In order to make sure that opera is accessible for children a lot of imagination and creativity has to go into ensuring that the story comes through in a way that captures their attention and holds on to it from start to finish. Conor Mitchell’s reimagining of the story of the Pied Piper succeeds for the most part but feels as though it could use some tightening up in places.
Playing as part of this year’s Belfast Children’s Festival, The Musician: A Horror Opera For Children explores the story of the Pied Piper by giving him a back story of how he became the way he did. Musically, it is a piece that hits you instantly – filled with bold sounds that really enhance the unfolding story nicely, particularly adding to the tension and drama towards the climax of the show when the rats begin to take over. Conducted with great energy and depth by Tom Brady, the performances of the musicians manages to give extra depth and meaning to the performances on stage.
Running at just over an hour, the music and libretto by Mitchell is sharp and concise written in a way that engages the attention. This can be seen during the narration at the beginning and we are introduced to the character simply known as ‘the boy’ who in turn is introduced to the musician who helps him to discover an unexpected talent. Both the words and the music are effective in wrapping around themselves around the audience in a way that has been carefully constructed.
However, this being said it does feel as though the piece begins to lose a little bit of its way as it becomes clear that the boy’s confidence in his abilities are going to lead him down a dark and somewhat greedy path in order to prevent himself from going back to the hungry and poor characters we meet at the beginning. This section could be a little bit more tense and slightly clearer in terms of narrative to really allow the implications of the actions the boy has sink in for the audience. The energy feels a little bit lacking here as well.
In turn, I love the visual effects used throughout – including the projections by Gavin Peden that not only help set the changing scenes effectively but also cleverly used to represent the mice and rats that go on to cause absolute havoc for the vile little girl (that is in fact what she is known as in the production). Certainly visually this is a very enchanting opera production.
Meanwhile, the characterisations and performances from the cast are all excellent. In particular, Matthew Cavan as the Traveller stands out in the way in which he poetically narrates the story with just a hint of dangerous undertones that captures the attention of the audience automatically. Elsewhere, Rebecca Murphy as the Vile Little Girl is delightfully petulant with stunning vocals, Sarah Richmond shows the developing character of the Boy with great insight and Paul Carey Jones as The Musician is a strong and charismatic presence.
Overall, The Musician is a delightfully dark (but never overwhelmingly scary for those wanting their children to see this) take on the Pied Piper but it feels as though much more could have been done to the story to develop it further.
By Emma Clarendon
The Musician will be streamed until the 14th March. Tickets are £5 per device, and can be accessed on demand via the QFT player: https://www.youngatart.co.uk/whats-on/musician