Sir Harrison Birtwistle: The Second Mrs Kong

  • Opera in 2 acts (1993-1994)
  • 2 2 2 2 - 4 2 0 2 - perc(4), acc, sax(2), cimb, str(16 0 6 6 4)
  • Duration: 120’
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st flute (+alto fl
    2nd flute (+picc)
    1st oboe
    2nd oboe (+c.a)
    1st clarinet in Bb (+cl(A)
    2nd clarinet in Bb (+cl(Eb)
    bass cl)
    1st saxophone (sop.sax(Bb)
    alto sax(Eb)
    2nd saxophone (t.sax(Bb))
    1st bassoon
    2nd bassoon (+cbsn)
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    3rd horn in F
    4th horn in F
    1st trumpet in C
    2nd trumpet in C
    1st tuba (+euph)
    2nd tuba
    1st percussion
    2nd percussion
    3rd percussion
    4th percussion
    1st/2nd violin (desk 1)
    3rd/4th violin (desk 2)
    5th/6th violin (desk 3)
    7th/8th violin (desk 4)
    9th/10th violin (desk 5)
    11th/12th violin (desk 6)
    13th/14th violin (desk 7)
    15th/16th violin (desk 8)
    1st/2nd viola (desk 1)
    3rd/4th viola (desk 2)
    5th/6th viola (desk 3)
    violoncello (desk 1)
    violoncello (desk 2)
    violoncello (desk 3)
    contrabass (desk 1)
    contrabass (desk 2)
  • Choir: SATB
  • Roles: Kong, tenor Perl, soprano Anubis / Tod von Kong, bass-baritone Vermeer, baritone Spiegel / Spiegel Echo, lyric soprano Inanna (Mrs Dollarama), mezzo-soprano Mr Dollarama, baritone Swami Zumzum, tenore buffo Orpheus, countertenor Madame Lena, alto 4 Modelle / Zweifel / Furcht / Verzweiflung / Schrecken, low mezzo-soprano, mezzo-soprano, soprano, high soprano Eurydice, lyric soprano Die Toten, choir Der monströse Bote / Joe Shady, bass Paganini, violin
  • Composer: Sir Harrison Birtwistle
  • Librettist: Russell Hoban
  • Original language: English
  • Translator: Sven Hartberger
  • Commission: Commissioned by Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Work introduction

After The Mask of Orpheus (1973-1984), Birtwistle returned to the Orpheus myth with The Second Mrs. Kong; but this time, Russell Hoban’s libretto deals with our modern world of computers, television and video, with an American sense of humour which surely justifies the designation “comic opera.” The two main characters – a gigantic ape (complete with excerpts from the original King Kong film of 1933) and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring – are not living beings; they are ideas, and that dooms any personal encounter and possible love relationship before they can begin. Nonetheless, Birtwistle gives the ape and the girl beautiful, lyrical arias, just like Vermeer and Orpheus.

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Glyndebourne Opera, Glyndebourne (GB)
Glyndebourne Touring Opera Orchestra
Elgar Howarth
Main soloists:
Philip Landridge, Helen Field, Michael Chance, Steven Page, Omar Ebrahim, Phyllis Cannan, Robert Poulton, Kevin West, Deborah York, Nuala Wills, Liza Pulman

Press reviews

“Anyone who feared their decade-old admiration for the score might be dulled on reacquaintance didn't need to worry; Brabbins's performance reaffirmed this as one of the great operatic achievements of our time.” (Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 11 November 2004)

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