Andrew Schultz’s two act chamber opera, The Children’s Bach, opus 74, has just been released as a compact disc and digital album (Wirripang, Wirr115, 2022). The opera is to a libretto by Glenn Perry based on Helen Garner’s 1984 novel of the same name (now published Text, Melbourne, 2019). The recording was made at the Canberra International Music Festival (Roland Peelman, director) in 2019.
The recording features leading Australian singers including Andrew Goodwin (playing the character of Philip) and Natalie Christie Peluso (as Athena). Also featured are two young performers (Michael Cherepinskiy as the musically gifted, autistic boy Billy) and Anna Khan (the precocious teenager Poppy). David Greco (Dexter), Anna Fraser (Elizabeth) and Amy Moore (Vicki) complete the excellent cast. Instrumentalists include Jason Noble, clarinet, and Edward Neeman, piano. Conducted by Roland Peelman, audio production is by Christian Huff-Johnson, Ralph Lane and Bob Scott.
The Children’s Bach was commissioned in 2008 by ChamberMade Opera with the aid of a Project Fellowship, Australia Council and the RE Ross Trust Awards. The 80 minute work is set in inner suburban Melbourne in the early 1980s and has a cast of seven. The cast is accompanied by an instrumental ensemble of six musicians plus an on-stage piano that is played by most of the opera’s characters but especially Billy. The work had its first season of 15 performances in Melbourne in 2008 in a production directed by Chris Kohn and conducted by Brett Kelly and Nicholas Carter.
The opera concerns Athena and Dexter, “who lead an enclosed family life in Melbourne, innocent of fashion and bound by duty towards an autistic child, Billy. Their comfortable rut is disrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth, a tough nut from Dexter’s past. With her sister (Vicki), fickle boyfriend (Philip) and his smart teenage daughter (Poppy), she draws the couple out into a world whose casual egotism and sexuality they had barely dreamed of. Can they get home again?” (Helen Garner, The Children’s Bach, Penguin Books, 1999.)
Other recent releases of Schultz’s music include ABC Classic albums of orchestral music, Maali (WASO/Simone Young) and Century (TSO/Hamish McKeich). Current commissions include works for WASO and the Australian War Memorial. Schultz is Emeritus Professor of Music at UNSW Sydney and the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University.
“Music assumes an integral role in Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach…The score plays on the book’s musical references while remaining utterly original.” [Cameron Woodhead, The Age]
“The score is certainly quite beautiful, powerful and often times even rather haunting. A rich, surprising and complex piece of composition…a very compelling and moving experience. The Children’s Bach might be exploring the seemingly mundane, but in many respects it is within reaching distance of the sublime.” [Jack Tiewes, Australian Stage Online]
The “score is lyrical and pervasively melancholic, save a joyous, dancing, unsung passage and the opera’s baroqu-ish duet coda…it’s the Bach-ian texturing and pulsing of the score that gives the work warmth and drive. …Schultz’s score sings, muses and dances.” [Keith Gallasch, Real Time Arts]
“This is an opera essentially about music, and the role it plays in the lives of the characters…The incorporation of Bach’s music into a variety of musical idioms in Schultz’s opera echoes Garner’s use of music in the novel, as a meditation on the vicissitudes and challenges of contemporary urban existence.” [Michael Halliwell, The Conversation]
A “deeply thoughtful composer, with a sophisticated yet not intimidating language of his own. His music throws up ideas and debate long after a performance has ended.” [Vincent Plush, Limelight]
“Garner attended one rehearsal expecting to feel little more than intellectual interest in the adaptation of her book, but when Dexter stood up and sang she was powerfully moved: ‘this rush of emotion came over me…’” [Bernadette Brennan, A Writing Life – Helen Garner and Her Work]
Listen to the final scene of the opera – Billy (Michael Cherepinskiy) plays the domestic onstage piano and then Elizabeth (Anna Fraser) and Vicki (Amy Moore) foresee Athena’s future.
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Anne Keats, Wirripang: email@example.com
Olivia Swift, Canberra International Music Festival: Olivia.Swift@cimf.org.au
Wirripang Media: www.australiancomposers.com.au | www.wirripang.com.au
Canberra International Music Festival: https://cimf.org.au
Andrew Schultz: www.andrewschultz.net
Reviews of the opera: https://andrewschultz.net/review/the-childrens-bach/
Text Publishing, Melbourne: https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/the-children-s-bach
CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL
Natalie Christie Peluso: Athena – soprano
David Greco: Dexter – baritone
Michael Cherepinskiy: Billy – boy treble
Anna Kahn: Poppy – teenage soprano
Anna Fraser: Elizabeth – mezzo-soprano
Andrew Goodwin: Philip – tenor
Amy Moore: Vicki/Angie/Girl – soprano
Jason Noble, Clarinet
Christopher Latham, Violin
Blair Harris, Cello
Max McBride, Double bass
Niki Johnson, Percussion
Edward Neeman, Piano
Christian Huff-Johnson, Ralph Lane and Bob Scott
Fitters’ Workshop, Kingston, ACT