Opera in the Time of COVID: Gerald Barry, Opera Composer of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

By David Salazar
(Credit: Frances Marshall)

“Opera in the Times of COVID” is an interview series in collaboration with photographer Frances Marshall of Marshall Light Studio. We talk to notable figures from around the opera world to get their perspective on how they feel these challenging times may change opera’s present and future.

Gerald Barry is one of the great modern composers, whose career has seen him create a wide range of unique operas including “The Intelligence Park,” “The Triumph of Beauty and Deceity,” “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” “La Plus Forte,” and, most recently, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

And that’s just the beginning. A look at his catalogue of works also reveals “La Plus Forte” and other works such as “Wiener Blut,” “Dead March,” “Beethoven,” and “God Save the Queen,” among others.

In his time in quarantine, Barry is as productive as ever, currently working on his own adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “Salome;” he even sent along a picture of his libretto (see below).

OperaWire: What have you done during this time to keep yourself positive and productive?

Gerald Barry: I am writing a new opera, “Salome,” on the text by Oscar Wilde. The premiere is in April 2021 in Los Angeles followed by performances in London and Amsterdam, and in Paris in early 2022.

OW: What do you feel will be the greatest impacts of COVID-19 on the opera world moving forward?

GB: Cancelled productions and people out of work. Even after the virus fades people will be afraid to go to indoor gatherings. Recovery will be gradual and take longer than some think.

OW: One of the major developments of this time are the emergence of streaming and connecting with fans and followers more directly via social media. How has this impacted your time in quarantine?

GB: My opera “The Importance of Being Earnest” now showing on OperaVision/Youtube is a wonderful thing. It was a marvelous production by Julien Chavaz at The Théâtre de L’Athénée in Paris. Bizarely, this was the theatre where Wilde’s “Salome” was premiered in 1896.

OW: What are you most excited about doing once the quarantine officially comes to an end and we are allowed to resume a “normal” life?

GB: Going out unafraid – browsing in shops as of old. Not being apprehensive when you see people in the streets.   Of course this is only possible when there is a vaccine. Quarantine ending without a vaccine means constant watchfulness which is oppressive.

OW: Speaking more globally about the pandemic, what can the world learn about this experience? What do hope to see from our leaders (political or even industry) in order to build a better future that enables us to better manage any similar type of situation? 

GB: I expect nothing and expect things to return to business as usual. It always does and that won’t change. The idea that people progress and evolve through learning from such things is rubbish.

(Credit: Gerald Barry)