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BMOP Mounts 12-Tone Take on Children’s Book


The Boston premiere of Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Charles Wuorinen’s “an over-flowing feast of witty, inventive music-theater,” will take place Saturday night at Jordan Hall in the third installment of the Boston Modern Opera Project’s season as Gil Rose leads a semi-staged production featuring guest soprano Heather Buck. James Fenton derived his libretto from Salman Rushdie namesake novel. The result is a sophisticated, adult fantasy-opera based on an equivalently sophisticated children’s novel written by a man under a death sentence. “For those who want an opera of widely diverse dramatic character and complex music, this is for you,” says Gil Rose.

Bombay-born Salman Rushdie completed his first children’s novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, in 1990, while in hiding in England under an intentional assassination-sentence by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for blasphemy to Islam in the author’s previous book.

In a make-believe world, based loosely on Bombay and Kashmir, the story of Haroun is a tale of a fight between the free imagination and the powers that oppose it.  The libretto stays close to the buoyant spirit of the original children’s book, conjuring up a fantasy world, without ever losing Rushdie’s colorful parable of the crucial importance of freedom of speech. Aptly, Wuorinen’s 12-tone musical language has “layers of colorful, bouncy, sometimes Oriental, always ‘singable’ phrases and motives that glide or explode in many directions.” (Opera News)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Charles Wuorinen (b.1938) has written more than 260 compositions to date. He has been described as a “maximalist,” writing music luxuriant with events, lyrical and expressive, and strikingly dramatic. His works are characterized by powerful harmonies and elegant craftsmanship, offering at once a link to the music of the past and a vision of a rich musical future. Regarding his music for Haroun, he described it as “typical me, and does not try to be anything non-Western, non-me, or non-American.”

Soprano Heather Buck wowed audiences last season in BMOP’s semi-staged opera The Trial at Rouen. She created the title role in Haroun which Opera News described as “a career-breakthrough for soprano Heather Buck. Diminutive but friskily all over the stage, she inhabited and enlivened her character and the story, and the music’s high flights fazed her not.”

Heather Buck (file photo)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Saturday, January 19, 2019 | 8:00pm
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory

Charles Wuorinen Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Heather Buck, Haroun Khalifa
Stephen Bryant, Rashid Khalifa
Brian Giebler, Iff, the water genie
David Salsbery Fry, Butt – Hoopoe
Wilbur Pauley, Mali, King of Gup
Michelle Trainor, Oneeta – Princess – Batcheat
Matthew DiBattista, Snooty Buttoo
Charles Blandy, Prince Bolo
Neal Ferreira, Mr. Sengupta – Khattam-Shud
Heather Gallagher, Soraya
Steven Goldstein, Goopy
Aaron Engebreth, General Kitab

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