Composer Norbert Palej
On Friday, composer Norbert Palej’s new children’s opera, East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon, will be making its premiere at the Enwave Theatre at the Harbourfront. The opera, composed for the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (CCOC), is a Norwegian fairy tale about a princess quest to find her prince.
We caught up with Norbert Palej, currently on sabbatical from his position as professor of composition at the University of Toronto, and asked him a few questions about the opera, and what it was like composing a work for children.
Q) What was it about this story that first piqued your interest in it? Why a Norwegian fairy tale? Every child grows up hearing fairy tales, and we in the West, particularly in North America, are fairly well versed in the fairy tales of Germany and Western Europe, however many people aren’t familiar with these Norwegian fairy tales.
A) I started out by looking for Polish fairy tales. I found one that I really liked and thought about writing a libretto based on it. Just then, Ann [Cooper Gay] suggested I should take a look at K. T. Bryski’s libretto, based on a Norwegian fairy tale. I immediately fell in love with it. Strangely enough, the story almost perfectly resembled the Polish one I wanted to set originally.
Q) The make-up of the cast and choir, all children or at least, young adults, must have meant you had to alter the musical material to fit not only different abilities, but vocal ranges. You’ve written for the CCOC before, and of course, written choral music for adults. Are there any differences in writing for the two different choirs (children and adults) that wouldn’t be fairly obvious?
A) Here are the two main differences from my point of view:
- You can write harder music for kids. I know this sounds like the exact opposite of what you’d expect, but it is true. Kids have unlimited potential and absorb material much more easily than adults. They can learn anything, and quickly.
- Writing for kids imposes a higher quality standard of the music: 1) because of the responsibility to give only the best to kids, and 2) because kids quickly realize if something is not up to snuff, so every moment needs to be fun and engaging.
Q) How has the collaborative process been with the CCOC and the children? Is it all a very professional, straightforward atmosphere during rehearsals and workshops, or does the presence of children add a bit of levity to the occasion?
A) Having toured with the CCOC around Europe three years ago, I found working with them a sheer pleasure: the most satisfying experience any composer can wish for. Since kids are always sincere, earning their respect is very meaningful. You can tell if they like your music or not; they won’t pretend to like it if they don’t.
East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon runs from May 30th – June 1st, with four performances. You can find details and ticket information here.
- Paolo Griffin