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Police drummer, Monty Python comic turn to opera

Police drummer Stewart Copeland and Monty Python star Terry Jones are the unlikely pair in a new operatic double bill which opens in London on Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

Police drummer Stewart Copeland and Monty Python star Terry Jones are the unlikely pair in a new operatic double bill which opens in London on Friday.

Copeland has set Edgar Allan Poe's Gothic horror story "The Tell-Tale Heart" to music and Jones provided the libretto for "The Doctor's Tale," a story about a successful doctor who is struck from the register just because he is a dog.

His words have been set to music by Anne Dudley, a member of the band Art of Noise and an Oscar winner for her score for the British comedy film "The Full Monty."

The trio has been commissioned to create the new works by ROH2, the Royal Opera House's contemporary arm, and the run opens this week in the company's smaller Linbury Studio Theater. Ticket prices range from 9.70 to 20.40 pounds ($16-33).

For Copeland it is his fourth opera outing, and comes 22 years after his debut "Holy Blood and Crescent Moon" met with a mixed response in the United States.

The 58-year-old American told Reuters he had tried to recreate the scale and power of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde."

"I think there was a review which sniffed at that a little bit and I took that very much to heart," he said in an interview during rehearsals. "You learn a lot from the good reviews, from the bad reviews, from the accurate ones and ... inaccurate ones.

"It was liberating because you think okay, that's right, Mozart already did that, Wagner already did that, so what new can be done?"

He said a change of direction paid off.

"I don't know, maybe I'm getting better at it or something, but I've been getting an easier and easier ride as time goes on.

"I suppose there's another thing that critics and everybody hates, that's sidestepping from one career into another. Everyone else in opera has paid their dues ... and I guess by now I'm getting an easier ride because I've sort of paid some dues -- this is my fourth opera, I've written three ballets.

"I've actually been working this for about 20 years and so it's not such a facile move for me to say 'I think I shall now write an opera'. Well, that would piss me off too."


For Jones, opera can be overrated.

"I hadn't seen much," he told Reuters when asked if he was an opera fan before writing The Doctor's Tale.

"I saw Rossini's 'Cinderella' ... and I was sitting there thinking the average pantomime has more psychological truth in it than this stuff. I mean the sets were wonderful, the music was great but the actual content was just nil."

Jones, like Copeland, has also written for opera before. His "Evil Machines" was launched in Portugal in 2008, although it has also been described as a musical.

The idea for The Doctor's Tale came from a children's story Jones had already written, itself inspired by a single sentence that came into his head: "There was once a very highly qualified dog who also had a very good bedside manner."

He said his libretto was about the concept of prejudice.

"It doesn't matter what color you are, or what race you are or what species you are. If you are good at something, well, you should be allowed to do it."

By coincidence, fellow former Python Terry Gilliam is directing a production of Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust" opening on May 6 at the nearby London Coliseum.

"I'd love to go and see Terry's Faust, whatever it's like. I'm sure it's going to be a visual spectacle and knock hats off everybody," Jones said.

Asked whether Gilliam would return the favor and come and see The Doctor's Tale, he replied: "I don't know. I don't think he's mentioned that actually. (Former Python) Mike Palin's coming. But I'll have chase him up. Terry? Terry!"