Skip to main content Accesibility Help

‘A face like music’: Shaping images into sound in The Second Mrs Kong


Premièred at Glyndebourne in October 1994 and subsequently performed in the UK, Austria, Germany and Holland, The Second Mrs Kong was the result of a collaboration between the American writer Russell Hoban and British composer Harrison Birtwistle. The opera's reception has tended to emphasise the disparity between Hoban's diverse and eclectic interests, which emerge not only in the libretto but also in his novels and essays, and Birtwistle's more introspective and linear approach. Possible connections between Hoban's aesthetics and Birtwistle's music have generally been disregarded. I argue, however, that the opera's main aesthetic concerns – namely, the mediation of images through ideas and the workings of image-identification in diverse media – are shaped by a productive exchange between librettist and composer. The clearest expression of this interaction is the love between Kong, who embodies ‘the idea of’ King Kong from the 1933 RKO film, and Pearl, a character drawn from Vermeer's iconic painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. The representation of these visual icons in The Second Mrs Kong is inflected by Birtwistle's own views on images, by his attempts to find musical analogues for visual techniques, as revealed especially in his sketches, and by his lively engagement with Hoban's ideas.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Cambridge Opera Journal
  • ISSN: 0954-5867
  • EISSN: 1474-0621
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-opera-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed