The Iron Man (cont)


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Commissioned by State Opera of South Australia

Selected by Australian Opera for exhibition of operas in National Opera Education Conference 1988



Photo: Victoria State Opera

Photo: fox & fox music international


The following article by Sam Hordern is reprinted courtesy of The Australian

"The Iron Man is an opera composed by Malcolm Fox for young people.

It is based on a short, allegorical story by the poet Ted Hughes. The libretto, a collaboration of Jim Vilé and Sue Rider, closely followed the original text, which contains a contemporary message of undiluted and undisguised import - that violence and confrontation will never be the final solution to the problems of mankind.

It is a story which has relevance to a modern audience and in the composer's words "it draws upon archetypal images common to world mythology - death and resurrection, transformation by fire, astrological symbolism and much more."

The world premiere performance of The Iron Man was in front of a full house of a predominantly young to very young audience.

It was eagerly waited and received. There is no question but that Malcolm Fox dilates on an aspect of music that lies close to his heart - the wedding of words and music. His writing for children has a transparent texture, a command of their strengths and limitations and an almost defiant insistence on tunes that positively sit up and beg to be memorised.

This very simplicity hides the diligence and craft that create the various factors that make up such a demanding and complicated entity as opera.

Fox's economy of means, which show to best advantage in this chamber opera, would be lost in the larger frame of grand opera. His music provides a continuous pleasure in aptness and inventiveness, which meets the task of enabling the text to become airborne.

Perhaps the music could be considered soft-centred, without the balancing of euphony and astringency that Britten might have brought to the same subject, but it is satisfying, agreeable and successful.

There is much musical symbolism in the work with each of the principal protagonists - the Iron Man, Humanity, the Space Being - having a recurring motive. The Iron Man represents the enormous and rapid advances in technology and the Space Being embodies the threat of global nuclear war. It is the children, Hogarth and Kelly, who lead the way to a positive solution to the confrontation.

Other aspects of the opera, such as the thunderstorm, also have associated musical motives. This leitmotif idea is important to the structure of the work and serves as a unifying device in the overall form. The touches of humour in the opera were delightful.

The Iron Man, with its fluent, vivid, variously paced and effective music offers young performers an opportunity to display their outstanding ability and to explore the special qualities desirable in the operatic genre."