David Bruce’s family opera is based on Philip Pullman’s fairy tale novel via Glyn Maxwell’s libretto. One of the co-commissioners of the piece, ROH2, suggests in their publicity material that the piece would be suitable for children from the age of 8 upwards, though if they haven’t read the book, they may find the episodic narrative a little hard to follow. A two-act structure, also, might have been effectively pruned down to one sizable act.
A scene from The Firework-Maker's Daughter, at Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London Photo: Robert Workman
No one should have difficulty with Bruce’s score, which without being memorable is certainly easy on the ear. Musically, the setting is pseudo-oriental, much of it sounding like Puccini’s Turandot, though on a much smaller scale. At its best, the result is entertaining, and comes over well here with the contemporary music ensemble Chroma conducted by Geoffrey Paterson.
Mary Bevan sings Lila, the firework-maker’s daughter, who sets off on her quest to discover the secrets of her father Lalchand’s trade. She supplies boundless energy, as does Wyn Pencarreg as Lalchand himself. James Laing sings the countertenor role of the elephant Hamlet, one of many colourful characters Lila encounters on her adventures, while Amar Muchhala’s splendid lyric tenor gives him notable presence as Hamlet’s keeper, Chulak. Andrew Slater enjoys himself as Rambashi, the ferryman who turns out to be a pirate, and in John Fulljames’s lively production there’s a fair amount of doubling up from the versatile company. The evening’s best features are visual, with Dick Bird’s colourful designs and puppetry from Steve Tiplady and Sally Todd of Indefinite Articles consistently hitting the spot.