OPERA / Right of Reply: The composer Nigel Osborne defends his opera trilogy, Sarajevo

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The Independent Culture
Neither a libretto by Craig Raine, nor first-hand accounts of life under siege were enough to stave off criticism of Nigel Osborne's Sarajevo. 'Opera isn't, can't be, journalism, however real and however deserving the cause for which it's written' (Guardian). 'Good intentions are desperately evident, but what happened to the immediacy?' (Independent). 'Unfair,' says the composer . . .

'It is no good saying that we know the situation in Bosnia from television. We don't. Most of the significant footage is on the cutting-room floor. Music theatre is one of those channels of communication that has to be kept open. It has the capacity to celebrate and to mourn - neither of those things can be done on TV.

'We have a very interesting disjunction: on the one hand the British music critics are attempting to assume a position of authority about information, morality and ethics and on the other, the people actually concerned, the ex-Yugoslav community that I spoke to, find the case quite different.

'There were some very good points, worth debating, and some inexcusable trivia. One criticism was inaudibility. We had ex-Yugoslav actors, and clearly one is not going to get every line that Katja Doric says as Hecuba. She is doing the play because it's her life-story. It was an historic event and I think if you complain about losing the odd word, you've got your heart and your brain in the wrong place.

'Irrespective of the messages, I think it was a successful artistic experience - certainly many people who saw the show found it very beautiful and funny in places. And I would sound a warning note: when examining the broader issues of what a musical form is about, the critics have made a mistake - they have belittled an important channel of cultural communication, and reduced its possibilities. Sarajevo represents a direction that we must keep open for art, the possibility of chewing on difficult things. I think I offered something rather special to the British musical world . . . I wish it had taken better care of it.'

Four performances of 'Sarajevo' at the Oxford Playhouse: 13, 14, 16 & 17 Sept (Booking: 0865 798 600)

Nigel Osborne was talking to Dominic Cavendish

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