Don't miss: The Monstrous Child The puppet of Hel, in The Monstrous Child, ROH, 2019. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey.

Don't miss: The Monstrous Child

Jenna Simeonov

“It’s a teenage coming-of-age story, but she happens to be a half-dead, half-alive goddess who lives in the Norse Underworld,” says composer Gavin Higgins of his new opera, The Monstrous Child.

Running 21 February to 3 March at the The Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre, The Monstrous Child is the operatic adaptation of the teen fiction book by Francesca Simon. Drawn from Norse mythology, the story centres on Hel, the teenage goddess who presides over the dead. Higgins describes the opera, which shares source material with the expansive works of Wagner, as “basically what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz, but to the Ring Cycle.”

Gavin Higgins, composer of The Monstrous Child.

When we spoke, Higgins was finishing his orchestration in anticipation for the first rehearsals with the Aurora Orchestra. “I don’t find it as taxing as composing,” he says of orchestration. “It’s a bit like puzzle-solving.” The Monstrous Child marks Higgins’ first opera, and even his first foray into writing for the voice. He comes from a familial line of brass band players, and got the opera bug after seeing Ligeti’s Le grand macabre at English National Opera. He read Simon’s book, which he deemed both brilliant and operatic, and brought a workshop-ready score for proposal to the Royal Opera House. After the work’s single workshop, Higgins recalls, “they commissioned it straight away. Which is apparently unheard of.”

Gavin Higgins in rehearsal with Francesca Simon. ROH, 2019. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey.

Though still young, Higgins is a seasoned composer; and though there are learning curves to writing for the voice, he wisely keeps his eyes on the final product: an opera for families. Hel, burdened with the same teenage struggles as the rest of us - issues of self-esteem and unrequited crushes - is “the ultimate teenage girl who is having the worst time in life.”

The Monstrous Child sees its world premiere at the ROH’s Linbury Theatre on 21 February, 7:30pm. For details and ticket information, click here.

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