Beauty is a form of protest

2020 African Composers interview with Edewede Oriweh
Rick Muselaers (conductor) and Rexleigh interviewed about Requiem for the Living, in rehearsal.

Interview with arts journalist Robyn Sassen


2016 Radio interview about Requiem for the Living with Radio Sonder Grense (Radio Without Borders)

Rexleigh at Classic Fm with Richard Cock : People of Note.

The first section of People of Note interview with Richard Cock of Classic Fm. For the 2nd section of this comprehensive career interview, please see below.
People of Note part 2 : Classic FM interview with Richard Cock . For Part 3 of this interview please see Performance at

Media reviews of The Rainbow’s Child can be viewed at

ARTICLE published in TAA-DAA in 2015 by SA Arts journalist Johan Myburg, preceding the concert version

recording of LOST IN A BLUEBELL WOOD extracts.

Get a ‘Sneak Preview’ in Pretoria

Rexleigh Bunyard, an independant musician-composer and music teacher, is currently completing a chamber opera of approximately 60 minutes called Lost in a Bluebell Wood. Excerpts of this opera will be included in Bouquet, a concert programme planned for early October in Pretoria. Johan Myburg wanted to know more about Bunyard’s opera, based on the story of Gaynor Young’s terrible accident at the State Theatre in 1989 during a performance of Camelot, and her recovery.

Why did you choose the story of Gaynor Young for the opera and why opera as a medium to tell the story.

The story of what happened to Gaynor Young greeted me like a blow when I opened the newspaper one morning in 1989 to discover the horrible news that she had fallen down the lift shaft at the State Theatre during her understudy performance of Camelot. She is a contemporary of mine. I went to meet her last year in August for the first time.

Many accidents happen in theatre but this one was truly horrific. I have worked in theatres on and off over many years myself and know many actors and actresses, singers etc. in the music industry. The Camelot story (and the symbolic background to this tale in the Grail Legend) is a favourite of mine. During my doctoral study I analysed the archetypal symbology reflected in musical discourse of this musical, amongst others. 

By no means least, I have always felt a very strong affinity for the incredible life of Helen Keller and her amazing teacher Anne Sullivan. These parallel the lives of Gaynor and her mother to a degree. Both girls suffered extreme losses and emerged with the help of their mentors, as highly enriched human beings with extraordinary perspectives which they have shared with humanity, to our gain.

To have such a terrible disaster befall one, as Helen did at an early age when she lost her hearing and sight due to an illness, and then emerge as an incredible force of human insight and achievement, in spite of her difficulties (or maybe because of them?) is mind-boggling.

I have the utmost admiration for people who have survived and triumphed over crippling events in their lives, and my opera Lost in a Bluebell Wood is a tribute to their efforts and the testimony of their great spirits.

I chose opera as the medium for Lost in a Bluebell Wood because it has all the serious dramatic and musical ingredients to put across a powerful story such as Gaynor’s. She loved and still loves music (she can hear again now thanks to two cochlear implants).  Opera also has the potential to convey psychic reality at several levels via symbolic means. These elements communicate to the human psyche of the audience at subliminal levels. Musicals by nature are usually much more lightweight in their treatment of a topic – even the more serious ones like Jesus Christ SuperstarThe FantasticksMan of La Mancha etc.

I chose opera as the medium for Lost in a Bluebell Wood because it has all the serious dramatic and musical ingredients to put across a powerful story such as Gaynor’s.

Why did you decide on the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter as a subtext for the opera?

The profile of Gaynor Young’s story fits the symbolic profile of the Greek myth of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest (mother) and Persephone (daughter). 

Persephone was captured by Hades (the Lord of the Underworld) and taken to his realm. Her mother Demeter searched for her daughter over all the Earth. Upon discovering that she had been kidnapped, Demeter pleaded for her release. This was only partially granted, because the condition of her release was that she should not have eaten anything during her stay in Hades. As she was leaving, myth has it that Hades gave Persephone a pomegranate seed. She ate it and was thus thereafter allowed to live half in the world, with her mother, and half of the year in the Underworld, with Hades.

This myth is a symbolic story about a seed falling into the ground and growing. Spring and Summer are the seasons of growth, and Autumn and Winter are the seasons of withdrawal when the seed lies in the ground, waiting for the next Spring etc.

Gaynor fell into the bowels of the earth (literally) but also symbolically, she went on a very difficult life journey with extreme injuries as a result of her accident, from which she has emerged as a motivational speaker and inspirational writer. She says that her mother raised her twice. The journey she took was as much a spiritual one as a physical one. She has been symbolically “reborn” like a seed which “dies” and then grows into a plant as part of its life cycle, to bear fruit and then cast its own seeds into the ground etc. 

In Lost in a Bluebell Wood the imagery of the Greek myth and of a tree falling in a great storm, leaves etc. are interwoven with Gaynor’s story, using metaphor and symbol as a vehicle to convey the harsh literal realities of her life events and perspectives.

Who was responsible for the libretto?

I wrote it myself. If this sounds rather startling and out of the blue… I have written text and lyrics for many years, most notably perhaps for my stage musical The Rainbow’s Child ( which was performed by the National School for the Arts in Braamfontein, at the Wits Theatre in 2001.

In Lost in a Bluebell Wood the imagery of the Greek myth and of a tree falling in a great storm, leaves etc. are interwoven with Gaynor’s story, using metaphor and symbol as a vehicle to convey the harsh literal realities of her life events and perspectives.

Could you elaborate on the musical structure of the opera? 

The musical structure of the opera as a whole outlines the story of Gaynor with ensemble items for the chorus, the main arias for mother and daughter characters, a duet between mother and daughter, recitatives for cameo characters such as doctor, lawyer etc., smaller arias for the father character, and some dry dialogue with and without musical underscoring when the daughter character is interviewed on TV for instance.

The opera is scored for orchestral piano, violin, cello, contrabass, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet, and percussion, pitched and unpitched.

Are we talking about opera here in the line of say Thomas Adès?

Yes, in the sense that he has also used literary work of Shakespeare for example, as a point of departure in his operatic work. But Lost in Bluebell Wood is much shorter – a chamber opera. In this concert version the chorus and main role characters (mother and daughter) will perform without dramatisation – although they and the chorus (Armonia Chamber Singers) will be utilising sign language as a dramatic enhancement to the text and music. This is not intended to be a literal interpretive device and is not implemented throughout, only to highlight certain moments, phrases etc. Incidentally although Gaynor learnt sign language at one stage she preferred to lip-read.  

When do you foresee the complete opera might be performed?

This Bouquet performance is a ‘sneak preview’ of the whole opera, which I will complete later this year. I am planning to produce the opera in total during 2015/16, subject to raising the finance necessary to mount it, or possibly being included in a festival line-up, for instance. (I find it so far much simpler to write libretto and music than to raise money for an entire opera production!)

How are you going to present the excerpts from the opera for the Bouquet concert version?

We will be performing this concert version of extracts from Lost in a Bluebell Wood with the ensemble as outlined in the orchestration list, except for the bass clarinet, which is not required in the sections I have selected for this performance. Zanta Hofmeyr (violin), Katia Sokolova (cello), Marike Prins (contrabass), Handri Loots (flute), Lizet Smith, Laetitia Orlandi (piano), David Gooding and Trdinda Woods (percussion) will make up the ensemble accompanying the chorus and soloists, which I will conduct.

Sempre Opera presents Bouquet, a programme with flowers as theme, on Sunday 5 October at 16:00 in the Stella Street NG Kerk in Brooklyn, Pretoria.

The artists involved are Deirdre Blignaut-Rautenbach, Jo-Nette LeKay and Linelle Wimbles (soprano), Linette van der Merwe and Claudia Pike (mezzosoprano) and Chris Mostert (tenor), the Armonia Chamber Singers directed by Schalk van der Merwe, Laetitia Orlandi (piano) and the mentioned ensemble.

Tickets are available at at R130 (R90 for pensioners and students).