John Tavener's 'magical' last opera to be staged for first time

It comes after late composer’s friend Prince Charles flagged potential of Krishna script

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 with Gopis by Narendra Kumar.
Krishna with Gopis by Narendra Kumar Photograph: Supplied

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.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Stockhausen opera to be staged in full for first time – helicopters and all

Birmingham Opera Company performance of Mittwoch aus Licht for London 2012 festival will have flying soloists and two choirs

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

13, Mar, 2012 @12:33 PM

Article image
Letter: John Tavener's moment at Pentonville prison

Judy Lynn writes: In 2000, John Tavener was commissioned to write a piece to be performed in the chapel at Pentonville by the London Sinfonietta

Judy Lynn

18, Nov, 2013 @11:51 AM

Tavener's Requiem, Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool

Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool

Tim Ashley

01, Mar, 2008 @12:07 AM

Article image
11-year-old British composer debuts first opera in Vienna
Alma Deutscher’s retelling of Cinderella is receiving high praise, with many calling her the modern Mozart

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

30, Dec, 2016 @6:12 PM

Article image
English National Opera names Martyn Brabbins as music director
Respected conductor takes over from Mark Wigglesworth as company seeks stability after two years of cuts and crises

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

21, Oct, 2016 @2:34 PM

Article image
South African opera house accused of exploiting black singers
Chorus members were dismissed after challenging discrepancies in pay for appearing abroad in opera set in colonial Africa

Severin Carrell and Mark Brown

01, Sep, 2016 @12:40 PM

Article image
John Berry steps down from English National Opera
Resignation of controversial artistic director comes at the end of a difficult year for the beleaguered opera company, which faces severe funding problems

Imogen Tilden and Maev Kennedy

10, Jul, 2015 @4:49 PM

Article image
Fresh crisis at English National Opera as key figure quits
Producing director Terri-Jayne Griffin to leave, with others claiming ENO ‘lacks ambition’

Dalya Alberge

19, Jun, 2018 @2:02 PM

Article image
One female conductor 'not acceptable ratio', admits Royal Opera House
Company vows to do better as Ariane Matiakh only woman on list for main stage in 2019-20

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

14, May, 2019 @2:04 PM

Article image
BP sponsorship of Royal Opera House ends after 33 years
Move leaves British Museum and Science Museum isolated as arts institutions with fossil fuel sponsors

Esther Addley

25, Jan, 2023 @1:36 PM