History of the Present has been heralded by the Music Theatre Now jury as a significant winner for its ingenious blending of opera and film to explore the visceral narrative of political violence, infused with a potent feminist undertone. It is praised for its departure from visual stereotypes in favor of a ’sonic archive,‘ a creative choice that powerfully reconfigures storytelling within the digital limitations imposed by the pandemic era. The work stands out for its emphasis on the often-muted female labor and voices, offering a critical view of the exploitation of working-class stories, thereby presenting a charged political commentary that pushes the limits of traditional music theatre.
Maria Fusco’s libretto, born of her Belfast upbringing, together with Annea Lockwood’s eerie field recordings and Margaret Salmon’s evocative 35mm cinematography, weave a narrative that pays tribute to the historically overlooked. Set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s social and political fabric, the opera-film resonates with the harsh realities of The Troubles, shedding light on the strength and nurturing spirit present in communities touched by strife.
The jury lauds History of the Present for its artistic bravery and the subtle yet compelling incorporation of feminist narratives, celebrating its dedication to artistic excellence and its significant role in advancing the scope of music theatre. This project not only questions and extends the boundaries of narrative and memory within conflict zones but also solidifies the importance of female perspectives in crafting a more inclusive historical dialogue. The film is acclaimed as an integral contribution to the dynamic realm of music theatre, signifying the power of art to engender change and provoke profound understanding.
About History of the Present
History of the Present is an experimental opera-film made collaboratively by Maria Fusco and Margaret Salmon, featuring new compositions by Annea Lockwood and improvisational vocal work by Héloïse Werner. This intersectional, intergenerational feminist work forefronts marginalised working-class women’s voices to ask: who has the right to speak, and in what way? Layering sociological, cultural, and political themes from the recent history of Northern Ireland, the work exercises voice, breath, operatic articulations and field-recording through a range of 35mm film techniques and operatic articulations. Shot on location in Belfast and the Royal Opera House in London, History of the Present observes how defensive architecture defines movement to enforce intersectional histories and identities within daily experiences in conflict and post-conflict zones on an international level.
- Writer & co-director: Maria Fusco
- Composer: Annea Lockwood
- Co-director: Margaret Salmon
- Singer: Héloïse Werner
- Supported by the British Council, Creative Scotland, DFA Reconciliation Fund and the Royal Opera House, developed with the assistance of the Abbey Theatre/ Amharclann na Mainistreach.
April 19 2023, Belfast International Arts Festival, Northern Ireland
© Margaret Salmon