The challenge of realising a new opera score for the first time is one which is at once a great privilege and a heavy responsibility. The privilege manifests itself in the entire absence of ‘tradition’, that abstract concept which masquerades as truth and teacher, and, when left unquestioned, sabotages even the best performances. The responsibility comes, perversely, from a need to begin laying those same ‘traditions’ and from hoping that decisions on pacing, style and delivery are being taken intelligently and with justification.
As a conductor there is much that is impressive about this jaunty and violent score: the imaginative orchestration, the slick pacing and simple, strong architecture immediately spring to mind. It is, however, the intimate and playful relationship that exists between the words and music which is the greatest gift to the creative team. All operatic composers worth their salt understand this important interplay – the words sometimes inspiring the music, the music sometimes acting as springboard for the words. Here, that relationship, opera’s raison d’être, is kept well-nourished. The strong connection between libretto and score has enabled us make creative decisions with the confidence that we are serving the interests of the piece rather than acting against it.
The success of this two-way relationship can be measured by the sheer amount of variety in this short opera. Schizophrenic woodwind writing mirrors Mother Bear-Pig’s psychoses, whilst lush string phrases put us firmly in a fairytale sound world (even if this sound world is undermined at every possible opportunity). A hunting horn both evokes the forest and acts as a portent of death and pizzicato writing offer moments of Hitchcockian horror. The huge amount of contrast makes it easy to forget that here we have an orchestra of only ten players. Vahan has managed to employ these ten players in writing which is at once idiomatic and startlingly original so that the auditory illusion is of a band with twice as many personnel.
The other most impressive trick of this piece lies in the characterisation. It is no mean feat in an opera lasting sixty minutes to provide an audience with enough information to feel that they can relate to those on stage. Here the characters have been skilfully fleshed-out (in both the metaphorical and literal sense) to become figures that we can invest in, even if that investment comes ultimately in the form of repulsion. A series of motifs attached to each character allow the audience to be led clearly and inexorably to the opera’s gory conclusion.
Like the best operas, ‘Goldilocks and the Three Pigs’ is full of exquisite contradictions: accessible yet original, fairy tale yet horror story, opera yet…? We hope you will enjoy it as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to life… (or should that be ‘death’?).