Pied Piper – 1972
The Court Theatre at Holland Park, in which the stage is the actual forecourt of seventeenth century Holland House, almost all that remains of it, was just the place visually for the arrogant burgher in Christopher Bowers-Broadbent’s new children’s opera The Pied Piper of Hamlin, of which surprisingly, no viable musical version seems to have been made since Parry’s day.
The opera was put on by the local W11 children’s opera group (“all my best friends are here,” the little boy next to me said in surprise). But without family connections or sentimental response to small children on stage, anyone would enjoy this music. The new opera is charming, never over-pretentious musically (mostly in unison, with a few small solo parts for children and one professional singer for the Pied Piper) and economically and expertly scored for 11 instruments and percussion. An eclectic score, someone said; certainly the rats get a piece of Rite of Spring-type music for their first entry, and a slightly Frenchified slow waltz later on, and the Piper’s tune, sufficiently weird and compulsive in context, is split between woodwind in a way that I suppose wouldn’t have happened without the precedent of Webern.
Dramatically, the work didn’t grip as it might have, in this setting, which was too big for the small actors to establish contact, even with the amplification, with the restless audience of children; and aeroplanes were an added hazard. I liked a good deal of what I could hear of Jeremy Hornsby’s libretto. Alan Byers, whose words came over very clearly, sang lyrically to make the Pied Piper into a real and sympathetic character.