By Jon

I've just had the first draft of the libretto through from Poppy. It's fantastic, striking a careful balance between the human story of Iris (our central Locked-In character) and Bridget (the nurse who cares for her and guides her on her journey to communication), and the scientific material we're also keen in to incorporate, which will be delivered by a character called Joe. s a music-therapist delivering a 'lunchtime lecture' (a regular feature of life at the RHN, which many of the staff attend).

Poppy and I conducted most of the interviews with staff and patients together, and worked out an overall broad form for the opera: a twelve-part structure, in which each section is a snapshot of successive months over a single year, and alternates between Iris' story and Joe's lecture, which will occasionally be interrupted by Bridget. It's thrilling to get a fully fleshed-out version of the bare-bones skeleton we've been discussing for so many months, and I'm now at the stage when I need to start making some fairly major decisions that'll have far-reaching effects on how I write it..

Firstly, the singers. For budgetary reasons we're limited to three voices, which led to a hard decision about the number of characters. We always knew we wanted Iris to be played simultaneously by two performers: an immobile actor and a soprano who would voice his / her thoughts. We also wanted to include a scientist of some sort - this became our Joe character, who would be a low male voice - either a bass or baritone. We thought long and hard about who the third character should be; originally we were very keen to include a character who was a friend or family member of Iris', but were very struck when visiting the hospital by the particular quality of the relationship between patients and the nurses who care for them, and so decided to explore this via the character of Bridget, who will be a contralto. This gives me a nice range of voices to work with, and it's a combination whose ranges sit above and below each other quite well.

Secondly - instruments! I'm limited to five musicians (again for cost reasons), so I need to choose a combination that I can get the maximum flexibility from in terms of range, dynamics, texture, and the ability to play not only solo melodic lines but also accompanying chordal-type material. I'm also not allowed a piano (budget...).

So with all this in mind (and taking a slight steer from Schoenberg's choice of instruments in one of my favourite pieces 'Pierrot Lunaire'), I've settled on a combination of cello, violin (doubling viola), clarinet (doubling up on my favourite instrument of all time - the bass clarinet), flute (doubling up on piccolo, alto flute and the fabulous piece of plumbing that is the bass flute), and a percussionist playing marimba, vibraphone and various other bits and pieces. Very excited at the prospect that we might be able to work with the virtuosic Aurora orchestra....