About the libretto


When Ivo Josipović, sometime before his presidential campaign, announced that he intended to write an opera about John Lennon, I was delighted by the idea. It is a theme that has everything: musical and cultural relevance, drama, the dimension of a criminal plot, intrigue, poetry… The story of Lennon is a drama, melodrama and thriller. And a tragedy, unfortunately. There is space – I discovered that later, in writing the libretto – for both tango and anthemic tones. The idea immediately grabbed me, and I would prick my ears up every time it appeared in the media. Josipović, however, became the country’s president, so the idea of the Lennon opera was soon eclipsed by his other activities.

The music of The Beatles and John Lennon had a formative effect on me. In my aunt’s house in Jamaica, where I spent my early teenage years, there was a music room. Inside were a mountain of records (vinyl, of course) and cassettes, a record player and cassette player with large speakers, and a piano. I spent endless hours in there. In the evening, my aunt played classical music, whilst my afternoons, after school, were filled with Elvis Presley, The Platters, Paul Anka, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles… Especially The Beatles! I knew all the lyrics off by heart, and every note somehow became mine. My limited skill at playing the piano was enough for me to be able to reproduce some melodies; I practised endlessly. That repertoire was slightly retro for the 1970s, but that was all the collection I had and I was very happy with it at the time. I caught up with my time later. When John Lennon died in 1980, it felt like a personal loss. I first met Ivo in person in the early phase of his presidential mandate. With my colleague Diana Grgurić, a musicologist and Ivo’s student colleague, I wrote a book about the relationship between political discourse and popular music, which was entitled Tvornica privida (The Factory of Illusion). It was difficult to find reviewers for such an interdisciplinary topic, and Ivo was – as a musician, jurist and politician – ideal. I didn’t really expect that the busy President of the Republic would be ready or even able to take the time to review our book, but I was wrong! Not only did he respond to the invitation to review the book, but he also participated in its public presentation. I asked him on that occasion if he was working on the opera and who was writing the libretto for him. That’s how I found out that the opera was on hold and that the position of librettist was still unfilled. During the following period, I got copies of Philip Norman’s books about The Beatles and Lennon himself. This drew me to look for different biographical texts of the protagonists in Lennon’s life (his sister Julia, ex-wife Cynthia, and lover May Pang) that offered different views of John’s complex and somewhat controversial personality. With all of this, a picture of who John Lennon was and what he was like began to form in my mind, and with it, a possible conception of the literary John, or the operatic John that Josipović needed in order to bring his opera to life.

And so we come to 2016. Ivo is no longer the president and the chances were that he had more time to compose than before. I plucked up the courage and with the encouragement of my colleague Diana Grgurić, I called him and asked whether he still needed a libretto. And he did! Alongside that, he was also intrigued by my proposal that we design the scene like a phantasmagoria of John’s consciousness, which, as he is dying, wanders through the backwaters of his life. So, I got the green light and got to work. A lot was going on and there was a lot of work between then and now. I initially wrote the libretto in Croatian. The intendant of the Croatian National Theatre, Iva Hraste Sočo, however, reactivated my early suggestion that we choose English as the language of the libretto in order to make stronger use of the associative potential of Lennon’s texts. So, after the contract was finally signed, I went back to the beginning: respecting the initial structure of the text, I rewrote the entire libretto so that the rhythms and other euphonic effects would come to life in English. Then, somewhere near the end, I was faced with the libretto reworked for the music, with rearrangements and truncations, so it was necessary to pay attention to that version of the text too.

With the premiere approaching, I became more and more aware that the text, passing from the hands of one author to another, was becoming less and less mine, and more and more the collective property of all those who were contributing to the theatrical staging. First of all, there was the composer himself with his right to reinterpretation. Then there was the director, set designer, choreographer, costume designer, lighting engineer, and so on. In looking forward to the premiere, I am also looking forward to a new kind of confrontation with my own text, now dressed in the interpretations of all the creative personalities who will give it their stamp and present it not only to the audience but to me too anew.
Such synergies have always fuelled me. I am happy and excited to be a part of this.