Sir Peter Maxwell Davies


Pantomime opera in two acts for young performers

opus number: 87
completion date: 1979
duration: 50 minutes
scoring: Cast (all to be portrayed by children)

Prince Charming
Three Ugly Sisters: Medusa, Hecate, Dragonia
Widow Grumble
The Three Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Services:
Field Marshal Sir Wellington Bombast Blimp
Lord Admiral Sir Nelson Drake Victory
Lord Delta-Wing Vertical Take-Off
Train (chorus of children holding cut-out of engine and carriages)
Chorus of Kittens
Chorus of Wedding Guests

All singing parts are written in the treble clef, fall within the normal range of children's unchanged voices and can be sung by boys and/or girls. The Three Ugly Sisters can be taken with advantage by older boys with changed voices, the parts sounding an octave lower. The Herald's part includes a high Bb, which can be taken down the octave.

The words printed in italics in the score are those of the original Orkney production. Taking these as a model, production teams, including the children, should invent new words, referring to the particular locality, situations and circumstances of their own production.


Descant recorder, treble recorder, tenor recorder (soli, but multiple recorders can be used in some loud sections), trumpet in Bb, *percussion (6 players), piano, solo strings (2 violins, viola (optional), cello, double bass) or small string orchestra (including viola)

*percussion (6 players):

percussion 1: soprano glockenspiel (2 octaves, C to C chromatic), alto xylophone (1½ octaves, C to F# chromatic), flexatone

percussion 2: alto glockenspiel (2 octaves, C to C chromatic), tenor xylophone (1½ octaves, F to C chromatic), railway guard's whistle, balloon

percussion 3: bass xylophone (1½ octaves, C to A chromatic), chime bars (1½ octaves, G to E chromatic), 2 bongos, 4 temple blocks, tambourine, bosun's whistle

percussion 4: side drum, balloon, maracas, castanets, tambourine

percussion 5: suspended cymbal, clashed cymbals, 2 wood blocks, duck-quack, sandpaper, sleighbells, triangle

percussion 6: bass drum, referee's whistle, swanee whistle, tam-tam, dijeridu (if the Australian aboriginal instrument is not available, take a light metal or heavy cardboard tube, about two inches in diameter and three feet long, and blow down it to produce the required rhythmical grunting sounds)

All instrumental parts are intended for non-specialist schoolchildren. The pianist must be quite advanced - the score contains some suggestions for modifying hand stretches where the hands of a young player could be too small.
world premiere: 21 June 1980, Orkney Arts Theatre, Kirkwall, Orkney
(for the St. Magnus Festival)
Pupils of Papdale Primary School and the Kirkwall Grammar School, Glenys Hughes conductor
publisher: Chester Music
category: Work for young performers
text: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
press quotes:

People without children in a school production are seldom expected to enjoy such an enterprise, much less attend it. However, thanks to Peter Maxwell Davies's ingenious writing, absolute strangers could walk in on his opera Cinderella and have a grand time. In the tradition of the British Christmas pantomime, Davies has taken the sugar out of the familiar story and put spice in its place. One of the cluster of children's operas that have recently come to Washington, Davies's is the only one done entirely by children. Given last night's delightful performance at the Sheridan School, which was the opera's American première, that difference must be counted as a big plus. He not only gives the young cast - in this case they were fourth-through eighth-graders - easily manageable material, but he also makes room for the freshness of their viewpoint within the opera. To those who know Davies as one of Britain's major avant-garde composers, the accessibility of the work will probably come as a surprise.

The Washington Post

programme note: Short Note by Paul Griffiths

This short opera, aptly designed for children to perform with modest resources, is a version of the familiar tale, though with certain adaptations. Cinderella is an au pair girl who arrives on the scene by train, and there are three ugly sisters who get their just deserts in marriage to the appalling leaders of the armed forces. Writing for children in the Orkney Islands, Davies has also included some local references: these can be changed to suit other times and places. Musically the piece is a bright sequence of little songs, choruses, dialogue scenes and dances, probably best suited to children between the ages of eight and twelve, though the parts of the ugly sisters can usefully be taken by boys with broken voices.

