A couple of weeks ago composer Daniel Gillingwater, who I know from some 2006 Ig Nobel adventures in the UK, brought me thrilling news by e-mail:
“We are having the premiere of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ at the Ig Nobel Show, Imperial College, London next March.”
I knew vaguely about his plan and then thought he was joking. But now it seemed real. I have to admit, the dead duck (paper) changed my life, did inspire some people, and I even made a few laugh-and-think (see my 2013 TED-talk), but the performing arts – even an opera – are new grounds to me.
So I asked Daniel about the creation and message of his work. Here is his response:
“Kees, I have long admired your Ig Nobel Prize winning paper ‘The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard (duck)’ (PDF). Last summer, under the influence of too many espressos in the Welcome Trust cafe with Ig Nobel founder Marc Abrahams, I put forward the suggestion that your Dead Duck Paper would make a fine mini opera. At which point Marc sprayed his coffee across the table and implored me to go home and begin work. Eight months later I did. By February 2014 it was all but finished.”
“I have set it for solo high voice, in this premiere performed by Sarah Redmond (playing your role, as witness and first [and only author]). The gender difference need not be an issue as you are an elegant and willowy specimen, much like Sarah. The scoring also includes clarinet quintet, the Edge Ensemble with Shaun Thompson on clarinet. We have a vocal chorus of four – soprano, alto, tenor and bass punctuating the section beginning ‘Rather startled, I watched …’ which is the final vivace section of a pseudo Mozartian aria.”
“The two male singers will also be portraying the mallard ducks in question, through the medium of contemporary dance. A tasteful re-enactment of the duck display, mixing flowing, poetic body movements and extreme sexual violence.”
My excitement grew. The actual words of my classic 2001 paper would be sung and the duck’s display re-enacted! I had to find a way to participate. So I convinced Daniel that I am a virtuoso at playing the ‘Duck Call’. He agreed immediately:
“Now this rarely used orchestral instrument will be in the heart of the whole work and serves to comment sardonically on the comparisons of this act of homosexual necrophilia and the state of western civilisation today.”
Although I do not read a note of music, I am extremely confident in my role.
Come, see and listen: Ig Nobel Tour of the UK, 14 March 2014, 18:00-20:00h: Imperial College, London (South Kensington Campus, The Great Hall, Sherfield Building), with Marc Abrahams, including the world premiere of ‘The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera’ composed by Daniel Gillingwater, performed by Sarah Redmond, the Edge Ensemble with Shaun Thompson, and me, and more improbable stuff. [tickets]