- A Trip to the Moon (An Opera for All Ages)by Andrew Norman
For better or worse, there are certain ways one is supposed to behave at the opera. We've all craned our necks for better views around the tall-torsoed and the huge-haired, but standing up is not the accepted solution. Yet when the seven-year-old in front of me leapt to his feet, up on his seat, to see what the Moon-people were doing as the Moon-Monster approached, I couldn't help grinning. Andrew Norman's A Trip to the Moon(cheerfully subtitled "An Opera for All Ages") has both charmed and frustrated its reviewers, but at that moment, charm won—decisively.
Norman's first opera had its London premiere at the Barbican on July 9, 2017, as the first half (roughly one hour) of a double-bill with Sibelius's Symphony No. 2. A Trip to the Moonis the third in a set of children's operas (each featuring a monster) commissioned by Sir Simon Rattle, Simon Halsey, and the London Symphony Orchestra. (The previous commissions are Jonathan Dove's 2015 The Monster in the Mazeand the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's 2016 The Hogboon.) The Los Angeles-based Norman (b. 1979)—currently a darling of the contemporary music scene—was jointly commissioned by the LSO and the Los Angeles and Berlin Philharmonics; the LSO's was the second of three international premieres, in a [End Page 188]strikingly different production from that of its Berlin premiere a month earlier. (I will focus on the London Barbican production, referring to the Berlin production for comparison, as the latter is currently available through the Berliner Philharmoniker's Digital Concert Hall. 1) According to the LSO, " A Trip to the Moonwas designed to showcase our community and education programmes and for musicians of different musical standards to perform together." 2The London production involved student players from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the LSO's Discovery and Community Choirs; the importance of young people and community effort were clear priorities for Norman, in both the opera's dramatic and musical material.
Norman wrote his own libretto, using "as a starting point" Georges Méliès's 1902 silent short film Le Voyage dans la lune, "at the suggestion of my friend and [children's] author Brian Selznick." 3Often touted as "the first science fiction film," 4Méliès's Voyageadvanced cinematic technique, remains his best-known film, and is among the most famous of early silent shorts; certainly, the image of the moon-capsule landing in the anthropomorphized eye of the moon has become iconic. Méliès and his film have received a number of educational, kid-friendly treatments, from Around the World in 80 Days(1956) to the final episode of HBO's From the Earth to the Moon(1998), to Selznick's graphic novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret(2007) and its adaptation by Martin Scorsese ( Hugo, 2011). Norman has been candid about his own process of adaptation, shaping both music and story to create something that truly involves the community and children's choirs the commission sought to include in its educational mission. 5Yet the resulting opera raises questions that go beyond what might seem a candy-colored and joyous celebration of inclusivity and tolerance: questions that, in this age of funding emphasis on educational outreach, are crucially important to the creation of new opera "for" children.
Press reviews have not been kind to Norman's first opera. Rebecca Schmid argues that A Trip to the Moonamounts to little more than "a piece...