The Santa Fe Opera Previews ‘The Thirteenth Child’ In NYC

By Jennifer Pyron

The Santa Fe Opera 2019 Season features five operas, including the World Premiere of “The Thirteenth Child” by Poul Ruders and libretto by Becky and David Starobin. The production opens on July 27 and has five performances through August 21. A recent Works & Process event at the Guggenheim explored the creative process through a panel discussion with the creative team and showcased performance highlights from all four sets. 

“Music is the ultimate locomotive. It has to be a perfect symbiosis between what’s in the words and how it projects into the audience. This is emotion at work and when the music and text go hand in hand as complete equals, that is when it leads to create the best opera,” said Ruders at the event.

Based on the Brothers Grimm story “The Twelve Brothers,” one might assume that “The Thirteenth Child” would be heavy, dark and emotionally tolling. However, Ruders has proven to intelligently mold this fairytale into an introspective transformational process of enlightenment based on polarity with music that highlights the importance of a beautifully written libretto.

“The best libretto is one where you immediately realize what’s important through short sentences. Where the words are delicately balanced between prose and poetry. The quality, mood, color and economy of this libretto made it easier for me to compose,” said Ruders.

When speaking directly about his and Becky’s intentionally focused libretto, David Starobin described the importance of “reductionism, compressed verses, naturally phrasing lines and working a lot with singers to pin-point places where we should use ‘rhyme’ when making a point.”

“We make sure that no one is bored for one second. It’s entertainment. It’s showbiz. In the libretto is the form and we make sure the music tugs at the heart strings. It’s all about location, location, location and emotion, emotion, emotion,” said Ruders.

Based on this fairytale, both costume designer Rita Ryack and stage director Darko Tresnjak discussed how they plan to bring this adventure to life through a “quasi-medieval” design. “We will focus on carefully chosen colors and a metaphor based design of a castle on its side, and a monochromatic background,” said Ryack.

Tresnjak spoke about his impressions when the opera was first presented to him and how it continues to open windows of creativity that breathe life into this modern body of work. “This is my first world premiere opera and from the beginning, I knew it was going to be exquisite. It already feels incredibly precious to me,” said Tresnjak. “This is an opera of 80 essential minutes, with seven scenes and already in the first five minutes one feels ‘vertigo’ while plunging into this work. One can sense its magnificence from the start.”