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
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Skrillex and Diplo's 24-hour DJ set shut down by police after 18 hours
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Drake matches The Beatles' record with 14 singles in top 100 chart at the same time
Aidan Turner interview: 'being a sex symbol is a little awkward'
Oscars 2015: Get a sneak peek inside this year's outrageous $125,000 goodie bags
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'