Lesley Kitchen as Ilsebill, Russell Holmes as the fisherman and Don McAra’s talking fish

Comic Opera based on a story by the Grimm brothers. The fisherman (baritone), his wife Ilsebill (soprano) a small group of actor/singers who accompany Ilsebill through her career from fishwife to pope, the fish (spoken part), chorus and orchestra. First performed at Christchurch Teachers College in November 1976, produced by Don McAra. It has since been performed by numerous secondary schools throughout the country.

Graeme Tetley’s adaptation of the Grimm’s fairy tale into a clear-cut rondo structure has given Christchurch composer Kit Powell capital opportunities for juxtaposing two strongly contrasted musical styles of mundane and magic and developing these two styles in a gradual crescendo from lowly to lordly.

This one discovers in retrospect that the initial triteness of the score is intentional in the way it shadows the wife`s growing status—the humdrum Carl Orff trivia in the fish-wife Scenes, the horrible show-music Kitsch reflecting her elevation to middle-class suburbia and the clever Stravinsky-type parody of Germanic chorale-prelude technique revealing the provincial pomp of the Bürgermeister. This is simple, honest and functional writing of the Kurt Weill singspiel type which contrasts with the real Powell in the magic fish scenes, where his more creative style of unearthly texture-music sonorities is well matched with the mobile abstracts screen projected by a coloured disc.

Powell uses a chamber orchestra of strings, winds and percussion, a chorus, a few lyrics for soloists and spoken dialogue instead of stylised opera recitative. In spite of some opening-night rough edges, it was a vital and communicative performance greatly enhanced by Don McAra’s well-paced and highly resourceful production.

Ian Dando, Christchurch Star, Monday, November 29. 1976