Not a mini Mozart but a little Lloyd Webber
ALMA DEUTSCHER: CINDERELLA
Opera San José, cond. Jane Glover Sony Classical
The case of the “child prodigy” composer Alma Deutscher gives cause for concern. Now 13, homeschooled by her academic parents and living in Surrey, she has been in the public eye ever since she was seven and Stephen Fry, a friend of her father, publicised her talent via Twitter. She has received great acclaim from the likes of Simon Rattle and Daniel Barenboim and the press keeps making the inevitable comparison to Mozart.
Her full-length opera Cinderella – perhaps more accurately described as a pseudo-Viennese operetta – has received several productions and has now been released on DVD in a modestly staged but perfectly pleasant performance from Opera San José in California. Jane Glover conducts the score with affection, Vanessa Becerra sings very sweetly in the title role and Mary Dunleavy makes much of the Wicked Stepmother and her coloratura fireworks.
How good is it? Well, it is certainly smoothly crafted with some nice twists to the familiar plot (Deutscher has written the libretto as well) that sees Cinderella presented as a composer and the prince as a poet. But talk of genius seems misplaced. It isn’t unusual for children to show what to adults seems like an unnatural facility in music and for all those “child prodigy” composers who continued to mature – Mendelssohn, Korngold and Britten, for example, as well as Mozart – there are many more who dazzled briefly, then petered out and are now forgotten.
What Deutscher clearly has is a gift for tonal melody; she can dream up pretty, shapely tunes in simple time signatures of a kind that Schubert or Mendelssohn wrote in their youths. There are some duets and choruses here, but nothing is technically complex, and the orchestration is conventional – presumably she had a generous helping hand in this department. In other words, there is nothing original here, nothing that indicates real individuality of musical thinking. What she is doing, essentially, is imitating existing models in lively, responsive pastiche.
This is not to belittle her – at her age, Mozart was indeed doing the same thing. But I would describe the result as exceptional rather than prodigious, and I feel her talent might well end up maturing on the lighter end of the scale – she is currently said to be working on a musical and I can imagine that she could well produce something of real note in that genre. Perhaps the kindest and wisest thing, however, would be to turn the media spotlight off, drop the hyperboles and allow her to develop through adolescence without pressure.
SMOOTHLY CRAFTEDOpera San José perform Cinderella by 13-year-old Alma Deutscher