The Maids

A strikingly individual voice

Bengtson (b. 1961), one of Sweden’s leading young composers, comes from a theatrical family, which perhaps accounts for his leaning towards music drama. He drew initial inspiration for his chamber opera Jungfrurna from Christopher Miles’s film (1974, with Glenda Jackson and Susannah York) of Jean Genet’s The Maids. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are echoes of film music in his strong score, though all the influences on Bengtson are fused into a strikingly individual voice.

In Jungfrurna his music traces graphically the mood swings in the story – which tells of how the uncontrolled, morbid fantasies of the two young country sisters, turned chambermaids, are twisted into crime and, ultimately, murder – so that the textures cloy more and more as the claustrophobia increases.

Bengtson’s vocal lines are demanding but singable, and by the fourth performance the cast of three was entirely confident with them.

As the maids Claire and Solange, the soprano Anna Eklund-Tarantino and mezzo Eva Pilat gave athletic performances which captured their intense, love-hate relationship. The contralto Gunilla Söderström made an intimidating impact as the powdered, peroxided Madame. Peter Holm’s 1950s designs were gaudy.

The production, by Jungfrurna’s librettist Ragnar Lyth (a theatre director venturing into opera for the first time), was cleverly choreographed and made imaginative use of the Rotundan’s small circular stage, and Niklas Willén conducted fluently, building tension throughout the score’s 70-minute span.

  • John Allison, The Times/Opera World

Ausserordentliche dramatische Begabung

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