NAN GARLAND - The Opera Tuesday January 18 2005, 12:00 AM

Michael's latest theatre project is NAN GARLAND - The Opera. You can visit the project website by clicking [color=orange]HERE!


[size=14]Michael recently gave an interview to Kenny Farquharson of the Sunday Times about the Opera - here is what he had to say on the subject - Michael Marra walks into the foyer of Dundee Rep and peers around anxiously, a meerkat of a man wearing a beret. His nervousness is easily explained. For the past six months he has not seen much of the world outside the makeshift recording studio in his Newtyle home. There, working every day, he has been consumed by a project that marks a radical departure f or Scotland�s most celebrated songwriter. �I was beginning to worry about the isolation,� he says once we find a seat and some black coffee. As my wife pointed out, I get strange.� The voice is unmistakable � a rich growl that sounds as if someone has set his throat on fire then put the flames out with a tumbler of Laphroaig. Up close it seems a big voice for such a small man. Marra, 52 next month, has an air of vulnerability about him. Yet the clear eyes in the pockmarked face are mischievous and hold your gaze, and as he smokes his roll-ups he talks with the conviction of a man who knows he is at the height of his powers. A sign of this confidence is his new project � an opera. The choice may raise some eyebrows among those who cherish Marra for his mastery of the perfectly whittled four-minute song, finding the extraordinary in ordinary Dundonian experiences. But he says the time seemed right to try something on a bigger scale and to build on his experience of theatre writing. �I wanted something complicated,� he says. Marra�s guiding lights will be Guys and Dolls, Gilbert and Sullivan, West Side Story and Puccini. �I�m pitting myself against those standards,� he says with a nervous laugh. �People like Puccini wanted big hits and they were writing tunes that have stood the test of time. I want it to be solid.� Due to be finished at the end of this month, the opera has the working title of Nan Garland. �It�s about a group of truants � plunkers as we call them in Dundee � who, as they get older, just keep it up. They hide in the forest and keep it going into adulthood. And they start their own society. �People come and join them. Some of them go out to work in the normal world, pretending to be members of society but only to get funds to keep their own society going. There are complications because the police come looking for one of them, but basically their society prevails because of how they conduct it.� The working title is the name of the central character. �I�ve never met a woman called Nan that I didn�t like. And it�s also a name that women are not given these days, and I like that.� The plot is not Marra�s � he asked the Irish writer Michael Duke, formerly associate director of the Dundee Rep and now in charge of Tinderbox theatre in Belfast, to come up with a synopsis. The result has been a liberation for Marra, who describes his usual songwriting process as �a blur� and �a scuffle�. Writing to somebody else�s plot has been a release. �The job is clearer. You know where you are heading. There is no fight about it. I find it quite a calm process, which is strange for me.� Commissioned by Dundee Rep and featuring a Dundonian choir called Loadsaweeminsingin, the opera will make a virtue of not being rooted in any one place � even if for Marra it is �hovering above a perfect part of Angus�. Also due for release is a book of short stories called Karma Mechanics, adding yet another aspect to Marra�s artistic output. It is being published by an old friend, Mick McCluskey, who runs a firm called Intro2 from his home in the Sidlaw Hills above Dundee. Marra now lives in Angus, but the city on the Tay remains his touchstone, its pubs, history, footballers and failings lovingly chronicled in songs that can veer off into magic realism. This is seen in songs such as Frida Kahlo�s Visit to the Taybridge Bar, when St Peter at the pearly gates sends the Mexican painter to one of Marra�s favourite howfs. �For any artist Dundee is just the perfect place to look at the rest of the world,� he says. �Charles Mingus had a book called Beneath the Underdog. I always thought they should put that under Dundee on the sign outside the city.� Dundonians, he says, are the ultimate tough crowd. �The last thing you do in Dundee is try to impress. It�s absolutely not on. That for any artist is a great place to be � you work harder.� The reason for these attitudes, he says, is the city�s curious social structure. �I just cannot think of any place else where there is more or less one class of people.� If there is a Dundonian middle class, I point out that most of them are probably here in the Rep eating lunch. �Aye, and we can deal with them,� he growls. �They�re not giving us any trouble.� Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.[/size]