Ruders: The Thirteenth Child

Reviewed on Tue 16 Jul, 2019

To a knowing libretto by Becky and David Starobin (who also shares conducting duties with Benjamin Schwartz) Ruders responds with music of darkly macabre, poetically illuminating commentary.

Released on disc before its first staging at Santa Fe Opera this summer, and sparked by the Brothers Grimm, Poul Ruders’ The Thirteenth Child is a decidedly modern take on the traditional notion of a fairy tale. To a knowing libretto by Becky and David Starobin (who also shares conducting duties with Benjamin Schwartz) Ruders responds with music of darkly macabre, poetically illuminating commentary. If not as immediate and impactful as The Handmaid’s Tale, Ruders remains a masterful evoker of menacing atmospheres and tremulous feelings – sine qua non for fairy tales. He is well served here by the Odense orchestra who treat his subterranean depths, eerie otherness, chiaroscuro contrasts and lyrical asides with dexterous aplomb. As the titular princess, Sarah Shafer provides an ardently sung centre to proceedings, Ashraf Sewailam’s Drokan a memorably manipulative villain. Tamara Mumford’s Queen, Matt Boehler’s King and Alasdair Kent’s Prince add strong vocal support, as do the Bridge Academy Singers.
–Michael Quinn