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A BOTTLE OF HELL; Author and composer join forces after being inspired by RLS classicCRIME WRITER REVEALS; WHY SHE CAN'T WAIT FOR HER NIGHT AT THE OPERA.

Byline: Julie-Anne Barnes |

Crime writer Louise Welsh may be more used to writing novels than operas.

But, inspired by one of Scotland's literary giants, she has written her first full-length production, which is about to hit the stage.

Louise has collaborated with renowned composer Stuart MacRae to create The Devil Inside, a tale of love, greed and a hellish curse adapted from The Bottle Imp, a Robert Louis Stevenson short story.

She said: "It's a great story. I had read the original one many times. I sent Stuart a copy of it at night and, by the time I checked my messages the following morning, he said, 'This looks like the one'.

The latest production tells the story of a bottle that holds the power to grant your heart's desires.

But there is a catch. You can only sell the bottle for less than you paid for it and, if you die while you own it, your soul will go straight to hell.

James uses the bottle to get all he's ever dreamed of. Happily married to Catherine, he feels his life's complete.

But what has seemed so perfect soon begins to spiral out of control.

Louise said: "There is a real visceral element to this story. You can wish for whatever you want. It's a story about greed but it's also a story about love and what would you do for love. Would you go to hell for all eternity? There's lots of twisting and turning."

The pair reignited their award-winning creative partnership, which began with the 15-minute opera Remembrance Day as part of Scottish Opera's Five: 15 Operas Made in Scotland project. Their second collaboration for Scottish Opera was the South Bank Sky Arts Award-winning and Olivier Awardnominated Ghost Patrol in 2012. The opera is set in the present day and Louise admits she cried when she saw the set.

She said: "I couldn't believe what it looked like. I think they have taken the fairytale aspect of the story. There are moments of joy and it peaks and descends and peaks again.

"We just embraced the fact that magic exists. A lot of the jeopardy comes from the idea of hell. We felt that if magic exists, hell may do too. One of the singers says, 'If magic exists and hell does too, the world exists with the devil inside.' Louise says the approach for writing the opera is different from a book.

She said: "It's a completely collaborative process. The beginning is just talking, talking and talking.

"We were mainly in cafes and Stuart and I both have a great love of museums and galleries. Part of the pleasure of this work is that we talk about the foundations and we talk about the characters. We talk about politics and history.

"Stuart is good at giving me DVDs of opera. So I get a real education. The words come first but they can't exist without Stuart's work."

Louise first discovered a love of opera in the early 80s while at secondary school. It was a series of operas screened by Channel 4 that got her attention.

Once she began studying at university, she began attending Scottish Opera productions.

Louise, who has recently been made Professor of Creative Writing at Glasgow University, started work on The Devil Inside two years ago.

She said: "It is full length and we want the bar to be noisy at the interval.

"We want everyone to have that sense of wonder about what's going to happen next.

"We've changed the ending. We just felt for the opera, it needed something more. We want people to leave talking about it. It has been two years since we started on this and we have been really excited the whole way through. It has been a really enjoyable process. Stuart is really rigorous.

"We were friends before but we are even better friends now. I've learned so much. Not just about opera but about music and politics and others' opinions."

Louise is the author of a string of popular novels including The Cutting Room, The Bullet Trick and, most recently, Death is a Welcome Guest.

She is currently writing the final volume of the Plague Times trilogy.

She said: "It's set seven years after the Plague. It's still a crime novel but it's slightly speculative. It's the most speculative I've written.

"It's thinking partly of the children who were orphaned during the pandemic. I'm really enjoying it."

Following its Scottish premiere on January 23, The Devil Inside will be presented in Toronto, Canada, by Tapestry Opera.

This will be the first time that Scottish Opera has appeared in North America and it is funded by the Scottish Government's International Touring Fund.

Chilling tale of hell, man, imp

Robert Louis Stevenson's short story The Bottle Imp was published in 1891. His take on the genie in the bottle legend, set in Hawaii, has been adapted a number of times before Scottish Opera's version, including an episode of TV's Twilight Zone. Here is an extract.

And he opened a lockfast place, and took out a round-bellied bottle with a long neck; the glass of it was white like milk, with changing rainbow colours in the grain. Withinsides something obscurely moved, like a shadow and a fire.

"This is the bottle," said the man; and, when Keawe laughed, "You do not believe me? Try, then, for yourself. See if you can break it."

So Keawe took the bottle up and dashed it on the floor till but it jumped on the floor like a child's ball, not injured.

"This is strange," said Keawe. "For by the touch, as well as the look, the bottle should be of glass."

" "Of glass it is," replied the man, "but the glass of it was tempered in the flames of hell. An imp lives in it, and that is the shadow we behold there moving. If any man buy this bottle, the imp is at his command; all that he desires - love, fame, money, houses like this house, ay, or a city like this city - all are his at the word uttered. Napoleon had this bottle, and by it he grew to be the king of the world; but he sold it at the last, and fell. Captain Cook had this bottle, and by it heAUTHOR Stevenson found his way to so many islands; but he, too sold it, and was slain upon Hawaii. For, once it is sold, the power goes and the protection; ill will befall him."

"And yet you talk of selling it yourself?" Keawe said.

"I have all I wish and I am growing elderly," replied the man. "There is one thing the imp cannot do - he cannot prolong life; and, it would not be fair to conceal from you, there is a drawback; for if a man die before he sells it, he must burn in hell forever."

"To be sure, that is a drawback and no mistake," cried Keawe.

It's a story about greed but also about love and what you would do for love - would you go to hell?


AUTHOR Stevenson

BIG HIT Early cover of The Bottle Imp

dream team Louise and Stuart, right, are excited about the Scottish premiere of opera The Devil Inside
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 3, 2016
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