University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

University of Hartford

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Ruders: The Thirteenth Child; Picker: Fantastic Mr. Fox

12/15/2019 1:00 pm
12/15/2019 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

The two fantasy operas featured on this third Advent Sunday are creations of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Thirteenth Child (2016) by the Danish composer Poul Ruders (b.1949) is an operatic takeoff on one of the more obscure tales from the Brothers Grimm known as The Twelve Brothers. This is Ruders's fifth opera, one of his previous works being the dystopic fantasy The Handmaid's Tale (1998). In The Thirteenth Child, Ruders collaborated with the American husband-and-wife librettists, Becky and David Starobin. Also brought into the project was the symphony orchestra of Odense, a provincial city in Denmark and the birthplace of the famed fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen. This opera was jointly commissioned by the Odense Symfoniorkester and the Santa Fe Opera here in the US. The "Thirteenth Child" of the title is the beautiful young sister of twelve princely brothers. She is indeed a fairytale princess named Lyra. We can thank the American Bridge Records label for bringing before the public world premiere recordings like that of Pauline Viardot's fairytale opera, also works of contemporary lyric theater music such as Ruders's The Thirteenth Child. An American, Benjamin Shwartz conducts the Danish orchestra, with an international cast of vocal soloists. The opera is sung in English.

Tobias Picker (b. 1954) is one of the most distinguished names in contemporary American classical music. He writes music in all the classical genre forms, and has made a name for himself in the field of opera as well. On Sunday, November 17, 2002 I aired the world premiere recording for the British Chandos label of his Thérèse Raquin (2001), which is an adaptation for the lyric stage of a tragic tale of murder by the nineteenth-century French author, Emile Zola. Picker has written a comic opera for children based on a story by Roald Dahl. He likes to think of Fantastic Mr. Fox (1998) as a "family opera," in that adults and children alike will find it charming and find their own levels of meaning in it. Following its premiere by LA Opera it has been occasionally produced: in London a couple of times, then by Opera San Antonio in 2013 and then again by Odyssey Opera of Boston in 2014. A movie was made of it, released in 2009. It was also recorded after the Odyssey staging for release on silver disc through BMOP Sound. Conductor Gil Rose, who was in charge musically for the Odyssey production, led his own Boston Modern Orchestra Project in a studio retake of Fantastic Mr. Fox at Fraser Hall for Boston's public radio station WGBH. The Boston Children's Chorus took part in the proceedings.