Malcolm Williamson’s opera was hailed as the best thing since Peter Grimes, yet it sank as its composer sank.
Our Man in Havana is rarely staged. Why do you think that is?
Our Man in Havanahas to be the best, least-performed 20th-century opera there is. It is a brilliant black comedy/spy thriller/Caribbean dance musical of an opera. It’s a terrific story arranged with a tour-de-forcelibretto set to exceptional and accessible but uncompromising music. The premiere was a triumph but since there has been silence and sadly this has nothing to do with the opera.
Havana’slanguishing can be attributed entirely to its composer’s very public downfall. It was a professional and personal collapse on an Oscar Wilde-ian scale, and not without its parallels. Williamson had been the most celebrated and commissioned composer of his generation in the UK. He was championed by Britten and Boult and made Master of the Queen’s Music but then Malcolm really hit the trifecta. He collapsed into alcoholism, he left his wife and family for a former Jesuit priest, and he missed several commissions including one for the Royal Jubilee. His reputation may have survived alcoholism, but homosexuality, Catholicism and upsetting Buckingham Palace...