Deutsche Anmerkungen (kurz)

Diese Kurzoper - so konsipiert, daß sie von Kindern mit wenig Aufwand aufgefürhrt werden kann - beruht auf dem bekannten Märchen, das sie jedoch in veräanderter Fassung präsentiert. Cinderella ist ein Au pair-Mädchen, das mit dem Zug auf der Bühne ankommt, und sie hat drei häßliche Schwestern, die durch Heirat mit den fürchterlichen Behehlshabern der Streitkräfte ihren verdienten Lohn empfangen. Da das Stück für Kinder der Orkney-Inseln geschreiben wurde, hat Davies auch lokale Anspielungen eingearbeitet; sie können jedoch nach den jeweils gegebenen Orts - und Zeitumständen abgeändertwerden. Musikalisch ist das Stück als heitere Folge von Kleinen Liedern, Chören, Dialogszenen und Tänzen angelegt - wahrscheinlich am besten geeignet für Kinder zwischen acht and zwölf, wenngleich die Rollen der häßlichen Schwestern ebenso gut auch von Knaben nach dem Stimmbruch übernommen werden können.
composer’s note: Cinderella is a modern retelling of the traditional story, with music designed for performance by and for children.

Cinderella is an au pair girl, whose task it is to look after Widow Grumble's three dreadful and spoiled daughters. The setting, pointed by many references, is plainly Kirkwall, although I hope audiences will not be deceived by Cinderella's arrival by rail - an excuse to have a chorusline of children in a stage 'train' number. There is much traditional-style comedy, and I've done my best to write some rousing pantomime-style music; there are extended dance routines, and, at the end, even the ugly sisters don't come out too badly, if we overlook the grotesque unsuitability of the marriages they make - and all ends as cheerfully as a pantomime opera should.

Composer's Extended Note

A few years ago I saw a splendid production of a play of Cinderella at St. Mary's Music School, Edinburgh, performed by the children, with incidental music by the young composer on the staff, Geoffrey King. I thought this would make a suitable subject for eventual full operatic treatment for children, with singing throughout instead of speaking.

I had had no experience of writing large-scale music for primary-school children (The Two Fiddlers, written for the St. Magnus Festival of 1978, was for Kirkwall Grammar School, and Kirkwall Shopping Songs, written for the primary school in 1979, were very short) and jumped at Glenys Hughes's suggestion of an opera for the primary schools, with help from the grammar school.

This version opens with Cinderella arriving on stage by train, the train being a chorus of small children, carrying engine and carriage cut-outs, and making train noises. Cinderella sings:

I've to stay with Widow Grumble
Whom I have never seen.
She has three grown-up daughters.
Who are said to be quite mean,
And rude to their au pair girls,
Most inconsiderate
I wish I were at home
Watching tele with the cat.

Despite the train, there only because I still like trains, it becomes clear, particularly in the three Ugly Sisters' songs, that it is Kirkwall where they live with Widow Grumble, with the usual traditional pantomime-style references to and friendly digs at local institutions and dignitaries. The Ugly Sisters are played by older boys in the most outrageous pantomime dame fashion but without the topical political references and blue jokes which made so much of what the characters said incomprehensible to me as a small child taken to the local pantomime. There are three Ugly Sisters so that, when Cinderella eventually marries the Prince, they are not left to their usual dismal end; Medusa can marry Field Marshal Sir Wellington Bombast Blimp, Hecate can marry Lord Admiral of the Fleet Sir Nelson Drake Victory and Dragonia, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force Lord Delta-Wing Vertical Take-Off - a most meaningful punishment, I thought, for all concerned.

In the Kirkwall Arts Theatre, and on a St. Magnus Festival budget, elaborate transformation scenes were out of the question, so problems like turning a pumpkin into a coach had to be reconsidered, or rather circumnavigated. In this version it is the cat, whom the three Ugly Sisters constantly ill use, who rewards Cinderella's kindness by having her numerous progeny simply bring on the dress, shoes and coach for the Prince's dance, providing the occasion for an elaborate dance number performed by very young children in kitten costumes, in which they eventually escort Cinderella off to the palace, pulling her silver coach.

It is, of course, the Prince's dance in Act 2 which is the climactic scene. Here the dance styles are designed to show off the choreographic talents on stage, and the music the talents of the pit band. There is first a reel, Orkney-style, for the general company, then a disco-style number for the service chiefs and the Ugly Sisters to clown to, and finally an elegant waltz for the Prince and Cinderella. When midnight strikes, not only does Cinderella leave behind her shoe, with which the Prince identifies her at last, but Ugly Sister Medusa loses her false teeth, Hecate her wig and Dragonia her voluminous bloomers, whereby they are at least identified by the pining military husbands-to-be, who have picked these articles up.

The band is small; a handful or recorders, percussion and strings, with, in some numbers, a trumpet and throughout an important piano part.
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