In the same issue in which this review was published, Classical Music awarded The Corley Conspiracy "Opera Premiere of the Year" for 2009.
The Corley Conspiracy by Tim Benjamin and Sean Starke is a piece of music theatre set in the world of Usenet, a precursor of today’s internet blogs and chatrooms. The 75-minute drama, which was premiered in September in the Purcell Room, is based on the real-life messages posted there during the mid-nineties by one Mike Corley.
Obsessed with the idea that he is the target of sinister messages embedded in radio broadcasts and other everyday events, his posts demonstrate a paranoia that his co-users cannot fathom. Unsure whether he is mad, a prankster or the perpetrator of some anthropological experiment of which they are the subjects, their responses to his posts veer from concern to frustration to derision at Corley’s increasingly byzantine ramblings.
The written words of the various characters are not sung, but spoken by actors, the music coming in the form of a score for chamber ensemble. Punctuating the unfolding story, the music acts both to enhance the events on stage and to provide an accompaniment to our own questioning of them — a neat psychological effect. Benjamin’s compact yet atmospheric music helps turn what is nowadays a common activity (reading messages from strangers on the internet) into something much more compelling.
The performance by the young contemporary music ensemble Radius was exceptionally assured, as befits a group of individuals capable of dashing off solo works by Berio, Simon Holt, Xenakis and Cage (as they did in the first half of the evening). It’s certainly a piece worth seeing, and I hope there are plans to perform it again.