The Corley Conspiracy (2007)

Opera in one act

Music by Tim Benjamin; words by Tim Benjamin and Sean Starke

“Remember the two-way televisions in George Orwell's 1984?
The ones which watched you back?
Well the country which brought Orwell into the world has made his nightmare follow into the world after him.”

The poster from the original London production

I first came across Mike Corley while browsing through h2g2, an online guide to life, the universe, and everything (based on The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) operated by the BBC. The entry on Corley begins: “Every now and then, something comes along that makes you think, ’Ah, that’s what the Internet is for!’ — Mike Corley is one such case.” Who could resist reading further?

Corley, it transpired, believed that he was being watched and listened to through his television and radio by Them (the Government, security services, etc.). He posted his suspicions at very great length and frequency on Usenet in the 1990s, using various early spamming techniques to mask his identity. Intrigued, I then managed to dig up many of Corley’s posts from Google’s archive of Usenet. They made for fascinating reading; and as one does in these situations, I thought to myself, “you know, this would make a great piece of music theatre!” I put together a rough script formed from the Corley posts, placing them in order to form a linear narrative, and inventing an ambiguous ending for the piece. I began to collaborate with my friend and colleague Sean Starke — who also became hooked on Corley — and he re-worked it into the far superior script we have today, while I got on and composed some music for it.

The script is comprised of seven scenes, which I broadly split into two halves, depicting, in a sense, the rise and fall of Mike Corley. The music for the first half, after the Prologue (Scene I, the music for which is reprised in the Epilogue, Scene VII) is a kind of three movement Concerto Grosso, spanning scenes II through IV. For the second part (spanning scenes V and VI), I have written a set of five variations, thinking perhaps of the final parts of Berg’s Wozzeck: variations on a sequence of notes (a Passacaglia followed by a Chaconne), on an interval (a perfect fourth — heard repeatedly throughout the work), on a chord (built from multiple perfect fourths), and finally, on just a single note.

I: Have The British Gone Mad?Prologue
II: BBC’s Hidden ShameConcerto: Prelude (Adagio)
Allegretto
Reprise (Adagio)
III: Email ProtectedConcerto: Recitative
IV: ParanoiaConcerto: Finale
V: Sulpiride 200mgsVariations:
no. 1. Passacaglia
no. 2. Chaconne
VI: CensorshipVariations:
no. 3. on an Interval
no. 4. on a Chord
no. 5. on a Note
VII: The Continuing SilenceEpilogue

Although piece is billed as an “opera”, there is no singing: all the voice parts are spoken, performed by actors. I felt, following my first opera, The Bridge, that when dealing with a detailed, modern English text, one not originally intended to be sung and which has its own internal pacing, that setting it to music can detract from the text’s drama, and not add to it. For Corley, I also rejected the option of sprechgesang and sprechstimme techniques on the grounds that good actors could deliver the lines with better timing than would be possible to set down in music — at least without the luxury of vast amounts of rehearsal time. Furthermore, I find that, to my ears at least, contemporary English sounds faintly ridiculous when subjected to the musical histrionics of modernism. Therefore, although there is music throughout the piece, and although this music relates strongly to the text, all the words are spoken and not sung, with the precise timing left to the actors themselves. Whether or not this counts as “opera”, I leave to the listener to decide!

Characters

  • Mike Corley
  • Alex Jones
  • Jill Scott
  • James Lewis
  • Grace Watson
  • Voice of the Computer
  • Email Protected

Premiere

19th September 2007, Southbank Centre, London, by Radius (Directed by Sean Starke; Paul Tosio as Corley; conducted by John Traill; Jennifer George, flute; Charys Green, clarinet; Jocelyn Lightfoot, horn; Huw Morgan, trumpet; Tyler Vahldick, trombone; Alexander Sitkovetsky, violin; Oliver Coates, cello; John Reid, piano; Adrian Spillett, percussion)

Photos

These photos were taken during the rehearsals and just before the first performance during the world premiere production, at the London Design Festival 2007.

Duration

80 minutes

Instrumentation

7 actors (spoken parts), fl, cl, hn, tpt, tbn, vn, vc, pno, perc.

Downloads

Also available: set of parts — please contact me if you require any these

Recording

Scene One, live recording of the world premiere at the Southbank