Harry Potter – The Ideal Source for an Opera/Musical

by Stuart

Abstract: The “Harry Potter” story is as wide-ranging and dramatic as any opera plot – why aren’t we seeing a major West End adaptation on the lines of Les Miserables? Who would write it, and who would star in the leading roles?

Okay, I have a confession. I am a lifelong fan of opera and musical theatre…I’ve even written a couple of shows that have appeared on the London stage and Edinburgh Festival. And, having just watched the final episode of the history of British Musicals on BBC4, plus a documentary about the origins and success of Les Miserables, it has set me wondering: what about a Harry Potter musical or even opera?

Why am I vacillating between musicals and opera? Simply that with the modern musical, it has blurred the distinction between opera and musical theatre – watch anything by Lloyd-Webber or Shoenburg/Boubil (writers of Les Mis and Miss Saigon) or even Steven Sondheim and spoken dialogue has been more or less eliminated in true opera style. At the same time, there are no really world-class composers coming forward that can write true classical opera. Probably the last one I can think of is Benjamin Britten who single-handedly revived the genre in the UK.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. There is no doubt that the whole of the Harry Potter saga has the emotional sweep that most opera/musical writers would die for: a boy that has an almost mystical destiny, who overcomes numerous challenges and at the end faces his greatest battle of all. There’s a strong cast of characters: Hermione and Ron, who together with Harry form the central focus; Dumbledore, a guiding figure; Voldemort, the greatest villain of all time; and the enigmatic character of Snape. It’s truly made for operatic treatment.

The next question is: do we do one opera or a whole cycle? Wagner told the story of Siegfried over four operas, the so-called Ring Cycle, a true epic along the lines of Lord of the Rings. But I could see a Harry Potter opera as one complete work. Okay, a lot (and I mean a lot) would be left out but if it focused on Harry’s battle with Voldemort, it could be done and be more dramatically tight because of that. In fact, you could almost jump from the scene set in the first book (PHILOSOPHER’s Stone) to the last by way of the ending in Goblet Of Fire.

I’d probably see this in two acts. The first would feature Harry, Ron, and Hermione up to the ending of Goblet of Fire where Voldemort is reborn. Even here you’d need a change of singers from the 12-year-old Harry to the 15-year-old Harry (and Ron, etc) but why not?

The second act would largely feature Harry’s last showdown with Voldemort and some of the events leading up to it with the massive finale of Voldemort’s death – something as operatic as you could possibly get.

It’s when we get to Order of the Phoenix that things start to diverge. The Ministry of Magic is ever more obsessively autocratic and in denial, Delores Umbridge is basically a sadistic, fundamentalist tool of the Ministry and yet the very powerful feeling of dread and fear is only hinted at. And yet we have a director totally ill-equipped to deal with this. Harry is bullied, but if anyone has watched the UK series Waterloo Road (about a northern UK comprehensive school) or Grange Hill, or anything similar, he gets off very lightly.

The first question is: who would write such an epic musical – and don’t forget we need words as well as music. Lloyd Webber is probably a bit too lightweight, even if he did do Evita. Sondheim is a possibility but my money would be on Schoenberg and Bubil. Not only did they write Les Miserables (which is operatically epic in proportions) but also Miss Saigon which is based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (classic Italian opera).

Okay, I’m not that familiar with 21st-century writers and composers so there may be someone waiting in the wings who could knock our socks off…but let’s stay with the original choice.

The next question is: who would you cast? That’s even more difficult. For the young Harry, Hermione, and Ron, that’s impossible. There are probably too many good, young singers around. However, once you get to the adults and adult cast, it becomes a bit easier. Well, maybe not. But I think there has to be a role for Bryn Terfel. I’d actually cast him as Voldemort… anyone seen him in the role of Sweeney Todd as written by Steven Sondheim? Poor evil!!

Surprisingly the only image we have of ‘Storm Troopers’ is when we are in Gringotts Bank in Deathly Hallows – part 2. Why aren’t these literally everywhere?

I’d see someone like Alfie Boe as the mature Harry Potter, and perhaps Sierra Bogess as Hermione. I don’t know about Ron, but I’m thinking of a baritone type of role, much like Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Okay, maybe that’s unfair to Ron, but he is that sort of character.

As for McGonagall, I’d bring Kiri te Kanawa out of retirement, and there must be a place for Jose Carreras..

You can fill in the blanks.

And who would direct? Well, I’d put Cameron Mackintosh in charge of stage production, but if we’re talking film direction, it would probably have to be Alan Parker. He did a brilliant job with Evita (and don’t forget he directed musicals Fame and Bugsy Malone), so he’s well up to the job. I would have suggested Ken Russel, but he, unfortunately, died a few months ago.

But what do other fans think?