MALCOLM WILLIAMSON

Our Man in Havana

CAST

MILLY BRAMBLE - KATE AMOS

BEATRICE WESTON - ELIZABETH STANNARD-COHEN

JIM BRAMBLE  - MARTIN BUCKINGHAM

CAPTAIN SEGURA - STEPHEN MARSH

CARTER - RAPHAEL WONG

HAWTHORNE - MICHAEL LEIGHTON JONES

DR HASSELBACHER - MATT THOMAS

TERESA - JESSICA HARRIS

MELONS - ALISON LEMOH

JENKINSON - KERRY BOLTON

LOPEZ - CAMERON SIBLY

SHOES - TIM DALEY

TICKETS - MATTHEW HYDE

CHIEF - TIMOTHY NEWTON

CREATIVES

DIRECTION - SUZANNE CHAUNDY

DESIGN - LUCY WILKINS

LIGHTING - LUCY BIRKENSHAW

CHOREOGRAPHY - JOEL FENTON

CONDUCTOR - PAT MILLER

 
 

DATES AND TIMES

Saturday September 17th 7:30pm

Tuesday September 20th 7:30pm

Thursday September 22nd 7:30pm

Saturday September 24th 7:30pm

Atheneum 2, 188 Collins Street Melbourne

BOOK HERE

 
 

NOVEL - FILM - OPERA!

Our Man In Havana (1958) is a novel set in Cuba by the British author Graham Greene. He makes fun of intelligence services, especially the British MI6, and their willingness to believe reports from their local informants. The book predates the Cuban Missile Crisis, but certain aspects of the plot, notably the role of missile installations, appear to anticipate the events of 1962. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1959, directed by Carol Reed and starring Alec Guinness; in 1963 it was adapted into an opera by Malcolm Williamson, to a libretto by Sidney Gilliat, who had worked on the film.

Greene joined MI6 in August 1941. In London, Greene had been appointed to the subsection dealing with counter-espionage in the Iberian peninsula, where he had learned about German agents in Portugal sending the Germans fictitious reports which garnered them expenses and bonuses to add to their basic salary. One of these agents was "Garbo", a Spanish double agent in Lisbon, who gave his German handlers disinformation, by pretending to control a ring of agents all over England. In fact he invented armed forces movements and operations from maps, guides and standard military references. Garbo was the main inspiration for Wormold, (Bramble in the Opera) the protagonist of Our Man In Havana.

Remembering the German agents in Portugal, Greene wrote the first version of the story in 1946, as an outline for a film script, with the story set in Estonia in 1938. The film was never made, and Greene soon realised that Havana – which he had visited several times in the early 1950s – would be a much better setting, the absurdities of the Cold War being more appropriate for a comedy.

More information here

THE FILM

Our Man in Havana is a 1959 British film shot in CinemaScope, directed and produced by Carol Reed and starring Alec GuinnessBurl IvesMaureen O'HaraRalph RichardsonNoël Coward and Ernie Kovacs.The film is adapted from the 1958 novel Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene. The film takes the action of the novel and gives it a more comedic touch. The movie marks Carol Reed's third collaboration with Graham Greene. The film was shot on location in Havana, just two months after the overthrow of the Batista regime, and on 13 May 1959 Fidel Castro visited the film crew when they shot scenes at Havana's Cathedral Square.

More information here

THE OPERA

Sadler's Wells Theatre, London commissioned the opera from the prolific young Australian composer Malcolm Williamson in 1961. The libretto was compiled by Sidney Gilliat, who had collaborated with Graham Greene on the screen play of the film. The opera premiered in July 2nd 1963 was considred 'the most promising first opera since Peter Grimes' .Despite its initial success, the opera's fate was linked to the professional demise of its composer. A popular orchestral suite is occasionally perfomed and offers an exciting glimpse of the riches within the score:

 
 
 

THE COMPOSER

Malcom Williamson was born in Sydney in 1931; his father was an Anglican priest, Rev George Williamson. He studied composition and horn at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. His teachers included Eugene Goossens. In 1950 he moved to London where he worked as an organist, a proofreader, and a nightclub pianist. In 1952 he converted to Roman Catholicism. From 1953 he studied with Elisabeth Lutyens and Erwin Stein.

