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Music by Stephen McNeff Libretto by David Wood from the book by Philip Pullman

Unicorn Theatre at Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio
30 March 2004

Ian Jervis Ringelmann/Baron Stelgratz
Darren Fox Karl/Prince Otto
Anna Boucher Landlady/Princess Mariposa
Kevin West Burgomaster/Groom
Bernadette Lord Gretl/Lady-in-Waiting
Peter Willcock Fritz
Martin Nelson Dr. Kalmenius
Zoe Todd Prince Florian
Callum Sir Ironsoul

Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Martin Music Scholarship Fund/Paul Hoskins

A well-told story's like a well-made clock
Relentlessly unfolding till the final tock

Make no mistake, this is a significant full length opera for everyone, including "children over 8". We spent an enthralling and invigorating afternoon in the Royal Opera House with an enthusiastic full house of schools parties, attentive and quiet once the curtain had gone up; chattering like a multitude of roosting starlings during the interval.

It is played on an impressive set with a central clock tower and the complicated story deals with the making of 'figures' that come out with the striking of the hours. A new figure by a graduating apprentice is the centre of expectation; but it doesn't exist.

The libretto is a clever distillation of an early novel by the cult author Philip Pullman and it deals with the making of a story, with a tale within a tale, improvisation and writer's block, and with loose ends intrinsic to the narration. The synopsis (four densely printed columns) is considerably more bewildering than Trovatore, but repetition of key phrases à la Handel gets the gist of it all across.

Stephen McNeff does not write down to children in the least, and his score is deft and musically memorable; an opera well worth seeing twice. The eight-piece chamber ensemble of expert musicians (members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Martin Music Scholarship Fund) are on their toes under Paul Hoskins and there is no weak link in the cast of eleven singers taking fourteen parts between them.

An inspiriting occasion, much too good to remain the preserve of children and their teachers! There is a huge production team led by Tony Graham and the brilliant design is by Russell Craig who also made the important puppets.

See also the reviews from The Guardian (Lyn Gardner) and ConcertoNet (Helen Elsom).

Until April 3. Box office: 020-7304 4000


© Peter Grahame Woolf