Glyndebourne is without doubt one of the world’s greatest opera houses, internationally acclaimed not only for its often innovative productions of the classics but also for its dedication to the new. It should be equally acclaimed for its brilliant youth opera, a part of the company that is dedicated to developing the form with young people from across Sussex.

Pay The Piper is their latest project and that is not only is dedicated to youth but also to the often overlooked talents of female composers. In this case Anna Appleby, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Cecilia Livingston and Ailie Robertson who together with librettist Hazel Gould have created a new work that re-examines the story of Hamelin and the Pied Piper.

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

From the moment you enter the the auditorium there is a sense of surprise, the stall seats have been removed to create an arena and to one side is a beautiful and gigantic white puppet, a child that looms above the space, a sad faced effigy manipulated by a team of young puppeteers from Windmill Young actors.

The space is Hamelin and the children of the town slowly drift in, one moving a huge clear globe and the rest holding hand sized spheres, lit from grills beneath their feet the spectacle is beautiful.

But very soon the rats appear and with it the terrible tension, the threat of plague and despair.

A buffoon of a mayor does not know what to do and nor do his council, that is until the Piper arrives and offers to rid the town of rats.

From there on we hear the story from different sides, the mayor, the mother, the lonely child and finally from the Piper. Several voices furnished with music again from several voices, a complex idea but remarkably cohesive and gripping.

Maya Kherani is stunning in the role of piper, haunting and charismatic as she charms first the rats and then the children. Adam Marsden makes a wonderful bumbling mayor and Rachel Lloyd fully creates the sadness of the mother. The Lonely Child, Tam, is played collectively by four excellent young voices, dressed uniformly in the same white as the giant puppet Tam.

The music is played by Psappha and although at time is complex and modern there is an underlying sense of a folk tradition. And the music is wonderful as is the libretto which is accessible and at all times sung with clarity, negating the need for the surtitles.

What soon came to mind was that this new work has real potential to be seen and heard again and again, maybe with a simpler orchestration. I could imagine it becoming a popular work for schools dedicated to music education. It doesn’t require expensive settings or a huge cast but that said I am delighted that I was privileged to experience this extraordinary premiere production.

The final words have to go to the cast of young performers, from the very young to the young adults who fill that chorus. Fine voices, excellent performance skills and, ringing out from the arena, some voices of exceptional quality, voices that we may be hearing again and again as this fantastic organisation develop those nascent talents.

Andrew Kay

25 February



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