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Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows reached the opera stage for the first time in July, with Elena Kats-Chernin’s new version for young audiences, premiered to acclaim at the Staatstheater in Kassel.

The Wind in the Willows is familiar in many guises but until now has never been transformed into an opera. The new version by Elena Kats-Chernin fills this gap in sparkling form, with a two act opera for children, adapted from Kenneth Grahame’s classic ‘tales from the riverbank’ by Jens Luckwaldt. The work is scored for six singers, speaker, chamber orchestra and children’s choir and is available in German and English.

The staging by Sonja Trebes at the Staatstheater in Kassel was postponed a year due to COVID but was finally premiered on 2 July for an initial run of performances conducted by Mario Hartmuth, attracting large enthusiastic audiences back to the theatre. The opera focuses on the burlesque adventures of Mr Toad: car-mad and imprisoned in his house for everyone’s safety, escaping and crashing a stolen vehicle, sentenced to 20 years, escaping from prison, liberating his home from intruders, and finally recognising the error of his ways. All this set against the mystical riverbank scenery and the rich psychology and humanity of Toad’s animal friends.

The new Wind in the Willows adopts the Singspiel format, with spoken dialogue interspersed between a sequence of vocal and instrumental numbers. The music is in Kats-Chernin’s characteristic style, both colourfully illustrative and musically memorable, borrowing in witty fashion from genres such as tango, waltz and march. Numbers take on a recurring motivic role, such as The River is my Friend, first sung by Rat as a wandering song, then as a barcarole accompanying Rat and Mole in the rowing boat, a quick gallop for Toad’s reckless motorcar ride, and returning in the finale. Toad’s song in the dungeon parodies a baroque lament and the music of the god Pan reappears at key moments in the opera, from the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to Toad’s final transformation of character.

“The music of the Uzbek-Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin is catchy and at the same time full of subtleties. The commissioned opera arouses many associations - to nostalgic musical songs, but also to Russian masters like Serge Prokofieff. Kats-Chernin has a virtuoso command of different moods, be they lively, bizarre or melancholic, always with a wide range of harmonies and intricately orchestrated… The soulful melody of “I poor Toad” is one of the brilliant numbers of this children's opera… After the happy ending there was cheering applause from the audience across all age groups.”
Hessische Niedersächsische Allgemeine

"You immediately sympathize with the characters [...] A crazy story, but also with serious moments."

On 29 August the Melbourne Youth Orchestra premieres Inner Angels, inspired by a Tolstoy short story. This autumn also brings the long-awaited concert premieres of Bag of Twelve, a set of variations for the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra on sketches for a bagatelle by Beethoven (7 November) and of Human Waves , the third attempt by the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs to present this work commissioned for its centenary during the pandemic, exploring Australia’s migrant history and diverse community (21 November).

>  Further information on Work: Der Wind in den Weiden

Photo: The Wind in the Willows at Kassel Staatstheater (© N. Springer)

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