimes by direct repetition, sometimes by repeating the music with different words.
For example, the pathos of her positive but despairing cry for reassurance
which occurs in Section One, is repeated to intensify her negative cry of greater despair
which occurs in both Sections Two and Three.
She experiences a wide range of emotions, from pride in her husband as expressed in the bold rising phrase
to the wilful resentment of his death, expressed in a rising chromatic phrase in the tersely begrudging dotted notes
A dramatic point is often made by increasing the chromatic or rhythmic intensity but the harmonic language can also be free of chromaticisms, as at the line:'How’s Madge, and Rodney – how’s Amelia'which is pure D major, a touchingly relaxed moment of unaffected simplicity.
A very old woman sits napping and day-dreaming in a care institution of some kind. Her thoughts are vigorous, skipping between where she is now and her own house as it was years before.
At the start, in the world of her memories, she's lying in her own bed at home, dreaming of the more distant past when her husband was alive:'Sing for me Albert.'
Her son Jack arrives to visit her for the first time in a long while, and she teases him about his age:You're looking old, Jack. I thought it was your father.' This sends her off into reminiscence about Albert, who 'died here in this bed, died here in his own house.'To throw off these thoughts she rouses herself and calls for Connie, her daughter, to bring Jack some tea.
Her mind returns to the present, and we catch a quick glimpse of her as a cranky patient before she drifts back again into the world that was her own, but agitated by the fear that the (real) doctors might be coming soon.
She discovers that Jack has kept from her the deaths of some of their relatives which upsets her so much that she becomes totally confused. Dread of the doctor and impatience for the tea'Connie! Hurry up with it.' are swept away by a more pressing need - for the bucket.
In a few moments she knows that she has made a scene (in the present). She tries to recover her dignity by going over her usual memories:'Hello Jack. You've come to see me.' but she has gone too far. Jack, in her fantasy, is leaving'Stay a bit longer, Jack. Jack!' and soon the doctor has arrived'I'm alright doctor. Why have you come to see me?'.
Faced with the doctor's question, she tries to show that she's all right. To prove it, she says she knows that Jack's dead:'They're all dead. I'm the last one to go’. This, however, doesn't prevent the treatment:'No. What's if for? I don't like needles.'
At the end she slips quietly into the same reverie that started the piece.
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