Critical acclaim for the world premiere of Maxwell Davies’s opera Kommilitonen!
Published: 28 March 2011
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s new opera Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!) has received critical acclaim for its hugely successful world premiere performances on March 18, 21, 23 and 25. A joint commission between London’s Royal Academy of Music and New York’s Juilliard School, the opera was written specifically to be performed by students and focuses on three stories of 20th century student protest around the world: protest against the Nazis in 1940’s Germany, against oppression during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and fighting racial prejudice in 1960’s America.
The opera features a libretto by acclaimed opera director and librettist David Pountney, who directed these premiere performances at London’s Royal Academy of Music and will take the same role for the upcoming US Premiere production by the Julliard School in New York in November 2011.
See the below documentary on the première:
“More than a decade after saying he had written his final theatre piece, the chance to compose a work for and about students has lured Peter Maxwell Davies back to opera.
Pountney also directs the immaculate RAM staging, [which] commutes effortlessly between the narratives, Davies's music delineating each strand with remarkable clarity. His score is extraordinarily fluent: the vocal lines are perfectly judged and the instrumental writing full of wonderful touches, with marching band, jazz trio, solo harp and erhu players on stage. It is as good as any theatre score he has ever composed.”
Five Stars, The Guardian
“The music works with exemplary theatrical skill; Maxwell Davies has coloured his score with snatches of American roots music, German art song and brassy Chinese marches without ever losing sight of the opera’s unifying goal. Here is proof that Maxwell Davies, who says he never intended to write another opera, still had a serious success inside him.”
“A master symphonist. It was a triumph: an extraordinary testament to the fact that, at the age of 76, his creativity is radiantly alive but more judicious than it was when he was half this age.
Kommilitonen! is an ensemble piece that prioritises collective singing – which from start to finish was magnificent. But the evening’s real star was Maxwell Davies, whose music gave these young performers something genuinely worthwhile to work with. It found distinctive style and colour for the separate stories, with convincing Weimar Republic expressionism for the White Rose episodes, and robust parodies of Maoist jingles for the Chinese ones. But it also had a heart and soul, touching profoundly spiritual depths in its recourse to scriptural quotations.”
“A master symphonist. It was a triumph: an extraordinary testament to the fact that, at the age of 76, his creativity is radiantly alive..." Daily Telegraph
“If you're looking for a glorious, heart-warming pageant of humanity, [Maxwell Davies’s] latest opera will do nicely. Maxwell Davies flits between sound worlds. Chinoiserie, German modernism and wonky Porgy and Bess succeed and bleed into each other. What emerges is a prolonged paean to Freedom, finding its most obvious form in a rousing hymn at the close.
More tender moments amaze: luminescent strings make a recipe for graffiti paint into a ray of hope; a celeste turns a hand-operated press into a Mozartean music box, and the entire German people stand transfixed by its magical leaflets.
It's a bold and beautiful assertion of the transformative power of truth.”
Five Stars, Evening Standard
“The score works strikingly well. Kommilitonen! visits Juilliard School, New York, its co-commissioner, in November, but I’m sure that won’t be the end of this stirring blast of an opera.”
“Peter Maxwell Davies’s astounds with the world premiere of his brilliant opera for students about protest movements.
The moral force that Davies and Pountney dramatise — positive in two of the strands, if negative in the other — is felt in the brilliance and blinding conviction with which this production is brought off.
the piece moves forward in an undoubtedly compelling way, helped by Glover’s dynamic direction, and the score has an energy belying the composer’s 76 years.
Davies not only exploits stylistic pastiche as deftly as ever, he raises it to a new dramatic level, allowing the illustrative elements — nightclub jazz, marching-band music, a discreet chinoiserie — to interpenetrate and form a language of their own. And his writing for chorus — tonal yet obliquely so, lusty yet astringent — provide the most gripping moments. I didn’t want Act II’s opening stretch, a transformation of “Michael, row the boat ashore”, to end.”
“With a large cast, onstage marching band, jazz trio and Chinese erhu player, it lent itself to student performance but also deserves, if ever practicable, a wider audience. How satisfying to have a full-scale opera written with the fluency of a composer who, at 76 and with several early theatre works to his name, understands the stage. Pastiche is skilful and immediate, only the showy top strata of a many layered and subtle score.”
“What emerged last weekend at the Royal Academy of Music is a gripping new opera about – for once – something important. Maxwell Davies’s score is mercurial, moving with a fluidity that matches the rapidly changing scenes. His vocal lines are lyrical, and the composer is at his most inventive in embracing styles from American jauntiness to Chinese marching-band music.”