 

His first major success was with his Piano Concerto No. 1, premiered by Clive Lythgoe at the 1958 Cheltenham Festival to a standing ovation. Williamson was a prolific composer at this time, receiving many commissions and often performing his own works, both on organ and piano.

In 1975, the death of Sir Arthur Bliss left the title of Master of the Queen's Music vacant. The selection of Williamson to fill this post was a surprise, over other composers such as Benjamin Britten (whose compositional inactivity and terminal illness were not then publicly known), Michael Tippett and Malcolm Arnold, such that William Waltonhad remarked that "the wrong Malcolm" had been chosen. In addition, Williamson was the first non-Briton to hold the post. He wrote a number of pieces connected to his royal post, including Mass of Christ the King (1978) and Lament in Memory of Lord Mountbatten of Burma (1980). However, controversy attended his tenure, notably his failure to complete the intended "Jubilee Symphony" for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. He became less prolific in "Royal" works during the last twenty years or so of his life, although he never completely ceased to take interest in writing music for the Royal Family. 

 

His overall compositional output slowed considerably due to a series of illnesses. He died in 2003 in a hospital in Cambridge. He was widely reported to have been an alcoholic. Williamson married an American, Dolores "Dolly" Daniel, in 1960 and they had one son and two daughters.

Williamson had a number of relationships with both sexes, both before and after his marriage. After his marriage broke down in the 1970s, “a deep relationship with musician and publisher Simon Campion helped sustain him through the inevitably stormy periods, both in Australia and in England, that characterised the final stages of his career.

He had a series of strokes that left him wheelchair-bound, and he spent his final months in hospital. His funeral was not attended by any representatives of the Royal Family.

More information here

Read Julian Day's excellent article on Williamson "Our Man at the Palace" from Limelight here.

 

THE PLOT

 

ACT 1

 

Set in the cuban capital of Havana in the last days of he Batista regime, James Bramble is an English vacuum cleaner salesman for 'Phast-Kleeners'. His beautiful, devout but materialistic daughter Milly has caught the eye of Captain Segura of the secret police but she has her eyes only a new horse, Seraphina. Bramble is approached by Hawthorne from the British Secret Service offering him work as 'Our Man in Havana'. Since Bramble does not make enough money to pay for Milly's extravagances, he accepts the offer of a side job in espionage.

At the suggestion of his friend and World War I veteran, Dr. Hasselbacher, Bramble fakes his reports using information found in newspapers and invents a fictitious network of agents from the phonebook. 

ACT 2

In London, MI6 are delighted with the trove of new information and in particular the drawlings of fiendish new machines, that happen to look like enormous vacume cleaners. London decide to send Bramble a secreatry, Beatrice to assist.

 

Despite not selling any more vacuum clearners, business appears to be going well. However, strange accidents begin to happen to ordinary people who share the same names as Bramble's imaginary agents. Hasselbacher's flat is ransacked as one by one the 'imaginary' agents vanish.

ACT 3

Hawthorne returns and informs Bramble that he has proof of his success - they have uncovered a plot to poison Bramble at a trade function that evening. Bramble attends the function trusting no one but it is Hasselbacher who meets his end while trying to save his friend.  

Captain Segura notes the coincidence between Bramble and 'accidents' and offers to discuss it that evening, as he asks for Milly's hand.  Bramble proposes they play a game of draughts using miniature bottles of Scotch and Bourbon as the game pieces, where each piece taken has to be drunk at once. Eventually, Segura (who is the much better player) ends up drunk and falls asleep. Bramble takes his gun a. Bramble phones Carter pretentding to be Segura and ask his to meet him.  

 

After a confrontation shoots him with Segura's pistol. He misses Carter and is about to leave, but Carter shoots back, and Bramble shoots and kills him. 

Bramble returns to his appartment and informs Captain Segura that it is his turn at checkers. 

 
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© 2018 by Lyric Opera of Melbourne