Leeds Forum

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

"it's about the reality of motherhood and childbirth"

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.

Mara Carlyle

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.”

Toby Litt

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 mus

Posted on Thursday 21st April 2011

Howard Assembly Room

Grand Theatre, 46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU

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