Magazine article The Spectator

Dove's Tale

Magazine article The Spectator

Dove's Tale

Article excerpt

The adventures of Pinocchio Grand Theatre, Leeds

It's odd how, even if you try to ignore Christmas, it still manages to determine the shape of your end-of-year experiences.

Three weeks ago, four days before Christmas Day, Opera North enterprisingly mounted the world première of Jonathan Dove's 21st opera, Pinocchio. I haven't seen any opera since, except on TV and DVD, yet my memories of it are alarmingly faint. I have a pretty clear impression of what much of it looked like, but very little of what it sounded like. I'm not being snide at Dove's expense, just wondering how far what seems like the interminable sequence of fragmented days is responsible for my failure of recall. The sheer fluency of Dove's output, which I think wouldn't be hard to guess even if one hadn't been told about his productivity, does invite comparisons with the churners-out of opera, whether the recycling baroque composers, or the 19th-century Italians who produced at least one new opera each season, and usually in a matter of weeks.

This opera of Dove's, to judge from the newspaper articles and the programme booklet, is, on the contrary, the product of creative need. Just as Pinocchio cries out repeatedly to his creator Geppetto, 'Make me!', so Pinocchio has been entreating Dove. The idea of freeing a creature from its raw material, and then putting it through a series of adventures until it is transformed into another kind of creature, in this case a living boy, not a wooden one, has multiple attractions, and the librettist Alasdair Middleton has explored and exploited them cleverly. The mischievous, happy-go-lucky wooden puppet with the elongating nose becomes something like 'a good boy', to the partial regret of Dove and Middleton.

They seem, that is, to take it that their version of the story, which is clearly closer to Collodi's original tale than to the coarsely sentimental Disney version which is all most of us know, is ambivalent: the wooden boy was naughty, but what fun he is compared with his incarnation. This makes the tale a variant of the-price-that-we-pay-in-becoming-civilised attitude, one that we have all to consider, but not, for me, illuminated in this case, since we don't see anything much of Pinocchio once he has become a real boy.

He is released, but while that may make him ordinary, it might at least protect him from the kinds of dangerous adventure which he has entertained us by having, but which are less fun, one imagines, from his point of view.

Dove professes not to know what a children's opera would be, but surely he has at least two masterpieces to help him form the concept. …

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