17 January 1982
extraordinary oasis of village enterprise, Blewbury, in Oxfordshire,
has for the second time commissioned an opera from a young British
composer, and performed it with success in the village's thirteenth-century
church. In 1978, they put on Richard Blackford's one-act Sir
Gawain; now the Londoner Gary Carpenter has come up with a full-length
opera on The Snow Queen, a much more ambitious project, but
one pretty well tailored to the resources of this lively but of
course mainly amateur community. It was also perilously topical
- though luckily not quite so as to bring about its own closure
(I saw it on 5 January).
has apparently turned itself into a minor arts centre and has put
on plays and art shows as well as operas, always using its own local
talent. The Snow Queen was done without professionals. There
were lots of parts for children (some of them marvellously touching,
like Jenny Marshall's Gerda and the coolly assured Kay of George
Long) and sensibly scaled adult parts for amateur singers and actors.
the orchestra (skilfully controlled by Olga Latham) Carpenter got
variety by numbers rather than technical complication, and this
made available to him certain generalised procedures for creating
a degree of harmonic richness while sticking to a simple modal style
of melody. So the music glittered and shimmered, in a way that matched
Ron Freeborn's cleverly stylised production and Roy East's designs,
with their cunning techniques for suggesting magic through simple
difficulty of writing such a work is only too obvious. It must be
clear, direct and comprehensible, but not naive and above all not
boring. Carpenter is a sophisticated composer who has worked with
professional modern dance companies, and there are certainly times
in The Snow Queen when one feels that the adherence to a
modal style costs him something in expressive and dramatic range.
However, after a slow start, the work grows in interest, expands
in texture and harmony, and ends by being extremely moving. It has
good characters, good action, quite good tunes and an allegorical
power comparable to that of Andersen's story; no mean achievement.
Incidentally the production will be the subject of an ATV film to
be shown in the spring.
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