Something of the night

The classic children's novel Marianne Dreams is brought to life at Sadler's Wells

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

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935