Opera for Young People and Families

May 29th, 2015  |  Published in News

A lot of fun and full of deliciously scary moments… The Stage


An opera based on the novel by Philip Pullman. Libretto by David Wood. Commissioned by the Unicorn Theatre. London premiere at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre in April 2004

clockwork2Clockwork tells a story about the very nature of how things work. Set in the fictional town of Glockenheim and centred round its great clock, the lazy apprentice Karl fails to complete his final test and makes a dangerous deal with a mysterious genius. Children are delighted as mechanical figures come to life and take on an almost human form… With a sparkling libretto by the distinguished children’s playwright, David Wood based on Philip Pullman’s precisely plotted book, the opera is a perfect introduction for all families.

Cast: sop, 2 mezzo, 2 ten, 2 bar, bass. Orchestra: Flute/picc, clarinet/B.clt, horn, harp, violin, cello , bass, percussion.  Duration: 90 minutes

Younger audiences will certainly be won over by the Unicorn Theatre’s beguiling new opera for children. Wood’s deft dialogue and McNeff’s bright, inventive score brought Pullman’s ornate imaginings to vivid life.  The Observer

Unicorn Theatre’s first specially commissioned opera for children is both a lot of fun and full of deliciously scary moments.  David Wood and Stephen McNeff have fashioned an intriguing and provocative minor masterpiece. Stephen McNeff’s Music is full of witty invention… The Stage

Serenely powerful… Calgary Herald

The Secret Garden

Opera based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Libretto by Joan MacLeod. Premiered in Toronto in 1985 and in revised version in London in 2012 at Blackheath Concert Halls.

secretgarden2Orphan Mary Lennox finds herself far away from where she grew up in India at her unfriendly uncle’s remote house on the Yorkshire Moors. Lonely and friendless she discovers long hidden garden and through it discovers that life can take unexpected directions. The rebirth of the garden echoes Mary’s realisation that caring for others can bring satisfaction and joy to a wider world. This is a perfect opera for all generations to attend together.

Cast: 3 Sop, 2 Mezz, 2 Ten, 1 Ten/Bar/Bar, Bass Bar
Orchestra: Flute/picc, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet/B.Clt, bassoon, horn, harp, percussion. Strings (min 4,4,2,2,1) Duration: 100 minutes

With composers as communicative as McNeff around, the future of music theatre looks as bight as the sunshine in his Secret Garden Christopher Webber Opera Magazine

…a well-received, first-rate performance that should ensure that The Secret Garden remains in the repertoire for decades to come. Richard Bonfield, The Calgary Herald

Stephen McNeff’s little miracle of a children’s opera, with subtle and never heavy-handed environmental message. The Times

Gentle Giant

One Act Opera based on the book by Michael Morpurgo with a libretto by Mike Kenny. Commissioned by he Royal Opera House Covent Garden and premiered therein 2006

gentlegiantThis delightful tale from Michael Morpugo’s book is a perfect first opera for children and schools. With a small cast and orchestra it is extremely portable, and while it is possible to stage it in the most sophisticated fashion the story can equally well work with the simplest means. Miranda is saved from the lake by the Giant. People think he’s scary, but she befriends him. In turn he saves her community from a terrible environmental tragedy. This opera can be accompanied by a school and community education package.

Stephen McNeff’s little miracle of a children’s opera, with subtle and never heavy-handed environmental message. The Times

Cast: Sop, Mezz, Ten, Bar, soli (optional puppeteer). Orchestra: Flute/picc, cello, harp, percussion, keyboard (can be played by the conductor). Duration: 60 minutes

I would recommend this opera for children who are interested in music and in seeing new things. The music was interesting. I enjoyed going to the opera! Stephen (aged 11 on Bachtrack.com)
The family audience clearly enjoyed the production very much, as I enjoyed the music, the singing and the puppet giant. Penny Francis Animations Online

Winner of the British Composer Award for Best stage work 2007

Tarka the Otter

A community opera based on Henry Williamson’s story of wildlife on the Devon Moors. Libretto by Richard Williams. Commissioned by the Two Moors Festival and premiered in October 2006

tarkaHenry Williamson’s book recounts the tale of Tarka, the otter born free on the wild moors of Devonshire, living by his instinct and wits to capture his prey and outwit his hunters. Observed by the soldier recently returned from the trenches, Tarka’s life in the wild is noble. “Animals only kill for food…” says the soldier. Alongside this elemental tale is the beauty of the turning year, the seasons, the birds and other animals and their interaction with the sometimes rather bungling humans. With parts ranging from fully professional to children and non-professional soloists there is also an important choral element. It’s an opera for the whole community to become involved in.

Stephen McNeff’s Tarka the Otter is a really clever piece: unsentimental, sharp and not a bar too long.

