Putting on your own opera, aged 11

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

WITH help from her skip­ping rope, Alma Deutscher has writ­ten an opera that’s be­ing staged this Christ­mas in Vi­enna, the cap­i­tal of clas­si­cal mu­sic. Not bad when you’re aged 11 and three-quar­ters.

“I some­times think that if I had a beard and I was old and fat then peo­ple might take me a bit more se­ri­ously,” the English “wun­derkind” said.

But this at­ti­tude, she added, has changed since prepa­ra­tions be­gan in this hal­lowed for­mer stamp­ing ground of Mozart and Schu­bert for the De­cem­ber 29 pre­miere of Cin­derella.

She started writ­ing the two-hour opera when she was eight, and as well as com­pos­ing the mu­sic she has given the tra­di­tional folk tale her own twist, set­ting it in an opera house.

Thus the epony­mous hero­ine writes a tune that per­fectly fits the hand­some prince’s poem, while the evil step­sis­ters are “pompous prima don­nas”, the young com­poser ex­plained.

It takes place in an imag­i­nary coun­try she calls Tran­syl­va­nian, pop­u­lated by imag­i­nary com­posers.

Her favourite, An­tonin Yel­lowsink, wrote one of the more melan­choly melodies – “and I stole it”, she joked.

But ac­cord­ing to Anna Voshege, an Aus­tralian singer who plays one of the step­sis­ters, what Alma com­poses is any­thing but child­ish.

“I heard the mu­sic be­fore I knew she was 11. I was re­ally quite shocked. Some of the nu­ances in that mu­sic are re­ally very spe­cial, very in­tri­cate,” Voshege said.

“It’s very beau­ti­ful mu­sic and she is far beyond her years,” she said.

Alma’s fa­ther Guy Deutscher first re­alised his daugh­ter was out of the or­di­nary when she asked, aged two or three, “‘How can mu­sic be so beau­ti­ful?’” he re­called.

“When she was about four, when she started in­vent­ing her own melodies, I think that’s when we no­ticed there was re­ally some­thing spe­cial,” he said in Vi­enna where the fam­ily from south­ern Eng­land has been spend­ing time ahead of the pre­miere.

At six she com­posed her first full pi­ano sonata, at seven a mini-opera called The Sweeper of Dreams, and at nine a con­certo for vi­o­lin and orches­tra.

A cham­ber mu­sic ren­di­tion of Cin­derella was per­formed in Is­rael last year, but the Vi­enna ver­sion, with In­dian con­duc­tor mae­stro Zu­bin Me­hta as pa­tron, is much longer and will be a proper opera.

She has won praise from renowned con­duc­tors like Daniel Baren­boim and a “bowled over” Si­mon Rat­tle. Last year she ap­peared at a Google Zeit­geist con­fer­ence with the likes of Stephen Hawk­ing.

But, her dad said, Alma also has a very nor­mal life. “She loves climb­ing trees and run­ning around like ev­ery other child,” he said.

Mod­ern mu­sic though is “too loud” and not her thing, she said – not even Justin Bieber or The Bea­tles. “Oh no, I don’t know any of them!”

Alma gets her ideas when she’s about to go to sleep or when she’s wak­ing up, when she’s mess­ing around on the pi­ano – or by her own spe­cial method, as she ex­plained.

“An­other way of get­ting my melodies is by skip­ping with this skip­ping rope,” she said, proudly and earnestly show­ing off her prized pos­ses­sion.

“I don’t ac­tu­ally skip but I wave it round like this and I tell sto­ries in my mind. Very of­ten a melody just springs into my head. And then I run back and write it down in my note­book,” she said.

“You see it has to be just this kind of skip­ping rope, with shin­ing tas­sels and sparkles. Other ropes don’t work at all.”

But she plays down the in­evitable com­par­isons with Mozart, who was also just 11 when his first opera, or sa­cred drama to be pre­cise, was first per­formed back in 1767.

“I pre­fer not to be com­pared to any­one, to write my own mu­sic, just to be a lit­tle Alma ... Be­cause if I just wrote ev­ery­thing that Mozart had al­ready writ­ten it would be rather bor­ing!”

Photo: AFP

Alma Deutscher prac­tises the pi­ano.

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