Philip Venables
Philip Venables | Photo: Monika de Alwis

Philip Venables, Nina Segal and Ted Huffman on We Are The Lucky Ones

1 March 2024

Philip Venables and Ted Huffman are steadily building up an operatic oeuvre that stands out for its diversity of new forms and stories. Now, in an exciting collaboration with playwright Nina Segal, they are working on their biggest project yet: We Are The Lucky Ones, an opera based on interviews with people born between 1940 and 1949.

Ted: “Several years ago, Philip and I pitched a community opera project that aimed to interview people near the end of their lives. That project never materialised, but the idea of looking back on a large expanse of time, of asking interview subjects in their seventies and eighties to reflect on their lives and to distill that material into an opera, stuck with us. This is our parents’ generation, and questions of continuity and rupture with this age group seem to be dominating so much political and cultural discourse today. So we wanted to invent a way, a form, to further explore those questions.”

Philip: “During the lockdown, I read The Years by Annie Ernaux, which tells her own life story set against social and political changes in post-war France. We discussed the book and, together with playwright Nina Segal, came up with an idea: what if we brought together not one human life, but a large number of lives, to tell a kaleidoscopic story of an entire generation across Western Europe? We had been fans of Nina’s work for some time; we saw a perfect match for this project in her writing.”

Ted Huffman

“An interesting wedge has developed between the generations”

Nina: “I was immediately interested in the project, mainly because of its sheer ambition and scale. We began by engaging interviewers in several countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, France and the UK. More than 70 people were interviewed using a questionnaire we had prepared. These conversations were then transcribed and translated, and from these we distilled the English language libretto.”

Ted: “We ended up with an immense collection to draw from, everything from raw, emotional confessions to banal commentary on the everyday. We extracted and shaped this source material in different ways: some parts we have used ‘verbatim’, others sparked our own imaginations to write further, and some have been conflated into collective memories.”

Nina Segal
Nina Segal | Photo: Oliver Rosser
Ted Huffman
Ted Huffman | Photo: Lea Meienberg

Philip: “In this sense, the opera lives between documentary and fiction.”

Nina: “What fascinates us about this generation is that these people were born in a time of scarcity, during and just after WWII. Over the course of their lives, they experienced an immense shift in society, economy, and culture. They had opportunities that hadn't been available to their parents, and they witnessed an unprecedented wave of scientific and technical advancement, of cultural norms evolving, as well as the birth of modern consumerism and exponential financial growth.”

Philip: “The generations following theirs – ours included – are not having the same experiences. Social securities are falling away, the political climate has hardened. Not to mention the effects of climate change.”

Ted: “An interesting wedge has developed between the generations. And a feeling that we are now, as a society, perched on a cliff’s edge.”

Nina: “The title of the work is a quote by one of the interviewees, who, while pondering their generation, remarked: ‘we are the lucky ones’.”

Text: Laura Roling

Nina Segal

Playwright Nina Segal made her debut in 2016 with In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) for the Gate Theatre. Since then, several plays have followed, including Big Guns, O, Island! and Shooting Hedda Gabler.

Philip Venables

Philip Venables is “a composer of ferocious dramatic instincts” (Alex Ross in The New Yorker) and “one of the finest composers around” (The Guardian). He has composed three operas, all of them in collaboration with Ted Huffman: 4.48 Psychosis, Denis & Katya and The Faggots and their Friends Between Revolutions.

Ted Huffman

Ted Huffman is a writer and director whose work spans productions for Festival Aix-en-Provence, Paris Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, La Monnaie, and many others. At Dutch National Opera, he previously directed Les mamelles de Tirésias, the double bill Trouble in Tahiti / Clemency and Denis & Katya.