Snatched by the Gods (1990) 55'


THE GUARDIAN - June 4 1992

by Tom Sutcliffe

William Radice's text for Snatched by the Gods is adapted from Tagore, describing a band of pilgrims on their way by boat to a Hindu bathing festival at the mouth of the Ganges. Moksada’s neglected young son Rakhal wants to go too, and tries to stow away. His mother lets him come along with the words: “All right! The sea can have you.” On the way back, the pilgrims and boatman, caught in a dangerous storm, remember Moksada’s phrase and conclude the gods are keeping her to her word. Maitra, in charge of the trip, tries to save the boy, who has been cast into the water, by jumping in himself; but he also drowns.

Audi used a hanging platform that sways about the stage, shiplike, only to isolate the boy Rakhal and his mother. A few naturalistic snapshots of sunset and sunrise created with warm low-angled lighting from the side added an atmosphere of dubious hope. The burden of the drama was placed on the acting of the principal performers: Michael Lewis as Maitra, Cynthia Buchan as Rakhal’s aunt Annada, and Katherine Ciesinski as Moksada, whose passionately glowing performance was the pivot of the whole interpretation.

Audi’s ritualistic approach made the work rather reminiscent of Britten’s church parables, but the music is far dirtier and more energetic. This was a more conventional opera than Broken Strings — almost Puccini-style verismo in dramatic approach. Intense, sombre and popular.


OPERA, September 1996

Almeida Opera at the Almeida Theatre, London, July 11


Param Vir’s two one-act operas were commissioned by and premiered at the Munich Biennale in 1992, where they won him the Best Composer prize. The same year they were also given in Amsterdam, whence Michael Davidson reported with enthusiasm on both the works and Pierre Audi’s productions (OPERA, September 1992, p. 1097). Well, four years later and better late than never, they have at last received their first British performances and added lustre to one of Almeida Opera’s best seasons yet.

Vir (born in Delhi in 1992) has been nurtured and encouraged by Maxwell Davies and Knussen and, as that would suggest, his musical language is neither confrontationally modernist nor neo-conservative: he knows his Britten and his Berg, he knows what works in the theatre. He also knows which instruments cover voices at what pitch and which don’t: one of the great pleasure of this double bill was being able to hear every word over luscious, exotically coloured instrumentation in a notoriously tricky acoustic – an acoustic tamed by Markus Stenz’s brilliant direction of the (by Almeida standards) massed bands of the London Sinfonietta ranged round the curved back wall with two banks of percussion in the circle.

Snatched by the Gods is to a libretto by William Radice based on a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. A boat carrying pilgrims to a Hindu festival is hit by a sudden storm; a child who joined the expedition is thought to have been cursed by his widowed mother and is sacrificed to the greater good. This chilling piece – a weird mixture of Curlew River and Der Jasager – is expertly laid out and paced over just 50 minutes. Strangely, the mother is denied the last word, but Susan Roberts suggested her instability cogently, and Ben De’Ath gave a touching performance as her initially cheerful, ultimately bemused child. Robert Poulton and Fiona Kimm gave powerful support.


THE INDEPENDENT - 23 February 1998

Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow


Param Vir’s two operas, Snatched by the Gods and Broken Strings, were commissioned by the Munich Biennale (like Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek) and first performed in Amsterdam in 1992. They received their UK premieres at the Almeida four years later. Scottish Opera has now shown remarkable vision in staging new productions of them and has been rewarded by a spectacular evening of music-theatre.

Vir writes as brilliantly for voices as for instruments. While the two scores show that he admires Berg (the drowning from Wozzeck), Britten (Tadzio from Death in Venice) and Messiaen (ornithological instrumentation passim), these signal where he comes from: his healthy sense of his own musical identity is unthreatened by references to his peers.