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The Firework Maker's Daughter by DAVID BRUCE


"a wonderful entertainment....David Bruce's score is a constant delight" ★★★★★
"A great introduction to opera for young people. " The Stage ★★★★
"At last: a first-rank children's opera" The Telegraph

Nomiated for an Olivier Award - Best New Opera Production 2014
Shortlisted for a 2014 British Composer Award - Stage Works Category

The Firework Maker's Daughter is a 2013 chamber opera by award-winning composer David Bruce and librettist Glyn Maxwell - based on the fairy-tale adventure by acclaimed children's author Philip Pullman. The opera was acclaimed by sold-out audiences and critics alike for its opening run at the Royal Opera House London, and in the New Victory Theatre New York, as well as on tour across the UK in 2013. It proved so popular that it was revived only 2 years later with a 27 performance run at the Royal Opera House Lindbury Studios in December 2015.

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"More than anything else in the world, Lila wants to be a Firework-Maker. But every Firework-Maker must make a perilous journey to face the terrifying Fire-Fiend! Can Lila possibly survive? Especially when she doesn't know she needs special protection to survive the flames..."

(Philip Pullman, Glyn Maxwell, David Bruce)

David Bruce writes...
"Since my own childhood I have thought of the theatre as a colourful place of magic and fantasy and as I've grown older I am still attracted to those same aspects - for me there is not really a difference between children's theatre and adult theatre - as I see it, it's all 'play' and we are all children.

Philip Pullman seems to share a similar enjoyment of the fun and colour of the theatre - in an essay describing the origins of The Firework Maker's Daughter, he talks about his role putting on annual plays in the school where he worked:

Each year I would add some new theatrical trick to my repertoire: a shadow-puppet interlude, or a scene painted on a gauze that would magically vanish when you raised the lights behind and lowered them in front, or a wind machine and a thunderstorm. I had more fun fooling about with those things than I've ever had before or since.

For me - as I think for Pullman - there is a direct connection between the sense of fantasy that can be created in the theatre and a sense of spiritual and moral questioning. In the theatre we allow ourselves to wonder - to question 'what if' - and the question can sometimes be absurd or comical in nature, but other times be something much more profound. In a largely secular society, the theatre is one of the few places where we can still ask ourselves the big questions, and still feel wonder in all its aspects.My instinct as an artist is to set those big questions in a context that allows us to laugh, smile and relax. And this is one of the things that attracts me most about Pullman's story - it contains both the absurd and fun elements that make theatre such a delight - talking elephants, a fire-fiend in a grotto, etc.- whilst at the same time making some fairly profound points about the creation of art, the need for self-expression, friendship, courage and love. To quote Pullman again:

Fairy tales are ways of telling us true things without labouring the point. They begin in delight, and they end in wisdom. But if you start with what you think is wisdom, you'll seldom end up with delight - it doesn't work that way round. You have to begin with fun.

I am attracted in this story to the Far Eastern setting and the possibility that it offers me to create a distinctive sound-world for the piece. As a composer I have often drawn influence from folk idioms from around the world, and am attracted to the idea of creating my own kind of 'imaginary folk music, which is somewhat familiar, but also new and unknown. The Firework Maker's Daughter similarly occupies some kind of familiar but unknown imaginary land with elements of Thailand, China, India and Indonesia all wrapped together and intermingling.

As a result, two particular passions of mine are likely to find their way into the music. Firstly, Indian music, which I have loved for many years (I have already had discussions about the project with renowned British tabla player Kuljit Bhamra, who has worked specifically on incorporating tabla and aspects of Indian music into the Western notated tradition); and secondly, home-made 'folk' instruments - Pullman mentions that in his original production, a home-made 'gamelan' was used on stage, made out of scrap metal. I have long had an interest in such home-made instruments - for example Piosenki, my song-cycle of Polish children's poems includes a 6 foot 'lagerphone' made from bottle tops attached to a large pole - so the idea of revisiting Pullman's original idea is very appealing to me.

