Something of the night
The classic children's novel Marianne Dreams is brought to life at Sadler's Wells
Tuesday 15 June 2004
A young girl, confined to bed by illness, finds an old pencil in her great-grandmother's workbox and begins to draw - a windswept landscape, a lonely house, a face at a window - and those drawings come alive in her dreams. When a schoolfriend, injured playing football, supplants her as the object of attention, her imaginings take a dangerous and sinister turn.
Catherine Storr's 1958 novel Marianne Dreams is one of those classic children's stories that stay with readers far into adulthood. Among those whose imagination was gripped was the composer Andrew Lowe-Watson. "No other book I recall had quite the same atmosphere and power. For me, it is a modern fairy tale with a moral," he says. "You have to live in the world your imagination conjures up, and sometimes the anger we turn on others rebounds on ourselves."
He approached the publisher Faber and Faber in 1999, and was gratified not only to get the go-ahead to adapt the work, but to find that the author, then in her eighties, was keen to write the libretto herself.
Storr completed the libretto shortly before her death in 2001. "We spent many working lunches in her flat overlooking the rooftops of Hampstead," Lowe-Watson recalls, "going over the words she had written until we had a workable libretto. One of the things that impressed me most was her insistence that simple words were best in opera. 'Let the music show the wind in the grass,' she told me".
Lowe-Watson is the prolific and versatile composer of 11 musicals, including eight commissioned by the Brothers Grimm festival in Hanau, and the highly acclaimed Strange Domain, based on Le Grand Meaulnes, the haunting novel of childhood's end by the French writer Alain Fournier, who was killed in the First World War.
Marianne Dreams is his first venture into opera however, and asked about the fundamental difference between writing a musical and an opera, Lowe-Watson said: "In an opera, the music leads. There are passages when it has its own momentum and takes the words with it. But it would be quite wrong to do that in a musical. But what writing musicals has taught me is the importance of reaching out to an audience on first hearing. Although the music can be very intense, it has its lighter moments, too."
The music is warm and accessible, but anything but bland or formulaic. A sense of harmonic dislocation reinforces the unease of the narrative. The scoring, for chamber orchestra, is spare: a plangent solo oboe embodies Marianne's dream-states; sombre brass represents the forbidding ring of the stones that she conjures up around her home. The one-act work receives its world premiere at a concert performance at Sadler's Wells tomorrow.
"I hope that Marianne Dreams will be a new kind of opera," says Lowe-Watson, "an opera that will reach everybody through the power of music and a thrilling story".
'Marianne Dreams', Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737), 16 June
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 4 Netherlands to withdraw food and shelter from failed asylum-seekers after just 'a few weeks'
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Wes Craven dead: Why Johnny Depp owes his career to director’s 13-year-old daughter
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
VMAs 2015: You can already buy ‘Kanye West for president’ t-shirts
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms