An opera for children (and cool adults)
Music by Benjamin Gordon
Libretto by Francis Hüsers
Adventure beckons Lotte, Kalle and Lilli, who set their raft on the Elbe towards the open sea. Before their plans of discovering sunken treasure are realized, a storm destroys the raft. Pirates rescue them and subsequently demand remuneration. Since the three Sinbadventurers can offer nothing in return, the pirates prepare to throw them back into the sea, but cooler heads prevail: the three children might be helpful in rescuing the pirates’ captain, who is being held captive by the man-eater Caesar Knochenschmalz.
Caesar Knochenschmalz is not the least bit interested in any deal involving three skinny children, since he has gone to great lengths to fatten Captain Igor. Lotte persuades the man-eater to try some of the tofu which the pirates have on board. Caesar Knochenschmalz is not only enthralled with Lotte’s barbecue tofu but also enamored of Lotte herself. He pronounces Lotte to be his bride, and gives Captain Igor back to the pirates. Lotte protests, but Kalle and Lilli convince her to go along with the engagement, as is the only way to save their skin until they can plot their escape.
On the way back to Hamburg, the ship runs aground on a seemingly deserted island. The nasty smell of sweaty feet permeates the otherwise enchanted island, whose sole inhabitant is the sorceress Cindy Magnifiscent. Cindy proceeds to magically transform the uninvited visitors into cows, pigs, sheep and chickens, with the exception of Kalle, who persuades Cindy (holding his nose all the while) to let him wash her feet. Transfixed, she transforms all the animals back into people, saving Caesar Knochenschmalz for last, augmenting his retransformation with a special love-spell. No longer a cow, he falls instantly in love with Cindy and breaks off his engagement to Lotte. Lotte gives Cindy the recipe for barbecue tofu while Cindy and Caesar proclaim their love for one another. The others board the pirate ship and set sail for Hamburg.
In between the scenes are two interludes, one comic and one tragic. The first imagines an encounter between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Otto von Bismarck, who scheme to get Heligoland back from the British; the second recounts the catastrophic demise of the 14th century city Rungholt, explaining how gold might have found its way into the North Sea.
As composer and conductor, I was able to try out a lot of crazy ideas with the children. With the very first reading I knew if the idea worked or not, as children memorize good music almost immediately. Children tend to be very polite and don’t protest when they don’t fancy the music, but I can sense their thoughts and know that I need to go back to the drawing board. When the children are still singing the music after rehearsal while heading out the door, then I feel like a king. (Benjamin Gordon)
Photos from the World Premiere at the Hamburg State Opera (February 2015) Copyright: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
Musical Director: Benjamin Gordon
Stage Director: Nicola Panzer
Set Designer: Robert Pflanz
Costumes: Kirsten Fischer
Lotte (13 years old)
Kalle (11 years old)
Lilli (9 years old)
Captain Igor Oberechoist (Baritone)
The Echoist Helmsman
The Echoist Treasurer
The Littlest Echoist
The Echoist Pirates (Chorus)
Ceasar Knochenschmalz, Man-eater (Bass)
Cindy Magnifiscent, a beautiful sorceress (Soprano)
Kaiser Willi II
Otto von Bismarck (played by Ceasar Knochenschmalz)
3 Hottentotten from Zanzibar
3 Seagulls from Heligoland
3 Seagulls from Rungholt (sung by the Heligoland seagulls)
Women from Rungholt (Chorus)
Men from Rungholt (Chorus)
The Mayor from Rungholt (sung by Kaiser Willi II)