Preview Life Cycle, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
A new Opera North commission featuring Mara Carlyle looking at the fears and wonders of motherhood
Preview: Life Cycle, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
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With the huge success of the Channel 4 series ‘One Born Every Minute’, birth and motherhood are, more than ever, capturing the interest and pricking the curiosity of this country. A new collection of songs called Life Cycle is looking into motherhood and investigating both the positive and negative sides.
Commissioned by Leeds’ very own Opera North, Life Cycle was written by author Toby Litt and highly regarded young composer Emily Hall and is performed by singer Mara Carlyle, cellist and Southbank Centre artist-in-residence Oliver Coates, and pianist John Reid.
The 20 short songs will each be accompanied by films and deal with different aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood and will be performed at the Howard Assembly Room on 27th May.
Singer Mara Carlyle released her debut album back in 2004, but her recording career has been hit by a number of setbacks since then. She’s recently enjoyed a surge in popularity thanks to her song ‘Pianni’ being featured in a recent Ikea ad (see below) and newscaster Jon Snow picking one of her pieces, ‘Bowlface en Provence’, on Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ (listen again here).
The IKEA ad featuring Mara Carlyle’s song Pianni
We speak to Mara about the Life Cycle project, and ask her how she first got involved. “I met Emily and Toby about a year-and-a-half ago,” she says. “We did a performance at Aldeburgh, and residency at Aldeburgh, then a performance of some of Emily and Toby’s love songs and that was playing with Oliver Coates and John Reid as well.
“We all hit it off both personally and musically pretty instantly actually. Then Toby and Emily had been planning this song cycle and decided that I was the voice that they wanted to write it for, which was obviously hugely flattering. Over the last few months we’ve workshopped it and rehearsed it and it’s incredible, it’s an amazing piece of work.
“It’s a pretty universal subject matter and I personally liked the idea that it was as dark as it was light; I thought that was a really refreshing angle and from a performance point of view gives me a lot more to work with as a performer. It’s a larger emotional range and I can’t think of anything like it. It’s a really original idea.
“It can be over-sentimentalised, which wouldn’t really be my cup of tea – this is much more real and is about the reality of motherhood and childbirth, all of those things. That appeals to me more as a person, as well as a singer.”
It’s perhaps surprising that these songs, all about a mother’s role in carrying and caring for her child, are written by a male writer, Toby Litt, but Mara isn’t surprised at how well Litt manages writing from a female perspective. “He seems to have an innate understanding of how it feels for a woman,” she says. “But, I don’t have children myself, so I would be in even less of a position to write about these things. As a father, he’s clearly very qualified to write about parenthood. He’s a sensitive human being and I think he does an incredible job. I don’t think it would be obvious that it had been written by a man.”
Life Cycles comes to Leeds having already had its debut performance at the South Bank centre in London, where the audience response, Mara says, was “brilliant”. She continues: “People were very, very moved, there was quite an emotional response. It’s a very, very emotional work. It’s not just about the music and the words, there’s a visual aspect. Netia Jones designed the set and designed the projected visuals that accompany the show – which are absolutely beautiful and are like a third part of the performance in a way. They’re really extraordinary. I was really pleased with how people responded. I think people think it’s quite original, there’s nothing there to really compare it to. Particularly the musical space it occupies, it’s in quite a unique spot. It’s sort of contemporary classical, I have a bit of classical training, but I’m not a classical singer, really. It’s got that quality of being both quite new and unfamiliar, yet very familiar sounding.
“Emily writes very simply, but quite deceptively simple. Her music can sound quite simple, but it’s actually extraordinarily detailed and really unusually arranged. Equally my voice is quite soft sounding, so it’s something that a lot of people would enjoy listening to, but it’s actually pretty original and unique, but not alienating.”
Clips and audience response from the Life Cycle premiere at the South Bank Centre
Mara Carlyle’s New Album
The Leeds performance of Life Cycle is the last booking for the piece so far, and once it’s finished, Mara can turn her attention back to her solo work as a singer and composer. “I have an album that I finished…” she begins. “I had a bit of a nightmare basically with the music industry. I was signed to EMI. Three years ago I finished recording a record for them which was an absolute labour of love. It took a long time to write and a long time to record. It was due to come out at completely the time that Guy Hands and Terra Firma took over EMI, and my album got completely lost in the chaos.
“It was stuck in legal limbo for months, it took a long time to get it back and it was a really heartbreaking process actually. By the time I did get it back the record industry had disappeared entirely and so the last couple of years have been trying to find the right home for the record.
“I’m literally in the process of about to be signing a deal. It’s not signed yet, but the record is going to come out in July. I can hardly believe I’m telling you this, it’s been a very long and tortuous process to get to this point and I can scarcely believe that it’s going to happen. Until it does happen, I won’t believe it at all.”
Watch a Life Cycle trailer here
Life Cycle, 27 May, Howard Assembly Room, 7.45pm, £10, book here
Mara Carlyle’s second album will be out in June, www.myspace.com/maracarlyle
Posted on Thursday 21st April 2011
Grand Theatre, 46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU
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