Female Composers, Part 5: Violeta Dinescu

Female Composers, Part 5: Violeta Dinescu

Throughout history, most of the classical music that has entered into the canon of Western music has been composed by men. Fortunately, female composers are gaining notoriety in recent years. In this series, we introduce female composers of our publishing group. This time: Violeta Dinescu.

Violeta Dinescu: Der 35. Mai
Violeta Dinescu’s Der 35. Mai is one the most successful and most performed children’s operas published by Ricordi. Since its premiere in 1986 in Mannheim, it has been produced by some of the leading opera companies in Germany and Austria including Hamburgische Staatsoper, Staatsoper Wien, and Staatsoper Stuttgart.

“There is a lack of good German authors!  So I need you to write a children’s book”, Without this demand from publisher Edith Jakobsohn, Erich Kästner may never have written Der 35. Mai oder Konrad reitet in die Südsee. With Ms. Jakobsohn’s support, the book was published in 1932.

Almost 55 years later, in 1986, the Romanian composer Violeta Dinescu received a commission for a children’s opera by Nationaltheater Mannheim, one of the largest theatres in Germany. After some research she discovered Kästner’s book by chance. Der 35. Mai was to become Dinescu’s first children’s opera. Luckily she had worked with children before, and she had also collected and transcribed Romanian children’s songs. “During the various productions of Der 35. Mai I repeatedly noted that children’s songs have such a universal dimension – a miracle of communication”, says Violeta Dinescu.

The folkloristic sounds of her children’s opera are characterized by rich colors and rhythmic variety. Violeta Dinescu’s goal was to captivate and inspire her young audience, so she composed from the perspective of children. “The composer needs to find a system of sounds that can be understood by children, even if this system is not simple. Children cannot understand an abstract system such as twelve-tone technique. There needs to be hierarchy of colorful sounds and which is tangible (rhythms, melodies) – this is comprehensible for children. But this does not need to happen in the major-minor-system entirely.”

The storyline of the opera is similar to Kästner’s book: Konrad needs to write a school essay about the South Sea, so he travels there together with his uncle, the pharmacist Ringelhuth, and the roller-skating circus horse Negro Kaballo. Through a cupboard they enter a fantasy world in which many strange things happen. They travel through different countries, and they meet interesting people on their way, including Charlemagne who has become the goalkeeper of the “castle of the great past”. They also encounter Napoleon, with whom Ringelhuth gets into an argument.

They finally reach the South Sea by crossing the equator which consists of a long band of steel. When they arrive, the three protagonists meet a girl called Parsley who shows them her peculiar world. Flying dogs, golden peacocks, and white squirrels cross their way. They finally meet Chief Rabenaas, who is also called “The fast courier”. He helps them to get back home by a magic trick: he brings Onkel Ringelhuth’s cupboard to the South Sea, and through this they can return to their world. And just in time for Ringelhuth to start his shift at the pharmacy and for Konrad to write the school essay.

Der 35. Mai is more than a fantasy story for children. Kästner quite openly expressed social criticism and addressed the problems of the late Weimar Republic. The various locations of their journey can be interpreted as symbols. For instance, the Schlaraffenland (the land of milk and honey) is a symbol of laziness, in the “castle of the great past” expresses Kästner’s critique of militarism, and the city of Elektropolis shows the danger of total technocracy – all of these are topics that remain relevant today.
Text: Annette Thoma

Der 35. Mai oder Konrad reitet in die Südsee
Children’s opera in seven pictures for children’s choir and orchestra – – – strings
Libretto: Florian Zwipf, Ulrike Wendt; afterErich Kästner  
World premiere: 1986, Nationaltheater Mannheim
Duration: full evening
For children from 8 years onwards

Nationaltheater Mannheim (world premiere, 1986)
Staatsoper Dresden (1989/90)
Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz, München (1991)
Staatsoper Stuttgart (1999)
Staatstheater Mainz (2006/07)
Staatsoper Wien (2001)
Theater Ettelbrück, Luxemburg (2002)
Hamburgische Staatsoper (2004)
Kampnagel Hamburg (2004)
Theater Freiburg (2008)