1995 – The Dancing Princesses – ABOUT

The Dancing Princesses

Commissioned by W11 Opera in 1995

Synopsis: Once upon a time there lived an unhappy king with twelve beautiful daughters who were growing up to be rather a handful since the death of his queen. Each morning the princesses’ shoes were ruined as though they had been danced to pieces. The door of their room was securely locked each night but the girls always seemed to escape and each day the king had to summon twelve cobblers to replace the ripped shoes. The king issued a proclamation declaring that whosever solved the mystery could marry the princess of his choice. Suitors came from far and wide to try their luck and every night they were locked into the princesses’ boudoir, but in the morning they always emerged sleepy and bewildered without any clue as to the previous night’s events.

Composer Bill Connor  
Librettist Nick Renton
Music Director Dominic McGonigal
Soloists The King, Nanny, PM, Lenbennin, Paper Boy Jim, Blind Bill, Kia, Rose Ribbons, Polly Orange, Big Bad Boris, Grace, Arnold (Cobbler in Chief), Jo, The Chief of Police
Groups The Royal Household, MPs, The Suitors, The Princesses, The Cobblers
Orchestra Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Harp, Percussion

Notes on Production: A humorous retelling of the Grimm fairy tale about princesses who mysteriously dance their shoes to shreds every night – with a plot twist at the end.

The music is accessible and straightforward, mostly unison singing with easily learned repetitions. There is scope for a large cast including some broken voices. A wide variety of individual and group roles (at least six soloists0 offers opportunity for witty characterisation. One principal character, Jo the Traveller is a mostly spoken role.

All the action takes place in the king’s palace. There are strong possibilities for imaginative design and choreography but no extensive scene changing is required.

The age range of performers could be very broad within the 9-18 bracket, with attractive opportunities for younger groups. Running time approximately 60 minutes.


Act I: The Palace, daybreak

The king is keeping vigil outside the door of his daughters’ bedroom, and awakes furious with himself for falling asleep yet again. All morning he is besieged by failed suitors, busy cobblers, angry townspeople and obsequious politicians. What time remains is spent on the daily rituals (set down in 1447 by King Kevin the Bored): The Royal Headstand (Proclamation 211) and the veneration of the Royal Plum (Proclamation 214).

Everyone rushes off to see the latest execution. The eldest princess (Grace) invites a stranger (Jo) to go with her and watch. Bewildered by a kingdom where everyone sings and the local sport seems to be chopping heads off, Jo follows with trepidation.

Act II. Scene i: The Guillotine

The suitors are herded up for the chop, to the delight of the bloodthirsty crowd. Lenbennin and his group of revolutionaries arrive too late to stop the killings. They are chased away when the princesses suggest the Lenbennin might like to become the next suitor.

The king is so desperate to find a new volunteer to solve the mystery that when Jo accidentally blows her nose this is taken as an offer. Being dressed in man’s clothes Jo is mistaken by everyone for a man. Her protestations are lost as the Heralds announce the 3rd ritual of the day (Proclamation 311: The Royal Sing Song While Standing in a Tin Holding a Golden Egg on a silver Spoon). Jo is trying to make a speedy exit but is caught and dragged off to the princesses’ boudoir.

Act II Scene ii: the Princesses’ Boudoir

The princesses settle down for the evening with their nightly cup of cocoa. As usual they prepare a drugged cup for the new suitor. But Jo manages to swap her poisoned drink with Grace’s.

As soon as they all settle down to sleep, the cobblers appear at the window, disguised as princesses. The have come to collect the girls’ new shoes which the cobblers mean to wear out by dancing in them until dawn. As the princesses are passing their shoes to the cobblers, Jo raises the alarm. The Royal Household rushes to the scene. Princesses and cobblers are rounded up. Grace awakens from her drugged slumber and falls into the arms of the chief cobbler, Arnold, to everyone’s dismay.

The princesses come clean: Grace and Arnold had fallen in love and together they concocted the idea of ripped shoes, so that Arnold and his men would be summoned every day to mend them, and so they would be able to see each other. All the princesses claim they only ever wanted to marry the man of their choice.

When Jo is offered her reward, i.e. the promise d hand of a princess of her choice, she reveals her true identity. She prompts the king to change the law — no more executions, no more rituals or proclamations of Kevin the Bored, and the princesses may marry whomever they please. Her wishes are granted and Jo asks to sing a song.

And they all live happily ever after…


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