It's a curious experience writing a libretto for an opera - made even curiouser when one is working from the transcripts of real life interviews. I did a similar thing on our production Waiting in 2010 working from the verbatim text of British Muslim women whose husbands had been detained in Guantanamo and Belmarsh. But on that project the text already existed and I didn't meet the women until the piece was performed, which allowed me a certain distance from the material and possibly greater artistic licence. With Flicker - an opera about giving a voice to those unable to communicate - I feel so keenly the responsibility to do justice to the voices of the many patients and staff that we've interviewed - to try and preserve the idiosyncrasies of their speech patterns, to retain the accuracy of the science and also throughout all of that to carve out a narrative that hangs together and resonates, with characters who each have a consistent voice (although the truth is that each character comes from several interviews and partly from my imagination).
Hopefully I won't give Jon too much of a head-ache giving him phrases like 'We can use neuro-imaging equipment to show auditory evoked potentials' to set to music! But I think my role really is about finding the poetry in the every day - there are phrases and snatches of text that I'm weaving into the libretto that have come from the very beginning of the process - back in the autumn of 2011 when we first met with Sophie Duport, our scientific advisor she spoke very eloquently about the inability to express emotion when you are Locked In 'how do I [they] cry, the cry cannot come', and even a phrase from a meeting with our Wellcome trust grant manager 'suffer with less suffering' has made it in. Ultimately I have to write something that Jon can set and the performers can sing so I'm always drawn back to short phrases and repetition, although sometimes there's no avoiding the technical jargon for the scientist character - but I think those sections will have a more recitative-y feeling out of necessity. Also I hope to inject some levity into the piece - the last thing we want is 60 minutes of misery - with a few choice swear words. There's nothing like an opera singer singing the word 'fucking' to lighten the mood.