A newly discovered opera by Sir John Tavener is to be staged for the first time after the late composer’s friend Prince Charles flagged up its potential.
Tavener, one of the most acclaimed British composers of his generation, completed his final opera, Krishna, in 2005 but it has remained in manuscript form, unperformed and largely unknown, since then.
A number of years after Tavener’s death in 2013, Prince Charles approached Sir David Pountney, then artistic director of the Welsh National Opera, to ask if he would take a look at Krishna to see if it was a viable opera project.
“I did look and I thought yes it was definitely an interesting project,” said Pountney. “I was astonished to discover this massive complete work, never performed, and on a subject which is so close to Tavener’s music and life. It is a very exciting prospect.”
Tavener’s mesmerising, trance-inducing music – listened to by some fans with a joint in hand – won him a cult following. At the age of 24 the Guardian called him “the musical discovery of the year”.
He first came into the public eye with The Whale (1968), which was released on The Beatles’ Apple label. He became known to many more millions after his Song for Athene was sung by the choir at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.
Prince Charles was a long-term friend of the composer, who converted to the Russian Orthodox church in the 1970s and once explained: “We share views on the importance of all religious traditions.”
Krishna will be staged by Grange Park Opera, in Surrey, in 2024. Pountney, who will direct it, said it was a substantial work and not straightforward to put on.
“It is ambitious visually and it has magical elements as well as lots of writing for children’s voices and a scene with 14 flutes, some of them floating in mid-air.”
He said he took it to Grange Park’s founder and chief executive, Wasfi Kani, because “she is one of the few people who would have the courage to do this”.
Kani recalled first examining the manuscript and being astonished. “It quickly became clear this was a masterpiece that needed to be brought to life,” she said.
“We are now actively searching for collaborators to give premieres in Europe and, of course, in India. The search for Indian philanthropists begins.”
Grange Park is a 700-seat opera theatre built in 2017 in the woods of West Horsley Place, a stately home in Surrey inherited by the former University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne.