Conducting: a dialogue with the unknown - As a farewell tribute to the great Polish conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who has died at the age of 93, I'd like to post this fascinating interview fil...
3 days ago
You missed a rip-roaring success this evening. Bernard Hughes' children's opera is a multi-layered treat. Beautifully paced and directed with opportunities for every single member of the huge cast (80+ children) to do their bit. Bernard provided patter songs, duets, comic choruses, introspective solos, big set pieces and a neat orchestral interlude between the two acts (was Bernard inspired by a joint outing to see Berg's Lulu a year ago, I was wondering?).
Despite the story's Bengali origins and setting, the score steadfastly avoided any concessions to Bollywood beyond a tabla and a brief episode where a pizzicato cello stood in for a sitar. The music communicated in very singable but by no means predictable terms with remarkably resourceful use of a small group of nine instruments. The closing, roof-raising chorus proceeded majestically in 7/4 with the instrumental ensemble adding a thoroughly rousing contribution.
What was notable throughout was Bernard's clear determination to give each character (and there were six main characters and several subsidiary parts) something individual to sing. Bernard's librettist, William Radice, clearly knows how to inject wit, fantasy, drama and occasional pathos into the simplest of tales. The start, in which the Storyteller is loudly and hilariously rubbished by members of the cast planted in the audience who then get drawn into the story as it unfolds is an inspired opening.
On a more personal note, the stage action managed to include a quick cricket lesson for the hero, something which must have carried particular poignancy for the composer, given Bernard's devotion to the game and his assiduous following of England's unfortunate progress in the Ashes.
The production, choreography, sets and costumes as well as the cast and players all did Bernard's work proud. I think it would be fair to say that for Bernard and his librettist, Christmas has come very early this year.
[ written by Cedric Peachey, 09 Dec 2006]