Henrietta Bredin talks to Peter Manning about taking risks and creating opportunities
There is an almost palpable forcefield of energy around Peter Manning. You expect a crackle of static to explode when he shakes your hand or wraps you in an enthusiastic hug. Concertmaster of the Royal Opera House orchestra, founder of the eponymous Manning Camerata chamber orchestra and now music director of Musica Vitae in Sweden, his relish for a challenge, for fresh stimuli, is voracious. He is a violinist, a conductor, and now a galvanising producer and artistic director. His current, most pressing preoccupation is with a fabulously multi-layered and ambitious project, the performance of a new opera he has commissioned, for the Manning Camerata to play. It is based on Seamus Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes (itself based on Sophocles’ Antigone), with music by Dominique Le Gendre, to be directed by the poet Derek Walcott, at the Globe Theatre in October.
You have to take a deep breath after such a pile-up of names and intriguing possibilities. How did this complex thing, about to burst onto the stage, come about?
‘It started ages ago, with all sorts of threads that ultimately came together. I’d picked up a copy of Derek Walcott’s ‘Omeros’, his poetic, St Lucian version of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, and started reading it, not all at once, but in snatches, off and on. Then I met Dominique Le Gendre and a series of conversations with her about writing meandered through Ted Hughes and on to Walcott, who I thought she might have read because of coming from Trinidad herself, and on again to Seamus Heaney, who we both admired hugely, and beyond that to the whole idea of an ever-present story, an individual’s narrative journey. Over quite a long period we talked and talked and kept returning to this idea until it became obvious to me that we really had to do something about it.