Elysian Films has produced one feature film, five short films, four documentaries and over a dozen promotional films.

WHILE THE MUSIC LASTS
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SYNOPSIS

Adam Pollock has been making opera history for the past 30 years. The festival he founded in a (once) little-known corner of Southern Tuscany known as the ‘Maremma’ has provided a platform for an astonishing number of artists — singers, directors, designers — currently working in international opera today.


In the summer of 2004 the festival celebrated its 30th Anniversary with the Italian premiere of L’opera seria by the 18th-century Austrian composer Leopold Gassmann — a riotous farce about a company putting on an opera, in the style of Noises Off; and the world premiere of a specially commissioned work by British composer Jonathan Dove: Our Revels Now Are Ended, a setting of Prospero’s last speech from The Tempest.

This is a process film, charting the rehearsal period for the last year’s production. It is intercut with interviews from participants, patrons and audience members past and present.

 

Transience has been the cornerstone of Adam Pollock’s philosophy (he has never kept a costume or a set), yet this well-kept secret on a Tuscan hillside has finally been captured for posterity — and though the festival is over, the film — and the spirit of Batignano — will inspire people for years to come.

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BACKGROUND

Adam Pollock was a highly successful, London-based scenic/interior designer who ‘dropped out’ in the 60s and bought a dilapidated 17th-century convent 60 miles south of Siena. Having restored part of the building, he was cajoled by friends into making use of the wonderful space, and in 1974, he decided to put on an opera.

 

Fortunately, a camera-crew was on hand during the six-week run of the last ever festival in 2004, to shoot a full-length documentary about Batignano — the first to be made there. 

The film is not only a tribute to Adam Pollock’s extraordinary achievements, but also a unique glimpse behind the scenes of this highly charged, creative venture and gives us a platform to explore larger questions about the special relationship between the British and the Italians. For although the participants and founder are (for the most part) British, the operas have always been performed in Italian, largely for an Italian audience.

FESTIVAL

The first season’s Dido and Aeneas was partly funded by the local Comune (town council) — and was such a success that the Mayor of Grosetto (the nearest large town) insisted on supporting a yearly festival. As Musica nel Chiostro grew in status and ambition over the decades, participation soon became a right of passage for any British opera hopeful.

 

The first Tamerlano (Handel) in modern times was produced there as well as a new version of Mozart’s Zaïde (completed by Italo Calvino), now part of the standard repertoire, and The Seven Deadly Sins (Weill) in its first Italian translation.

 

 

 

 

PEOPLE

In addition to discovering and encouraging performers, directors and designers, Adam Pollock has been uncompromisingly brave in choosing the festival’s repertoire: always rarely performed and, more often than not, world premieres of very old or very new works.

 

Operas performed over the past 30 years have included works by:

 

Peri, Monteverdi, Pallavicino, Cesti, Cavalli, Stradella, Provenzale, Purcell, Rameau, Handel, Hasse, Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, J C Bach, Storace, Schumann, Donizetti, Adam, Berlin, Britten, Bernstein and Tippett.

 

 

Directors (many of whom produced their first operas there) include:

Graham Vick, Tim Albery, Tim Hopkins, Stephen Langridge and Richard Jones.

 

Designers (creating miracles with virtually no budget) include:

Maria Björnson, Yolanda Sonnabend, Richard Hudson, Sue Blane, Antony McDonald, Tom Cairns and Nigel Lowery.

 

Conductors include: Jane Glover, David Parry, Nicholas Kraemer, Martin André, Ivor Bolton, Stephen Higgins and Harry Bicket.

 

 

 

 

HOW DOES IT WORK

In early July, singers, directors, designers and other volunteers, descend on this tiny mediæval village, to put on an opera. Three weeks of rehearsal follow, and everyone — including the costume and set designers — is starting from scratch. Most of the participants are young and fairly green — but they are usually joined by more experienced professionals, many of whom have come back year after year.

 

Flights, food and accommodation are provided — but no one is paid, and everyone is roped in to do the infamous communal washing up on a rota system. And it’s all hands to the deck — no one worries about their job descriptions — the cast help haul scenery and sew their own costumes, the stage crew double as extras. It’s a bit like opera summer camp — except that the standards are a great deal higher.

 


The ‘Batignano experience’ is undoubtedly testing but also great fun — up to 90 British opera professionals locked together in a magnificent, crumbling, 17th century Tuscan convent, working incredibly hard all day, partying equally hard at night. Although some have described it (affectionately) as ‘opera prison’ (without a car, there is no escape), there is a great sense of liberation in this voluntary exile, which is free from the corporate pressure of a conventional opera house. And despite the holiday atmosphere, there is an absolute dedication to the work, and the resulting productions — in the cloister, under the stars — are as unique as they are unforgettable.

 

RELEASE

This film is available on DVD, price £19.99 (including postage)

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