Many people have had a go at it. Ever since Oscar Wilde published The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888, at least thirty versions have been made by composers, dramatists, and choreographers of the title story about a statue of a dead prince which is ‘befriended’ by a swallow that misses its flock’s flight to Egypt. Wilde was an unlikely author of such a tale. It is greatly loved by sensitive, right-thinking people.
In 1944, Decca recorded it with Orson Welles narrating and, amazingly, Bing Crosby as the prince. Australian-born composer Malcolm Williamson, a rather wayward Master of the Queen’s Music (1975-2003), published his one act opera version in 1965. Now the Australian Ballet is about to present its delayed version, to open in Brisbane on 25 February.
I’ve always found it a rather sappy story but that hardly rules it out as material for a ballet. It will be choreographed by Graeme Murphy with designs by Kim Carpenter.
Since ballets live or die by the quality of their music, the choice of composer is vital. Here it is Christopher Gordon, a multi-award winning composer of scores for films including Master and Commander, Mao’s Last Dancer and, most recently, Ladies in Black. Film scores are crucial in mood setting and have to be listenable. Christopher Gordon lives in Sydney at Gladesville and is the Greens’ Deputy Mayor of Ryde. Sounds like the man for this job.
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