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Errollyn Wallen's Cautionary Tales

31/03/2011
4* Review
The world premiere of Errollyn Wallen's 50-minute opera took place in Leeds at the beginning of March. Opera North commissioned this short opera for children using Hiliare Belloc's Cautionary Tales, created in a collaboration between Errollyn and direct Pia Furtado. Cautionary Tales is scored for 4 voices (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone), Piano, Double bass/Electric bass and Percussion.

Review - GUARDIAN, Alfred Hickling, 4 stars:

There are many reasons why you might encourage children to go to the opera: enchantment, education, the beginnings of a lifelong interest in music. You wouldn't necessarily expect them to receive a reprimand for going; but then Hilaire Belloc's moralistic Cautionary Tales delivers a peculiarly fascinating form of telling off.

Published in 1907 and never out of print since, Belloc's Cautionary Tales Designed for the Admonition of Children between the Ages of Eight and Fourteen Years, to give its full title, has inspired composers from Peter Warlock to Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. Now Errollyn Wallen has crafted a selection of the stories into a dramatic cantata delivered by a stern quartet of Pink Floydish scary schoolmasters. These macabre, masked pedagogues prowl between rows of desks demanding silence in class: any shufflers or fidgeters are glowered at before the opera can begin.

But when it does start, Wallen's piano-led score turns out to be a delightful mish-mash of influences cheerfully capable of quoting Bach and the theme from Mission Impossible in a single phrase. It's backed up by a wittily inventive production by Pia Furtado in which Matilda, the liar whose house was on fire, disappears as if by magic; and Henry King, who chewed too much string, undergoes a knotty, on-stage operation. All the performances are good, though Mark Le Brocq has a particularly fine time playing a child-eating lion as a cat-suited rock god.

Opera North has an impressive commitment to commissioning new work for young people: Wallen's piece joins Jonathan Dove's Adventures of Pinocchio and Swanhunter among a growing corpus of child-friendly classics. If you have any unruly offspring between the ages of eight and 14 who need admonishing, this comes highly recommended.

Hear the young audience's reaction after seeing Cautionary Tales:

 

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