Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy in Geneva
Librettist Stephen Pruslin describes Harrison Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy (1967) as a kind of prototype of the opera form:
“What we were not trying to do was to write a children’s opera that would faithfully represent the traditional Punch and Judy puppet-play. Anyone who has witnessed that entertainment in its usual fairground or seaside setting will know what there is very little an operatic version could add to the cogent and forceful original. No, what we wanted was something quite different: a stylized and ritualistic drama for adults that used all of the imaginary, the trappings and paraphernalia of the original as a departure-point.” (Pruslin)
The Grand Théâtre de Genève is now showing the joint production by the English National Opera and the Young Vic (première 1 April). Wen-Pin Chien conducts the Ensemble Contrechamps.
After the world première at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1968 Andrew Porter wrote in the Financial Times:
“Punch and Judy succeeds because Pruslin commands an effective theatre language and because Birtwistle’s concise, delicate ear has imagined beautiful and eloquent sounds and set them in strong meaningful forms. It becomes not just an opera of ideas – though of course it is that – but also an individual dramatic-musical poem, intricate and intellectual, rewarding the closest attention one can bring, yet at the same time simple and direct, strong as a nursery rhyme in its essential statements.”