Cast: Professional: Mezzo, Ten, Bar, Bass Bar. Non-professional: 2 sop, Ten/Bar. Many and various other small parts requiring a mixture of speaking and singing, both adults and children. Chorus and children’s chorus. Orchestra: Flute/picc, oboe/cor anglais, , 2 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, harp, percussion, string quintet. Duration: 86 minutes

McNeff supplies simple (but not banal) tunes for the amateurs, highly-charged lines for principals, and a real corker of a score for the 15 instrumentalists — spitting with venomous energy in the hunts or dissipating into impressionistic ripples to evoke the sparkling Torridge. Perhaps inevitably there are echoes of Janácek’s Vixen and, in the sardonic numbers, Kurt Weill. But the overall feel is of feisty originality. Richard Morrison, The Times

Current Projects

April 18th, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

At the end of March Clare McCaldin (mezzo) and Libby Burgess (piano) recoded their new CD for champs Hill records – to be called Notes from the Asylum. Featured on the CD is the world premiere recording of Vivienne, the one-women opera that I wrote for Clare and Libby to perform at the 2013 Tete a Tete opera Festival in Hammersmith. The opera was extremely well received getting a clutch of four and five star reviews. The producer was Matthew Bennett and what I have heard on the first edit suggests it will be a superbly recoded sound with Clare and Libby capturing all of the drama and excitement they conjured in the theatre. It be released later this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with McNeff – video

April 16th, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

Stephen McNeff, featured composer at last year’s Presteigne Festival, being interviewed for the event.

Featured Composer at Presteigne Festival 2014

July 23rd, 2014  |  Published in New Works, News

Andrew Burn, head of projects at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and writer on 20/21st Cenury music, writes:

Stephen McNeff: Composer in Residence

Clare McCaldin and Chris Hopkins rehearsing Madrigali Dell’Estate at Presteigne

Clare McCaldin and Chris Hopkins rehearsing Madrigali Dell’Estate at Presteigne

“Residencies as one focal point of a festival provide valuable opportunities for the creative artist and audiences alike. For the latter there’s the chance to hear a range of work within a concentrated span of time, as well as to meet and engage with the creator, in this instance a composer, and to gleam what makes them ‘tick’. From the artist’s perspective, it provides a moment to take stock, and invariably the exciting invitation to create something new, because no residency would be complete without a premiere! Read the rest of this entry »

New Vocal Recordings

October 21st, 2013  |  Published in Recordings

finalcoverversionNew from Champs Hill RecordsMadrigali dell’Estate, Italian inspired vocal works by Stephen McNeff for Clare McCaldin (mezzo), with Andrew West (piano) and the Orchestra Nova Ensemble, conducted by George Vass.

Buy the CD from directly from Champs Hill Records
or from Amazon

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New Orchestral Recordings

September 25th, 2013  |  Published in Recordings


duttonNew from Dutton Epoc, The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in 4 works from 2005 – 2007, conducted by Dominic Wheeler.  The CD is a celebration of the association between the BSO and Stephen McNeff who was Composer in Residence from 2005 – 2008.

Buy it from Amazon

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Vivienne – new chamber opera

September 21st, 2013  |  Published in New Works, Reviews

mcneffA new one act opera for mezzo soprano and piano about T S Eliot’s ‘mad’ wife, Vivienne



Evening Standard *****
McNeff delivers an unpredictable yet instantly appealing score. The story unwraps in songs that always hint at popular idiom — crunchy bebop infuses her late-Forties mourning, Berlin-style cabaret hints at Eliot’s possible Fascist sympathies — but their structure is elastic and mutable. You enjoy the tune but never quite catch it. Kieron Quirke

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Secret Garden review

October 21st, 2012  |  Published in Reviews

Opera on Two Acts based on the novel by Frances Hodgeson Burnett

Newly revised version premiered by Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music in July 2012 and at the Banff Festival of the Arts in Canada in August 2012 conducted by Dominic Wheeler and directed by Kelly Robinson. Read the rest of this entry »

Chalk Legends review

August 21st, 2012  |  Published in Reviews

chalkTHE CHALK LEGENDS – When Viking skeletons were unearthed in Dorset it was the start of a tale that led back over a thousand years into a mysterious world… with a strange modern twist.

The Times
At this premiere it was also a triumph of hard work and organisation. The BSO, Dorset Youth Orchestra, eight local choirs and two dance companies successfully fused and struck sparks in a tricky rectangular space. Under MarkForkgen’s baton and Williams’s direction no cues were dropped, no note fumbled. Marvellous.
Geoff Brown


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The Chalk Legends

March 5th, 2012  |  Published in New Works

Stephen is working with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on their ambitious  2012 cultural olympiad project, The Chalk Legends.

chalkclifsThe Chalk Legends is the largest Dorset community-based music and dance project inspired by London 2012. With the Olympic Sailing Events to be held in Weymouth and Portland in 2012, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Partners wanted to find a way of also making the year memorable in music and dance. We have devised The Chalk Legends, a large scale music, dance and multi-media event culminating in a spectacular presentation at the National Sailing Academy in Portland – just days before the WPNSA becomes the focus of world-wide attention during the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Read the rest of this entry »