Victoria Borisova-Ollas: The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Victoria Borisova-Ollas The Ground Beneath Her Feet
The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Victoria Borisova-Ollas: The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Year of composition:
a staged performance
Scored for:
for orchestra, singers and narrator
Victoria Borisova-Ollas
Text author:
Salman Rushdie
Edward Kemp
Vina (soprano) Ormus (baritone) Rai (speaker)
3 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1 - timp, perc(4), hp, pno, e.guit, e.bass, str
Instrumentation details:
1st flute
2nd flute (+alto fl)
3rd flute (+picc)
1st oboe
2nd oboe
3rd oboe (+c.a)
1st clarinet in Bb
2nd clarinet in Bb (+cl(Eb))
3rd clarinet in Bb (+bass cl(Bb))
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
3rd bassoon (+cbsn)
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
3rd trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
bass trombone
1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion
4th percussion (drum set)
electric guitar
electric bass
violin I
violin II
violin III
Manchester International Festival
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The Ground Beneath Her Feet
The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Work introduction

The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a full-length work for orchestra (including a rock trio), singers and narrator by composer Victoria Borisova-Ollas with a libretto by Edward Kemp based on the novel by Salman Rushdie. The work features a film directed by Mike Figgis.

In trying to condense such a protean novel into an hour and a quarter of music-drama, the focus is on the central spine of the relationship between Ormus and Vina, with Rai fulfilling, as in the book, the role of narrator, onlooker and occasional participant in their story.  These are the only performers, though the inclusion of film makes it possible to give some sense of the wider world in which this story takes place.

The key to conveying something of the richness of the novel lies in the juxtaposition of words, music and image. For example, the orchestral prelude represents the earthquake that kills Vina and at the same time introduces the key ‘quake’ theme in the book, followed by a scene in which Vina and Ormus’ shared (and continents-apart) discovery of song is played out against images of Vina’s murdered family.

The libretto provides a structure within which such juxtaposed elements can be  comprehensible as well as have resonance.  The piece is in three sections – Bombay, England, America – mirroring the structure of the book and the westward journey of the protagonists.  Ormus’ two flights provide the links between sections.

The attraction of the novel for this treatment lies in its combination of central action, linguistic and geographical colour and underlying mythic elements. The fact that many of the earliest operas and oratorios dealt with the Orpheus myth makes this millennial re-imagining a particularly attractive source for a contemporary engagement with the form.

World première

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (GB)
Hallé Orchestra
Mark Elder
Main soloists:
James McOran-Campbell - Ormus; Lore Lixemberg - Vina; Alan Rickman - Sprecher

Press reviews

"[The premiere of The Ground Beneath Her Feet] was no ordinary Hallé concert, but the latest genre-busting premiere in the Manchester International Festival. And an epic multinational effort it was, too: a Russian composer's concert adaptation of Salman Rushdie's sprawling novel about a tragic love-triangle involving two Bombay rock stars and a voyeuristic photographer. It included a silent film, quirkily shadowing the action, by the British director Mike Figgis, while on the platform Alan Rickman narrated the story and two singers took the parts of the main protagonists.
Complicated? Perhaps. But Rushdie's novel is itself a many-layered thing: a magic-realist fable, echoing the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, that evokes the glad 1950s dawn of rock music, its hedonistic heyday, and then its slow crumble into cynicism and sterility. To condense all that into 90 action-packed minutes, yet tell the story so lucidly and movingly, was a considerable achievement on the part of the composer, Victoria Borisova-Ollas, and her librettist, Edward Kemp.

Borisova-Ollas's lushly cinematic score has its estimable features. It is orchestrated deftly ... And it is capable of portraying not only intimate moments of lovemaking but also the earthquake that swallows up Vina, the wayward rock-chick who is the story's 'Eurydice' figure."

(Richard Morrison, The Times)

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