Benjamin Staern (1978-)

Snödrottningen [The Snow Queen]

  • Year of composition: 2013-16, revised 2018-19.
  • Work category: Opera, one act
  • Text author: Anelia Kadieva Jonsson after the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)
  • Dedication: To Per, Sofia Alvarez, and Elsa Tidstrand
  • First performed: 17 December, 2016, Malmö Opera
    (13 performances: 20, 26, 28 December, 2016, and 6, 8, 12 January, 2017)
  • Duration: Approx. 60-90 min
  • Detailed duration: 70 minutes

Solo voices/choir

Solo voices:
3 sopranos (Snödrottningen, Gerda, Prinsessan [The Snow Queen, Gerda, The Princess])
1 mezzo-soprano (Rövarflickan [The Bandit Girl])
1 alto (Mormor/Blomstergumman/Rövarkärringen [Grandmother/The Old Flower Woman/The Bandit Crone])
2 tenors (Kaj, Prinsen [Kaj, The Prince])
1 baritone (Kråkan [The Crow])
1 bass (Renen [The Raindeer])
Rövare [Bandits] (sopranos/tenors)

Children's choir: (Blommor, Fåglar, Snöflingor, Frusna Barn [Flowers, Birds, Snow Flakes, Freezing Children])

Location for score and part material

Gehrmans Musikförlag AB

Description of work

Opera in one act and 13 scenes

Work comment

Snödrottningen [The Snow Queen] was commissioned by the Malmö Opera, to the libretto by Anelia Kadieva Jonsson.

For several years, I had wished to compose an opera, so I contacted the then CEO and Artistic director of the Malmö Opera, Bengt Hall. His initial reaction was: "Of course. On what topic?" I eagerly searched for fairy tales on which I could base my work, and read e.g., 'Elddonet' [The Tinderbox] by Hans Christian Andersen, and one day, Anelia suggested the 'Snödrottningen' [The Snow Queen], which was rather unknown to me. I bought the book from an antique shop and was immediately delighted. Here, I was given the opportunity to push the boundaries while remaining within the framework of writing "an opera for the whole family", with various plural stylistic devices based on the opera's plot and the different characters' respective musical background in the baroque, such as sarabande, courante, jig, ballad, etc.

The plot is as follows:

The evil, callous Snow Queen has secretly decided to appoint Kaj to her heir apparent, and watches him from a distance. Observing his warm friendship with Gerda, she is furious, smashes her magic mirror which makes the shards fly in all directions, and utter a curse: whoever is hit by a shard shall become callous and have a heart of ice.

Kaj is hit by one of the shards. Soon after, he is kidnapped by the Snow Queen and taken to her ice palace in the north to be educated in the art of becoming rational and callous. He gets a jigzaw puzzle, which should form "love". Once he has solved the puzzle, he will become free to go out into the world. But the enchanted puzzle cannot be solved by reasoning, only. In vain, Kaj tries to assemble the pieces.

Gerda goes out to find him, and comes to a magical garden where the flowers bloom in the middle of winter. The Snow Queen, who is watching Gerda, persuades the Old Flower Woman, who lives there, to keep Gerda prisoner. But the Flowers in the garden and a kind Crow helps her to escape.

Gerda reaches a castle in the forest. The Crow helps her to get in in order to look for Kaj. In the castle, there lives a Prince and Princess, who give Gerda new, fine clothes before her departure. At first, The Crow intends to stay at the castle, but has second thoughts and follows Gerda.

In the forest, Gerda is attacked by Bandits, who take her to their castle. She gets to stay with a Bandit Girl, and Gerda tells her about Kaj. The Crow has now asked all birds in the forest for help. They arrive at the castle and reports that they have seen Kaj travelling with the Snow Queen to Lapland. Bä, the Bandit Girl's pet raindeer was born in Lapland and would gladly go there with Gerda. The Bandit Girl lets them go.

Gerda arrives at the Snow Queen's ice palace, full of ice statues. Gerda wants to fight The Snow Queen, but does not stand a chance against her magic. Kaj does not bother and does not even look up from his puzzle. Gerda begins to cry and when her tears fall on Kaj, his heart warm up. Together, they place the puzzle pieces in the form of a heart. At that very moment, the spell is broken and the palace begins to melt.

The ice statues thaw and transform into living children. The Crow, Bä, the Raindeer, and all the Bandits come to celebrate their victory. Before flying out of a window and disappearing, the Snow Queen warns them all that she will be back. The children understand that you have to beware of evil and fight it off, every day

Anelia Kadieva-Jonsson