Research by a University of Stirling academic has underpinned one of the first performances to be live streamed from the Royal Opera House.
Dr Gemma Robinson, an expert in Caribbean writing, acted as academic consultant to ‘The Knife of Dawn’, a one-person chamber opera inspired by the life and works of Guyanese poet and political activist, Martin Carter.
Created by one of Britain’s most exciting young composers, Hannah Kendall, the opera reimagines Carter’s imprisonment by the British government in 1953. The new production will be staged on Saturday 24 October in the Royal Opera’s new socially distanced autumn programme and will also be streamed online for a global audience.
Expert in Caribbean writing
The Knife of Dawn stands out in the opera world - for its nuanced, dynamic response to Carter’s lyricism, the pivotal historical moment it explores, and for expanding the repertoire available to black performers in the classical genre.
Dr Robinson, said: “Martin Carter is widely recognised as one of the most important poets of the Caribbean region. He is best known for his writing on protest, resistance and freedom. The opera draws creatively on his experiences as an imprisoned person living in a colonial world, and raises important questions about anti-colonialism, activism and male vulnerability.
“This production comes at a time when there is necessary and renewed attention on the lack of diversity and equality in classical music, and arts organisations more widely. The Knife of Dawn stands out in the opera world - for its nuanced, dynamic response to Carter’s lyricism, the pivotal historical moment it explores, and for expanding the repertoire available to black performers in the classical genre.”
During the development of the opera, the academic – whose research on Carter has been supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy – contributed to a documentary to accompany the Royal Opera House performance, advised the direction team on interpretations of Carter’s poetry, and delivered a presentation to the cast and crew on the significance of Carter in Guyanese history.
Dr Robinson’s scholarship and involvement in the project was intrinsic not only to the development of the project, but my own compositional practice. The Knife of Dawn being presented on the Royal Opera House stage demonstrates an important commitment to musical engagement through cultural discovery.
Carter, who was twice imprisoned by the colonial government of British Guiana, was one of the first Caribbean poets to connect resistance to enslavement to twentieth-century anti-colonialism. He later became a minister in Guyana’s first independent government, before resigning in disillusionment after three years to refocus on writing poetry. He died in 1997.
Ms Kendall said: “The Knife of Dawn is the most significant piece that I have written to date. As a composer of Guyanese descent, it was an instance in which I was able to deeply explore, actively draw-on, and incorporate aspects of my African-Caribbean heritage into my music for the first time; finding successful ways to reconcile the musical material within a Western Classical idiom.
“Dr Robinson’s scholarship and involvement in the project was intrinsic not only to the development of the project, but my own compositional practice. The Knife of Dawn being presented on the Royal Opera House stage demonstrates an important commitment to musical engagement through cultural discovery.”
Dr Robinson added: “This is a really important piece of work for the Royal Opera House to stage. Not only does it remind us how Guyana’s anti-colonial history is part of Britain’s story, it examines what it means to live an imprisoned existence, and how to imagine a free and just new world.”
The Knife of Dawn is directed by Ola Ince and features baritone Peter Brathwaite in the role of Martin Carter. Tickets to the performance and access to the live stream can be accessed on the Royal Opera House website.
‘University of Hunger: the Collected Poems and Selected Prose of Martin Carter’, edited by Gemma Robinson, is available from Bloodaxe.