23 Mar - 1 Jun 2013
Based on the story by Philip Pullman
Lila desperately wants to be a firework-maker like her father. But when he refuses to teach her, Lila runs away from home to discover the three gifts of firework-making for herself. With the help of her friends, Chulak and Hamlet, the love-sick elephant, Lila faces pirates, tigers and the terrifying Fire-Fiend on her perilous quest to find out what the three gifts really mean.
This new opera is a vivid re-telling of the award-winning children’s novel by author Philip Pullman, with a libretto by Glyn Maxwell. David Bruce’s music, bursting with colour and energy, sparkles with humour and musical fireworks of its own and is brought to life by magical puppetry.
Discover this gripping tale of friendship, determination and adventure that will be an explosive theatrical experience for all the family.
Co-produced by The Opera Group and Opera North in association with ROH2 and Watford Palace Theatre.
Co-commissioned by The Opera Group and ROH2.
Orchestral partner: CHROMA
Bruce's vividly coloured chamber score skims the Pacific rim for influences, combining gamelan crashes and plunky pentatonics with the incongruous wheeze of an accordion to create a beguiling, imaginary hybrid of Indo-European folk music. The cast are all engaging comic performers as well as fine singers: Mary Bevan's Lila has a gung-ho tendency to leap before she looks; Andrew Slater is delightful as the hapless Rambashi, whose career plans as a pirate and caterer come to nought; James Laing's ethereal countertenor seems curiously suited to the plight of a pining white elephant.
The cast of five is uniformly excellent and the performance is extremely well sung amid the adventure and the nonsense. Nowadays operas so often disappear without trace after their first run, but I am confident that The Firework Maker’s Daughter will return soon and often.
The show is part The Magic Flute, part The Wizard of Oz and with an audience-involving ending straight out of Peter Pan. Its pentatonic melodies are evocative of the Far East, too; yet the big numbers are more like wild, Irish-jig stomps. And to titillate grown-up listeners the musical allusions also pay homage to everything from Purcell, Stravinsky and Britten to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
In this huge-hearted, fast-moving caper there is shadow-puppetry, stilt-walking, mild peril, cardboard fish and a cardboard boat (designs by Dick Bird, puppets by Steve Tiplady and Sally Todd). The pyrotechnics come from magic markers, oil and water, craftbox glitter and two overhead projectors; the enchantment from the energy of the performers, the ingenuity of Guy Hoare's lighting, and the beauty of Bruce's music.
The vocal writing, sometimes echoing Britten in The Turn of the Screw without the ghosts, has moments of strong emotional truth. Many a parent, enjoying themselves thoroughly, may bewail the short attention span of their offspring who perhaps have no patience for magic lanterns or shadow puppets. But the mournful, lovesick crooning of a countertenor elephant may touch them quite in spite of themselves. If so, they have tasted the first fruits of opera addiction.
Bruce deserves credit for never musically talking down to his audience. His eclectic, glittering score serves the narrative perfectly, reflecting Pullman’s non-specific Indo-Oriental locations. It’s very well played, each twist and turn skilfully negotiated by the ensemble Chroma under Geoffrey Paterson.
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