As a composer for whom colour and indeed humour are passionate concerns, I believe there are huge opportunities in this piece to create a vivid and rich operatic re-telling of the story, which will enhance Pullman's wonderfully imaginative world in ways only opera can. The story has huge scope, taking in intimate personal moments - for example, Lila's battle with her own self-belief as she struggles up the mountain; contrasted with large operatic set pieces such as the fire-fiend's grotto and the elephant parade. Topping it all of course, there will need to be musical fireworks, with Lila's culminating 'display' an extraordinary musical and visual climax. Having set both a solar eclipse (Has it Happened Yet? 2002) and childbirth (Push! 2006) to music before, these are the kind of 'impossible' musical challenges I relish".

Press / Latest Reviews

BBC Music Magazine / Jul 2021
Richard Morrison

"I wish someone would revive David Bruce's The Firework Maker's Daughter, based on a cracking Philip Pullman story, which combines elements of The Magic Flute and The Wizard of Oz. I took a seven year-old who loved the wild, Irish-jig stomps, while I was tickled by the allusions to Purcell, Stravinsky and Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries'. Perfect for pretentious grown-ups and wide-eyed tiddlers alike!"

The Times / Dec 2015
Anna Picard

There are two ways of looking at The Firework-Maker's Daughter, David Bruce's 2013 adaptation of Philip Pullman's novella. The first is as a model of how to conjure in sound an unspecified location in the Far East, and pace a children’s adventure with pirates, supernatural beings, a love-struck elephant, comedy, peril and pyrotechnics. The second is as a lesson in what opera, as opposed to music theatre, can do and how it does it.

Bruce's sophisticated, sympathetic score is packed full of coloratura and melisma, patter song and parody (of Wagner and bel canto). With percussion drawn from bhangra, gamelan and Chinese opera, and string, woodwind and accordion writing that shimmies across central Europe, it's a touch of genius that the hit song of the show, On a Night Like This, is scored for the simplest resources: a cappella voices, clapping hands and stamping feet.

The Stage / Dec 2015
Graham Rogers

The immensely likeable cast play a large part in its success, as does David Bruce’s economic score - which, mirroring Pullman’s non-specific exotic setting, enchantingly combines eastern influences (pentatonics and gamalan timbres) with Western folksiness (an accordion supplies a salty tang). Conductor Alice Farnham and Chroma ensemble ensure plenty of zip.

In marked contrast to panto hysterics, the gentle humour of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter offers genuine laughs around a core of substance, while its inventive, attractive, through-composed music and splendid un-miked voices provide a great introduction to opera for young people.

The Independent / Dec 2015
Michael Church

Musically the whole thing works a treat, thanks to glorious singing by Fagan, and to the playing of the Chroma ensemble under Alice Farnham’s direction. Bruce’s instrumentation, dominated by marimbas and strings, creates a welcoming musical world.

Opera Obsession Blog / Dec 2013
Opera Obsession Blog

The Firework-Maker's Daughter was another highlight of my spring season. A children's opera, you ask, Gentle Readers? Yes: and an opera that used small forces creatively, is both humorous and poignant, critiques sexism in opera and society (hooray,) and boasts well-set text and memorable music.

Opera Now / Jun 2013
Martin Dreyer

" intoxicating brew....The show is the operatic equivalent of a page-turner, ideally paced for an all-ages audience....The family audience loved every minute of its two hours. Once a buzzword, outreach has become a vital commodity. May it live happily ever after."

Time Out ★★★★ / May 2013
Raven Snook

Featuring emotional music with hints of the Far East by rising classical star David eye-popping, low-tech visual delight...

Huffington Post / May 2013
Fern Siegel

Composer David Bruce and librettist Glyn Maxwell, aided by creative costumes and sets, have artfully fashioned a wonderful tale that will seize the imagination.

Opera Obsession Blog / May 2013

Its inventive staging, engaging musical writing, and charming plot, however, won me--as well as the many children in the audience--over completely....You'll have to bear with me, Gentle Readers, as I keep using words like joy and delight in describing this work that features Wagnerian allusions and a lovesick white elephant, as well as the independent heroine of the title.....The score is lean but evocative, relying heavily on percussion and woodwinds, with strings coming to the fore in moments of emotional intimacy or vulnerability.... The Wagnerian pretensions and Italian bombast (both orchestrally expressed) of the rival firework-makers were seen off in a deeply satisfying fashion, as Lila sings her art into being. Like all the best fables, The Firework-Maker's Daughter left me exhilarated as well as entranced.

