Festival Hot Seat… Breaking the Rules
Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, composed some of the most intense and glorious music of the Renaissance. He was also a brutal killer, and the full horror of his crimes stands in stark contrast to his astonishing music. We talk to Clare Norburn, the author of The Marian Consort’s Breaking the Rules to find out more about this unique show…
How and where will it be staged?
In All Saint’s Church, Hove (very fitting as the play is set part in Gesualdo’s chapel and partly in his head!) – it is half a concert/half a one man play – and our wonderful director Nicholas Renton (best known for his TV work on Musketeers, Lewis and George Gently) has staged it so that the music and text are really blurred and we try to bring the action around the audience. We want the audience to feel that Gesualdo is really speaking to them personally.
Why should someone come and see your show?
Well, our pilot performance and preview have had a really amazing audience reaction. People are fascinated by the story and seem to leave wanting to know more about the man and his music – which makes me feel we’re on to something special. Also, it’s rather unusual being half a play and half a concert – no one has toured a show quite like it before.
Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?
I think Gesualdo’s life and music has been misunderstood. He’s underrated as a composer and not often performed because the music out of context is seen as “difficult” – but it really isn’t once you adjust your ears. It’s extraordinarily powerful and exciting. I see Gesualdo as a kind of Gustav Mahler figure of the late 16th century – once people were given a way into Mahler’s music, he quickly became a “cult classical music figure”. I think the same could become true of Gesualdo.
What sort of person is going to love this show?
If you like slightly dark stories and something a bit different then this is the show for you!
What’s going to surprise people about this show?
Hopefully the music. The story. And the way that we have tried to create a completely different kind of show – half a concert/ half a play.
What does Brighton Festival mean to you?
Do you have a favourite Festival moment? I grew up in Brighton and as a teenager I sang in the Brighton Festival Chorus so I got to perform in many Festival concerts in the mid 80s. As a teenager, I didn’t really have a lot of access to arts events in London and so the Brighton Festival was for me the time when the city (which felt quite ordinary in the mid 80s – not as arty as it is now) became a truly magical place where anything could happen and where I felt part of a cultural community. I loved hanging out after performances at the Festival Club and seeing who might turn up!
This year marks 50 years of Brighton Festival. What does it mean for you to be part of the festival in this milestone year?
I came to the Festival launch in February and, although I was already thrilled that we had been asked to take part, hearing about all the other starry events made me feel particularly excited and honoured to be involved this year. Brighton Festival has been a huge part of my life – as a teenager performing with local choirs, as a singer performing as a young artists in the classical lunchtime series and now with my play here too.
What are you most looking forward to in Brighton Festival this year?
I am keen to see La Nuova Musica’s Dido and Aeneas (they are a particularly exciting up and coming young group and I just saw them in London) and I’m really interested to see Stella by Neil Bartlett at the Theatre Royal. As a teenager I was fascinated by local history and so the story of a local cross-dressing Victorian actor brought to life on a Brighton stage sounds fascinating.