Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


The Handmaid's Tale

 Royal Danish Orchestra & Chorus/Michael Schonwandt with cast of Danish singers headed by Marianne Rorholm
 Da Capo 8.224165-66 [78+66 mins]
Amazon UK £23.99

This opera is set in a post-revolutionary fundamentalist America after assassination of the President in 2002, and creation of the ruthless Bible-based dictatorship, the Republic of Gilead. It purports to look back on these events from a world-wide video conference in 2195. Paul Bentley's libretto is based on Margaret Attwood's bleak, futuristic novel, and there are obvious resonances with Iran & Afghanistan, projected onto the Western world.

The opera is modernistic but no way repellently so. It has traditional elements of aria and chorus, and ensembles in which characters voice their feelings independently. Importantly, the vocal lines are singable and the chilling story is easy to follow in the parallel Danish (a beautiful-sounding language) and English. The plight of the central Handmaid Ofred, in her quest to recover the five-ear old daughter who had been snatched from her and her husband under the new dispensation, is plausible and poignant. Past and present are enacted, with a double, Hanne Fischer, representing Ofred in flashbacks to her former life; the two sing together in some scenes, and especially in a moving 'duet for one' in the second act, in which the two Ofreds grieve together for the loss of her/their daughter. No consolation at the end in the ambiguous, open-ended conclusion, but an absorbing journey into a terrifying but far from impossible world scenario.

Ruders deploys a huge modern orchestra, including organ, synthesisers and exotic percussion, with vivid imagination and deploys his complex sound palette with great skill and unfailing interest. The performance and recording (live from the Royal Danish Theatre in March 2000) sounds exemplary to my ears. The fully illustrated, 268 page booklet is as comprehensive as one can expect, with a selection of rehearsal photographs. It is a parable for our times and a good contemporary opera for home listening.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: - The UK's Biggest Video Store Concert and Show tickets
Musicians accessories
Click here to visit