Georgina Benison –
Photos Khalid al Busaidi –
It was that time of year again. The Education and Outreach team at the Royal Opera House Muscat presented their didactic Schools Programme, this time about Woodwinds, with the ‘Quintetto Papageno’. Members of the Papageno Quintet met while playing in Orchestra Mozart under Maestro Claudio Abbado in Bologna.
The ensemble’s repertoire is enriched by a constant search for new or little-known works, and that is what made the musical programme of this production so refreshing. On Sunday morning the auditorium was packed, not once but twice, as students from across Muscat were given a treat: an outing from school to the Royal Opera House. The show was presented as a storybook adventure, subtitled ‘The Golden Castle’, in a treasure-hunt drama. Firm favourites with children, actors Ibrahim al Azri and Anas al Hajri were again this year’s Masters of Ceremonies, opening with a curious Amir reading from a magic book to Bilal’s stooge.
The slapstick banter between them worked brilliantly, delighting younger children with their Arabian Nights costumes — no doubt plundered from the House wardrobe! An added dimension was the commissioned illustrations by Omani children’s artist, Ibtihaj al Harthy. Her beautiful paintings, infused with the magic of Omani villages, included a fort, a three-headed dragon and a colourful interior majlis, dubbed the ‘toys room’.
As soon as the explorers set off they were met with flautist, Mattia Petrelli, who played ‘Jade’ by Pierre-Octave Ferroud so hauntingly and bird-like that the duo reclined on cushions and drank kahwa! He agreed to help their mission and was immediately joined by bassoonist Luca Franceschelli who explained the material and mechanics of the ’faggotto’ (bundle of sticks). He played the grumpy ‘Valse’ by Gordon Jacob and also agreed to join the hunt. A more traditional Telemann Phantasy for oboe was played by Diego Merisi, and the relationship between these double-reed instruments was explained with the help of huge projections. A Mozartian cadence was played between scenes, gradually building up as different instruments joined. The single-reed clarinet appeared next, with Simone Simonelli playing a classical Donizetti Study which delighted the compère duo with its warm, velvety purring timbre and its clear, resonant high register.
Explaining why a brass instrument should be with a woodwind quintet brought jovial mileage for French Horn player Giuseppe Russo, and his perfect rendition of Rossini’s ‘The Hunt’ conjured visions of Elephant and Giraffe as monster-animals in the castle gardens. Now they were finally complete the troupe could set off in search of the Golden Treasure to the tune of contemporary composer Richard Goldfaden’s, “The Story of the Woodwind Family” played by the Ensemble.
Versatility of the instruments
Bilal suggested that Music is a key to open doors — so they all tuned up and discussed how the bassoon could play the lowest pitch, the clarinet can sound jazzy, like a cat on the roof. It is made of Ebony, like the oboe but whose double-reed makes it sound clear, like a snake-charmer . The wooden flute — now in golden metal — needs no reed, yet sounds just like a bird while the Horn is the most versatile and can play loud or soft.
The treasure hunters lulled a fierce dragon guarding the castle to sleep with Jacques Ibert’s ‘Andante’ for flute and they could enter the gates. Inside an ugly Goblin was guarding a Labyrinth and so they turned to Denes Agay’s Easy Dances. The comic duo danced a Bolero and Tango through the auditorium, much to everyone’s amusement. The loud, ‘War Dance’ by Henri Tomasi was performed to frighten off a wicked Wizard and they ordered, “Open Sesame” along with Franz Danzi’s, ‘Minuet’ for Wind Quintet. Alas, the door would not budge as it was too pantomime-like, so instead to more Arabic fayre with the Egyptian Folk Song, ‘Ah Ya Zayn’. The crew finally entered, located a magic trumpet in a secret chest and Amir declared that “Music is the Treasure; it is a key to many doors. It turns sadness into happiness and darkness into light”. On that joyful note the band played Hungarian composer Farenc Farkas‘ spirited 17th century dance, ‘Ugros’ Finale, and the quest was brought to a positive conclusion. After an hour of pleasure and diversion, hundreds of students left the performance both enlightened and delighted about their new found knowledge of the World of Wind — and that Treasure is indeed Music itself.