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Blog: How I rewrote a Mozart opera about Kim Kardashian
Following a run in London last month (and as it is currently playing as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), lyricist Leoe Mercer writes about how he, along with writing partner Stephen Hyde, adapted Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro to be about Kim Kardashian's marriage to Kris Humphries.
Mark Shenton recently quoted his interview with Jeremy Sams in which Sams says new musicals "either sound like Stephen Sondheim or they've been so influenced by him that his ghost is there in absentia". Sondheim rightly responds that plenty of musicals stand outside of his shadow, but the truth is that for young musical writers like myself and Stephen [Hyde], trying to write an artier form of musical, it has taken a conscious effort to not write like him. Indeed, Stephen plays himself in The Marriage of Kim K, as someone trying to write a 21st century musical/opera. "But where do I start??", he asks - and for us, that's been key: actively finding a new starting point, rooted in the realities of the 21st century that we've both grown up in.
During auditions, we'd ask people what music they like. Almost everyone answered with a variant on, "Um, to be honest pretty much everything, haha”. We're part of a generation that doesn’t care about genre - yet most of what we listen to and watch sits within one genre or another. We just learn to navigate the boundaries, in a genre-flitting act that is the premise of what is essentially a 21st century musical meta-genre. The same is true with stories. Don't tell anyone, but I'm proud of my tiny attention span: the fact we multi-tab incessantly between stories online is actually the skeleton of a 21st century narrative form. The Marriage of Kim K is Stephen’s and my first attempt to create a show that, like the lives we lead, relishes constant jumps between stories and genres.
Actually, this piece began two years ago. I was searching for a reliable composer to work with, after a series of flakey ones. Mozart, his music already written, seemed a prime candidate (lyricists: there's nothing as reliable as a dead composer!). I trusted myself to follow Mozart's melodies and disregard the original libretto entirely: Mozart's melodies imply their own meaning, you just have to excavate it from the notes, and find the English words that pointedly capture it.
I created the new three-story narrative to piggyback on Mozart's music, but it seemed like creating three musical styles would be the natural next-step. At first, Clem Faux added an inventive pop element to the score for its first production last year. Peppering the score with Kanye quotes, it began our obsession with bringing a form of sampling into music theatre with his Kanye quotations (which Stephen and I are pushing further in our next production, Queueue: A Coffee Shop Musical.) After this, Stephen and I pushed The Marriage of Kim K, with full-scale rewrites of the original Mozart. We've ended in a deeply felt conclusion: that we want to create genuinely genre-bending works, works that navigate the map of genres that we as 21st century creators inherited from 20th century creators.
The truth is, this piece was initially intended as a satire. But, as the Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter noted, the show has become more 'anti-snobbery and pro-generosity of spirit.' We've engaged more openly with the things we'd been culturally conditioned to disdain. If you begin with an openness to any form of culture, you can come to understand it, and Stephen and I believe that any music can be repurposed and any story retold. Amelia, Stephen's girlfriend onstage and off (in our cheeky reality theatre twist), sings: "sometimes understanding people's impossible, unless you love them first."
By Leoe Mercer. The Marriage of Kim K runs at C Venues until 28th August.
Photo courtesy: Shay Rowan
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