a short site about The Divine Comedy

French version


Produced: 20-28 April 2012

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In 2011 Neil Hannon was commissioned for ROH2 (the contemporary arm of the Royal Opera House)’s OperaShots. The OperaShots consists of mini-opera written by musicians coming from a different musical world.

Being busy writing In May in 2011, Neil Hannon only started working on this piece in early 2012 and spent three months on it [1]. And being his second experience in operas he felt more at ease working on it.

Based upon Leo Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Sketches, the play was described as a “journey to the depths of the Crimean War”. We follow the main character, Leo Tolstoy, who witnesses the horrors of the conflicts and, through his encounters with soldiers, peasants, nurses, officers and gunners, matures both as a man and as an artist through 8 parts:
  1. Arrival across the water: Tosltoy remembers his arrival in the besieged city of Sevastopol.
  2. People of the town: Tolstoy observes the daily life of Sevastopol – only a short distance from the front line of the war.
  3. At the hospital: Tolstoy visits wounded soldiers at the hospital and begins to understand the human cost of warfare.
  4. The operating theatre: beyond the pompous platitudes he had heard in Moscow, he experiences the reality of war as ‘blood, suffering and death’.
  5. The officers converse: Tolstoy seeks out a restaurant and listens in as officers gossip and flirt.
  6. Road to the Fourth Bastion: Tolstoy resolved to visit the Fourth Bastion and along the way all vestiges of normal human life are left behind in the rubble of the disintegrating city.
  7. Yazonovsky redoubt: Tolstoy arrives at the appalling chaos of muddy frontline trenches – though not yet the Fourth Bastion. A boy soldier sends him onward to worse terrors.
  8. At the Fourth Bastion: finally arriving at the Fourth Bastion, Tolstoy discovers the lines of opposing cannon less than a hundred yards away. The men here live in expectation of imminent death, and as the sound of an incoming shell is heard, they prepare to fire on the enemy.
(Detailed description by director John Lloyd Davies)

The music in itself was supervised by long-term Divine Comedy collaborator Andrew Skeet and players featured Rob Farrer and Chris Worsey. However Neil Hannon admitted that when watching the dress-rehearsal before the first night, he thought he actually can’t write Opera at all! [1] Therefore, this is probably the last attempt by Neil Hannon on Opera, and there are no plans of replay or release of Sevastopol.

Audio extracts and a Neil Hannon interview can be seen on the Royal Opera House website, as well as sketches by designer and Linbury Prize 2011 winner, Emma Bailey.

[1] Couleur 3 interview 24/08/2012