Oscar Wilde’s giant new opera

A young writer partnering with a young composer, both Victorians, have created a hit with their adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant.
Sep 25, 2019

‘Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children used to go and play in the Giant's garden. It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the springtime broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit.’ – The Selfish Giant, Oscar Wilde.

A young writer partnering with a young composer, both Victorians, have created a hit with their adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant.

The 131-year-old short story which is now an opera, will be making its world premiere as Victorian Opera’s Youth Opera with a sold-out season at Gasworks Arts Park from 16-19 October.

Librettist (writer) Emma Muir-Smith, 29, and composer/conductor Simon Bruckard, 28, are both former Victorian Opera Young Artists and spent many years working with the State Opera Company; on stage, in the pit, and behind the scenes participating in the development of many new works and Youth Operas. This experience guided them to uncover The Selfish Giant and explore its potential to be adapted into an opera.

“I felt it was a story with a lot of dramatic potential that would translate well for the stage,” notes Emma Muir-Smith. “The Selfish Giant is a story about generosity and community. At its heart, though, it's also a story about the importance of trying to understand one another – something that, for so many reasons, could not be more important right now.”

"Writing a piece for young people to perform has been an enormously rewarding experience,” said Simon Bruckard. “The music for The Selfish Giant goes through a huge range of styles, from cabaret to folk song, peaceful stillness to driving aggressive rhythms. Different characters inhabit quite different musical worlds. Finding the music that conveys the story's humour, innocence and depth has been an absolute joy."

The story is set in a Giant’s beautiful garden where children love to play each day. When the Giant discovers this on his return from a seven-year holiday, he banishes them. With absence of children, Snow, Frost, and Wind cloak the garden in an endless winter. The Giant longs for the other seasons to return yet his garden is forgotten by them. When children sneak in one day, spring returns and winter lifts. The Giant learns a valuable lesson about the importance of generosity and having an open heart; sharing his garden with all children and celebrating the return of each season.

The Selfish Giant highlights Victorian Opera’s commitment to new Australian opera, marking the company’s 22nd world premiere since its formation in 2005, and the importance of providing education pathways for young talent through the framework of a performing arts company.

As the company’s annual Youth Opera, The Selfish Giant will be performed by a cast of singers aged 13 – 25. The cast of 35 young singers includes 21 current and former members of Victorian Opera’s Youth Chorus Ensemble (VOYCE); a weekly training program provided to promising secondary school-aged singers that develops skills to perform in opera.

Rising star baritone Stephen Marsh (The Sleeping Beauty) leads the cast in the title role of The Selfish Giant, returning to Victorian Opera after many previous productions since his company debut in 2011.

The production will be directed by Cameron Menzies (The Magic Pudding – The Opera), with lighting by Eduard Inglés (The Second Hurricane) and set and costumes designed by James Browne (Josephine Wants to Dance) in his company debut.

Richard Mills, Victorian Opera’s Artistic Director, notes: “I’m very proud that Victorian Opera has commissioned this work by two talented young locals. They’ve both been part of our company family for many years and are now on the threshold of significant careers. After completing her Masters of Text and Performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Emma is working successfully in London. Simon continues to contribute to opera in Australia on many fronts; a composer of unique talent as well as a consummate opera professional and gifted conductor.”