By CARL NEWTON
The Thirteenth Child composed by Poul Ruders working with librettists Becky and David Starobin is a short two act opera. The trail of its creation is from Denmark to Tanglewood to Broadway to Santa Fe.
The best place to begin to reveal the essence of this opera is to read “The Twelve Brothers” fairy tale by the Grimms brothers. That is available in the program book.
The Starobins have reworked that tale by deleting certain aspects and adding others. What is presented in the SFO production is a wonderful piece of storytelling coupled with dramatic stage effects and exceptional singers and musicians conducted by Paul Daniel.
What is very helpful for understanding the opera storyline are the Danish names given to the characters. The King of Hauven is already deceased and his heir Frederic is too young to be king, so the added character in the opera, Drokan, is the regent of Hauven.
The King of Frohagord is very much alive, but severely addled by Drokan. The pregnant Queen Gertrude is severely distressed by both her husband and Drokan, and is among the most important characters we witness.
Ruders has described his music as “ear candy with chili peppers”. Paul Daniel wants us to hear the kaleidoscope of musical ideas from the pit. I’ve heard music that sounds like a dirge and syncopated rhythms, each supporting the libretto lines.
The Swiss Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge produced a set that supports all the action, and lit by blue light by York Kennedy so that the video projections from the four projectors increase the magic of the storytelling. Aaron Rhyne is among the top tier of projection designers, and he demonstrates that in this production.
The assembled production team is a veritable imagination labyrinth, so that every direction turned is amazing.
Rita Ryack, the costume designer receiving may accolades over the years, has produced a gamut of designs from royalty to disinherited brothers to the mortally wounded youngest brother.
One of the most endearing portrayals is the youngest brother Benjamin, by the tenor Apprentice Singer Bille Bruley. Additional outstanding performances are from Tamara Mumford as Queen Gertrude in her SFO debut, and former Apprentice Singer Jessica Jones in her SFO debut as Lyra born with a star above her left brow.
The terrific vocal talents of David Leigh, Bradley Garvin and Joshua Dennis are also supported by fine acting.
Now that all performances begin at 8 p.m., the Prelude talks will be at 6 and 7 p.m.
Jessica Jones (Lyra) And Tamara Mumford (The Ghost of Queen Gertrude). Photo by Ken Howard for The Santa Fe Opera, 2019