Ahead of Thoroughbass’s performances of Claude Debussy’s The Toybox at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta, classikON spoke to the group’s Director, Diana Weston.
Thoroughbass is “an early music ensemble on an odyssey”, whose “mission is to uncover the unusual, the recently re-discovered, and to see familiar things in a new light” – their “quest is to find the colour in music”. It’s hardly surprising, then, that when Diana discovered the 1913 illustrated edition of Debussy’s score for The Toybox (“la boîte à joujoux”) in the Sydney Conservatorium, she felt compelled to present this work to a present-day audience. Based on a story by André Hellé, Debussy composed The Toybox as a children’s ballet, most likely with his 8-year-old daughter “Chouchou” (Claude-Emma) in mind. Even though ballets like the Nutcracker involve children and children’s toys, “they’re always very adult in their approach”, says Diana; The Toybox, although musically complex, has underlying themes which both children and adults alike can appreciate.
Thoroughbass’s upcoming production of The Toybox has been transformed back to story-form by Inara Molinari, using the stage directions written into the score as a guide. Kate Mannix has created her own part as narrator and storyteller, and is “using puppets to help the story’s action go forward”. Diana has arranged the music for a small ensemble (violin, viola da gamba, piano and harpsichord), so that the instrumentation has a child-like quality to it; percussion instruments further enhance this by creating toy-like noises. Through the “colourful and contrasting ways Debussy creates effects”, children will be able to hear “what the action actually is, and what the characters are like” – some of whom are mean and nasty. Debussy saw toyboxes as a metaphor for real life, says Diana, with some “baddies” and lost battles. The Toybox “is not all as you’d expect a children’s show to go, in terms of characters”, but Diana believes that “children understand that there are baddies in the world”.
Adults will appreciate “the skill and nuances of Debussy’s writing, and also the colours within it and the many clever details”, such as references to old folksongs and other popular classical repertoire. Debussy “was not afraid to go in different directions, and break away from the traditions of the time”, adds Diana. