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Work of the Week – Hans Werner Henze: Pollicino

Hans Werner Henze’s children’s opera Pollicino opens at the Teatro Goldoni in Florence on 24 February 2015, conducted by Alessandro Cadario with the Orchestra del Conservatorio L. Cherubini di Firenze and the Coro di voci bianche Associazione Landini.

Based on a libretto by Giuseppe Di Leva, the idea for Henze’s Pollicino came from the most innocent of sources: the energy and playfulness of a group of children, the young ensemble “Concentus Politianus”. He wrote the opera for this group, who performed the world premiere in 1980 in their hometown of Montepulciano, Italy. Though the plot is reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel, Henze also incorporates elements of political theatre and the resulting opera, performed by children for children, is intended to both teach and entertain. There are very few adult vocal parts, and in the orchestra pit children play recorders, guitars, violins and Orff instruments. The music itself, however, is far from childish, featuring several forms of aria, ensemble parts and orchestral interludes such as the march, waltz and tango. This stylistic range requires considerable understanding of musical form from the children, and learning to achieve this is at the centre of the opera.

When children act, sing and make music, they create and listen to sounds that they will encounter time and time again in their musical lives. They accept the sounds of the music when they play it, when many adults would disregard them as odd. Children aren’t aware of the judgements adults instate onto contemporary music. – Hans Werner Henze

Henze worked closely with the children in his composition of Pollicino, tailoring it to their musical skills and incorporating their ideas. In this way the opera treats its young performers very seriously: one of the main reasons for its ongoing success. Pollicino will run at the Teatro Goldoni until 28 February 2015.

Photo: National Theatre Weimar / Anke Neugebauer