The whole essence of opera is excess; the point of it, its necessary condition, is emotion too powerful for speech, emotion that has to explode in song…
– Garth Greenwell, writing in The Guardian
Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You “tells the story of a man caught between longing and resentment, unable to separate desire from danger, and faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know.” This manifests as an obsession with a hustler named Mitko, with whom the unnamed narrator begins a long, unstable, and ultimately destructive affair. The story is specific and personal, but the experience Greenwell describes is universal: the search for self and the desire to belong amidst loneliness and enduring heartbreak.
Greenwell falls into a lineage of queer literature that reaches back through Edmund White and Jean Genet to Arthur Rimbaud. His tale is operatic in emotional scale and his writing is inherently musical, in no small part because Greenwell trained as an opera singer before becoming a writer. “Sometimes I feel that I’m writing into the shape made by a musical phrase,” he has said of his prose. “I often strive to feel the energy of a sentence in the same way a singer feels breath.” And yet for all its carefully wrought phrases, there is something direct and raw in Greenwell’s narrative: strong images that burn into your memory, connected by nourishing language and searing psychological insight.
Greenwell’s writing is itself a conversation with his literary predecessors. Likewise, Little’s score looks back to look forward, channeling the white heat of Britten’s Rimbaud setting, Les Illuminations, the melancholy of Dowland, Monteverdi, Schubert, and vanitas paintings, and the startling color of Gerard Grisey’s Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil. Each of these guides the work as Little explores the kaleidoscopic sonic potential of Alarm Will Sound, tracing the work’s narrative as it blooms. What Belongs to You will seek to capture timeless pain in a new frame, as Greenwell’s text is distilled to its poetic core and presented anew as music-theatre.