In his new opera of The Snow Queen, the composer draws on the storytelling power of myth and adds a dash of panto.
Recently the phone beeped and displayed a Vic Emergency warning: ‘AVALANCHE IN YOUR WATCH ZONE’. It was a nice change from ‘DAMAGING WINDS’ or ‘BUSHFIRE AT…’ and it seemed appropriate as I was just finalising the orchestration of my new opera, The Snow Queen, which will premiere in Wodonga, not far from where I live, this November.
Victorian Opera commissioned the piece as part of its ongoing commitment to new work that can easily be toured throughout regional areas and that will appeal to all ages. Like many fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is perfect for the stage: a blend of myth and panto it is, fundamentally, a quest story – a hero goes in search of something or someone and meets with various challenges along the way.
Composer Gordon Kerry and director Elizabeth Hill in rehearsal for Victorian Opera’s The Snow Queen. Photo © Victorian Opera
Our hero is a young girl, Gerda, who is determined to find her best friend, a boy called Kai, who has been abducted by the Snow Queen. Her love for Kai gives Gerda immense courage, and on her long journey she meets various people and creatures, some of whom threaten danger but most of whom warm to her and help her to reach her goal. Gerda is befriended by a princess, a pair of crows, a robber girl and a reindeer; she is helped out by sparrows, pigeons and a singing rosebush. When she does finally come to the Snow Queen’s Arctic palace, Gerda’s tears break the spell that binds the boy and they can return home to a new spring.
The seasons feature strongly in the story, providing landscapes lit by the bright sun or the eerie Northern Lights, and Candice MacAllister’s set-designs will capture this through largely 3D digital technology: the Devil’s mirror (that brings evil into the world in the first scene), the forests and the tundra will be thrillingly brought to life as a backdrop for Elizabeth Hill’s direction.
Poet John Kinsella and I had fun making an opera of Snow White and Other Grimm Tales for Opera Scholars Australia in 2015, so this was an obvious next step. Best of all, while Victorian Opera provides principal singers, conductor and band, the choruses of sledding kids and helpful birds, drunken robbers and ghostly dreams are cast from people in our own community in Wodonga, all working really hard to be an essential part of the work’s creation.
Of course, the snow will all be gone from Victoria’s Alps by then, but I think we’ll make a magical world on stage.
Victorian Opera’s The Snow Queen is at The Cube Wodonga November 3 – 4.