The opera is based on a medieval Chinese lyric drama and tells the story of young lovers separated by an ambitious mother. When the young man goes to the city to acquire a profession, the soul of his lover accompanies him while the girl herself languishes at home. Only years later, when the youth visits home just as the girl is about to die, are she and her soul reunited.
For Opera Theatre Company's artistic director, James Conway, The Wall of Cloud assumed a special significance, partly because a collaboration with Raymond Deane had been in the works ever since The Poet and his Double, but also because of questions it forced OTC to confront. 'For whom do you make modern opera?' asked Conway. 'How and why should you do it? It's a case of trying to learn, over a course of time, how to integrate new opera into your programme so that you do it for an audience. I think that even people in the business aren't really aware that there's new stuff. That it's a living art form. I'd like to normalise it. I'd like it to be accepted that, just as theatre companies do new work, opera companies do new work. It's not weird. And just as a play uses language in a new way and people find it exciting, if the music of an opera is not familiar in its idiom, that too can be exciting.'
Conway described The Wall of Cloud as quite different from The Poet and his Double: less difficult and without irony. What Deane himself described as 'a feel-good story', Conway felt is a piece about the quality of loving kindness. 'It's a beautiful idea', he said. 'We worked on it for a week last March and I thought much of it was very beautiful.'
So too did Luigi Ferrari, artistic director of Wexford Festival Opera, who studied the score after Conway suggested a performance of The Wall of Cloud for this year's festival. Ferrari agreed, further adding to the opera's significance as Wexford widened its normally narrow parameters and welcomed a contemporary work by an Irish composer.
'We were delighted to give an opportunity for the work of Raymond Deane to receive exposure amongst Festival audiences', said Wexford's chief executive Jerome Hynes, who also welcomed the opportunity for Wexford to extend its existing relationship with OTC. 'Knowing the calibre of Raymond's work and of OTC from a production point of view, we were delighted that it formed part of our programme and the interest in it amongst audiences was very good.'
As well as in Wexford, The Wall of Cloud also received performances at the Dublin Theatre Festival (October 15 and 16) and -- in a first for OTC -- at Belfast's Waterfront Hall complex (BT Studio, October 18).
The cast comprised Colette McGahon (mezzo-soprano) as the Mother, Nicola Sharkey (soprano) as the Daughter, Sinéad Blanchfield (soprano) as the Soul of the Daughter and Eugene Ginty (tenor) as the Youth. The director was Jason Byrne from the Abbey Theatre, with designs and lighting by Johanna Connor and Paul Keogan. The Opera Theatre Ensemble was conducted by David Adams.