Jonathan Dove

Few present-day composers are as accessible, dramatically astute and musically resourceful as Jonathan Dove (b. 1959). He is an immensely practical composer who first won acclaim with his brilliant condensing of Wagner’s Ring for a small touring pit-band, and for superbly inclusive “community operas” that utilised every musical resource a town could muster – from children’s choirs and brass bands to folk ensembles and rock musicians.

Since then his work with his regular librettist Alasdair Middleton has diversified into many different operatic genres. Life is a Dream is a pulsating, large-scale adaptation of a Spanish Renaissance drama that mixes thrilling choruses with haunting soliloquies to unfold a dark and disturbing allegorical tale.

By contrast, his gloriously pantomime-like The Adventures of Pinocchio and the concise Swanhunter – relating a Finnish folk-tale with just six singers and six instrumentalists – both manage to grip children and intrigue adults with equal panache.

And his subject-matter is just as diverse. It ranges from personal dramas played out in an airport lounge (Flight) to Jane Austen’s wry comedy of young people in love (Mansfield Park) and Biblical tales given a powerful contemporary twist (Tobias and the Angel, and his ecological church opera The Walk from the Garden).

What unites all this is Dove’s gift for writing supremely theatrical, quick-witted music – its roots as much in the musical-theatre masterpieces of Sondheim and Bernstein as the operas of Britten and Stravinsky. His music, unapologetically tonal, can pulse with minimalist rhythms or blossom into memorable lyricism – and it’s unfailingly well-written for voices. He can conjure a remarkable array of sonorities from a small number of players.

Most of all, he wants to entertain, enthral and engage audiences – especially those who rarely or ever attend opera. In that aim he has been dazzlingly successful.

Richard Morrison | Chief Music Critic, The Times