Wall Street Journal feature / May 2013
Pia Catton

In writing an opera for young people around the ages of his own two children (who are 6 and 10), Mr. Bruce said he gave the work the same care and attention, if not more, as previous works intended for violinist Daniel Hope ("The Given Note," a chamber work from 2011) or Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble ("Cut the Rug," from 2013). The latter will be played in October at Carnegie Hall, a venue that has presented three works commissioned from Mr. Bruce since 2006.

The challenge of writing for the much-younger set appealed to the composer: "It's almost the best audience to be aiming for," he said. "You force yourself to be as clear as possible."

New York Post / May 2013
James Jordon / La Ceica

Like the pyrotechnics “The Firework Maker’s Daughter” longs to create, this new opera for children is a delightful, low-tech throwback to a time before CGI took over the world.....A hardworking company of five opera singers perform David Bruce’s score, an eclectic blend of Bollywood pop, Balinese gamelan percussion and Chinese opera, played onstage by a nine-piece ensemble......By the end of “Firework Maker’s Daughter,” Lila learns that magic ingredients are not as important as her own talent and courage. That’s true of the creators of this opera, too, who crafted a charming, moving tale from the simplest materials.

The Talblet Magazine / May 2013
Robert Thicknesse

Bruce and The Opera Group have made an enchanting evening that should return for many a Christmas show.

...The same resourcefulness extends to the performers: five singers and an orchestra of nine. Bruce uses an unusual band – including horn, accordion, harp and two percussionists – to create a wonderfully varied world that feels like many more players, and imitates the sounds of other instruments – banjo, gamelan orchestra – as well as the natural noises of the jungle. Eastern scales and the hieratic sounds of temple bells complete the picture in an amazingly deft score, which finally lets itself off the leash for the firework show featuring a comedy German and Italian, set to workshop-pastiches of Wagner and Neapolitan ice-cream music.

There is some real and tuneful singing called for too.... this is a delightful show, sweetly told and with just the right amount of seriousness to ballast its charm.

BBC Music Magazine / Apr 2013
Helen Wallace

Bruce has woven together scintillating timbres and scales from various ‘oriental’ traditions, be it Chinese, Indian and Indonesian, in a crafty weave using bass, harp, violin, winds, accordion and well-chosen tuned percussion subtly realised by CHROMA ensemble. As he says himself, he’s unashamedly interested in the ‘surface’ of the music, and this comes across in a teeming, tingling fantastical score that wittily references other operas (a lovely Wagner moment when the German firework-maker comes on, and a cod-Neapolitan song for Signor Scorchio, his Italian rival).

One Stop Arts ★★★★★ / Apr 2013
Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade

This week the Linbury Studio Theatre attracted an audience of the more minute variety with its dazzling production of The Firework-Maker's Daughter....With music composed by David Bruce and a libretto constructed by Glyn Maxwell, the narrative enjoyed a vivid dramatisation that was brimming with energy.

Classical Source / Apr 2013
Hannah Sander

Musically, the opera is at its best in the stiller moments: when Lila is alone in the jungle, and at the culmination, a gigantic firework display competing for the King's approval. Here, Bruce’s liquid and inventive score breathes.

...between Bevan's delightful Lila, Bruce's inventive score and the majestic work of puppeteers Tiplady and Todd, there is a great deal of magic to behold.

The Telegraph / Apr 2013
Michael White

At last: a first-rank children's opera, all the better for its low-tech magic

...the most utterly endearing, joyous and delightful show I've seen in ages...It's funny, touching, charming.... Bruce's score is accessibly saturated (in an often Brittenesque way) with eastern exoticism, pentatonic tunes, and delicately busy gamelan effects. Given the dearth of good children's music-theatre since Benjamin Britten ... this piece is something to sieze on. has the makings of a real hot-ticket.

Planet Hugill blog / Apr 2013
Robert Hugill

The result was mesmerising, a simply brilliant piece of theatre which mixed a wide variety of media into a charming and dazzling whole. No wonder the audience was pleased.

...Bruce's nine-person instrumental ensemble included an interesting mix of instruments (violin, bass, flute, clarinet, horn, accordion, harp and two percussionists), with a large amount of tuned percussion (plus one or two imaginative touches such as crumpling plastic bags). His sound world evoked Java, gamelan and the East (the rough location of the production), without being slavish. His orchestrations were magical and the sound world highly evocative.

Vocally there were some good set pieces, a rather jolly and catchy song for the pirates and some beautiful solos for Mary Bevan as Lila, including her gorgeous final incantation which was a long wordless cantilena.

The Observer / Mar 2013
Fiona Maddocks

Now David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell, composer and librettist, have realised the book's operatic potential in a captivating chamber piece for five singers, two puppeteers and small ensemble.

Bruce's vivid music, skilfully played by Chroma and conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, mixes the colours of snake-charmer piccolo, gamelan and folk-inspired accordion to delicate effect. The vocal writing....has moments of strong emotional truth.

The Arts Desk / Mar 2013
Graham Rickson of rare beauty and purity.

Bruce's...eclectic, glittering score serves the narrative perfectly

The Independent / Mar 2013
Anna Picard

Parents and carers beware! Lila, fearless heroine of David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell's adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Firework Maker's Daughter, is a thoroughly disruptive influence. If the children who saw John Fulljames's show in Hull and Huddersfield last week aren't dreaming of becoming the world's greatest pyrotechnicians, they are probably dreaming of careers as singers, puppeteers, percussionists, composers or writers. The Firework Maker's Daughter tells a terrific story and makes the crazy, sweaty, risky business of telling that story for a living look like terrific fun.

In this huge-hearted, fast-moving caper...the enchantment comes from the energy of the performers, the ingenuity of Guy Hoare's lighting, and the beauty of Bruce's music. Scored for a small band including accordion, harp and an array of gamelan-like percussion... the [opera's] patina is sharp, sweet and metallic, the rhythms punchy, the melodies fluid and expressive.....

Even if the target audience for this show is only a fraction older than the babies born in Bruce's 2006 opera Push!, there is enough to seduce the most musically discerning parent. Just don't take your offspring if you want them to take up a career in accountancy.

The Times★★★★ / Mar 2013
Richard Morrison

....I devoured more than my own weight in Maltesers, and loved it....even better is David Bruce’s score, ingeniously coaxed from a nine-strong ensemble (Chroma) that strongly features an accordion and lashings of Chinese-opera style biffs and bangs in the percussion department.

Its pentatonic melodies are evocative of the Far East, too; yet the big numbers are more like wild, Irish-jig stomps. And to titillate grown-up listeners the musical allusions also pay homage to everything from Purcell, Stravinsky and Britten to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. With Amar Muchhala, Wyn Pencarreg and Andrew Slater revelling in mercurial cameos, and the conductor Geoffrey Paterson keeping this charming score buzzing along, two hours pass joyously. ★★★★★ / Mar 2013
Ron Simpson

The Firework Maker's Daughter is a wonderful entertainment: how often can we say that of a new opera?....David Bruce's score is a constant delight, from a cappella anthems to exotic percussion effects.....Nowadays operas so often disappear without trace after their first run, but I am confident that The Firework Maker's Daughter will return soon and often.

The Guardian ★★★★ / Mar 2013
Alfred Hickling

Bruce's vividly coloured chamber score [combines] gamelan crashes and plunky pentatonics with the incongruous wheeze of an accordion to create a beguiling, imaginary hybrid of Indo-European folk music.


for 5 Singers and 9 Players. Chamber Opera in 2 Acts


1 Flute (doubling Piccolo)
1 Clarinet in Bb (doubling Bass Clarinet in Bb)
1 French Horn
1 Harp
1 Button Accordion
2 Percussion
1 Violin
1 Double Bass

Duration 50+45mins
First performance The Opera Group, UK & US Tour March-May 2013
Commissioned by The Opera Group and Royal Opera House ROH2.
Dedicated to Gosia, Kaja and Oskar

Past Performances

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