A Clockwork Orange was reimagined as an operetta at Manchester University yesterday, with the author’s never-before-heard lyrics.
A dystopian novella and the definitive book of ultraviolence, A Clockwork Orange was written almost 50 years ago by Manchester University alumni Anthony Burgess.
He adapted the book into a screenplay, along with song lyrics, but these were rejected by director Stanley Kubrick who wrote his own screenplay for his 1972 film.
The International Anthony Burgess Foundation owns the rights to Burgess’ novels and commissioned Dr Kevin Malone, Head of Composition at the university, to set the lyrics to music.
He said: “I think and hope that Burgess would have approved of this, especially as his screenplay never the saw the light of day.”
Andrew Biswell, director of the foundation, agreed: “Anthony was always disappointed that his work was never released."
Mr Biswell said he and the Foundation were delighted that Burgess is being taken more seriously as a composer as well as a writer, and that people are taking more interest in his music and poetry as well as his books.
Five songs from Burgess’ 1969 screenplay were given a new lease of life ahead of the book’s fiftieth anniversary next year.
The situation was unusual in that Burgess had not written music to accompany the lyrics, despite being an accomplished composer.
As Mr Biswell put it: “The lyrics were orphans.”
Dr Malone selected lyrics from Burgess’ screenplay and put them to music to reflect the protagonist’s thought process.
“No doubt the lead character Alex himself would have approved of this reference to his musical hero, Ludwig van,” he said.
“Beethoven has been an important influence in the writing of this piece - and you’ll be able to ‘slooshy’ the Pathéthique, Tempest and Moonlight Sonatas as well as the Ninth Symphony.”
The new interpretation, entitled A Clockwork Operetta, was performed by a cast composed solely of actresses. New Yorkers the Ebb Trio, dressed as Alex and his droogs, made it an interrogation of male behaviour.
“It is a work about characterisation, musically-driven violence, and style,” said Dr Malone.
“The Ebb Trio fully understood it before I heard a note of it.”
The actresses will be taking the production back with them, across the Atlantic, extending it outside of its original Mancunian context.
It will return to the city next year for the 50th anniversary of A Clockwork Orange, along with other events to celebrate Burgess’ work, including his collaborations with Kubrick.
The foundation is keen to encourage other artists to interact with Burgess’ work, so expect to see a whole range of artistic experiences at literature festivals next year.
Finally, ex-pats from Manchester living in Italy have another thing to thank Anthony Burgess for. When he was in Rome in the 1970s, he managed to introduce the word 'Mancuniense' (meaning 'Mancunian') into the Italian dictionary. So from Mancuniense Materie, cheers.