Composers: Poul Ruders
Compositions: The Thirteenth Child
Performers: Santa Fe Opera/Benjamin Shwartz, David Starobin
Catalogue Number: Bridge BRIDGE9527

Danish composer Poul Ruders is familiar to most thanks to his critically acclaimed take on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, now depressingly prescient. His latest opera doesn’t stray too far from this long-established interest in the dark and macabre: The Thirteenth Child, with a libretto by Becky and David Starobin, is a loose adaptation of Grimm’s fairytale The Twelve Brothers, which is about a king who exiles his 12 sons so that his 13th child, a daughter, can succeed him. When daughter discovers what daddy dearest has done, she vows to find her brothers and restore peace to the kingdom.

This recording has been released to coincide with the world premiere staging by Santa Fe Opera, and while it has its virtues, it’s ultimately an imperfect work. It feels curiously bloated at times, and there’s not enough attention given to the complex relationships at the heart of the piece. The bond between the princess and her late mother is strongly foregrounded, but somehow never captures the heart. Nor does the opera’s climax, which culminates in the death of the princess’ youngest brother.

It’s a shame, because the music is interesting and full of the menace of which Ruders is master, vibrantly realised by the Odense Symphony under David Starobin and Benjamin Shwartz. The cast is a strong one, a radiant Sarah Shafer demonstrating fine dramatic instincts in the title role. It’s just that the opera doesn’t build to very much.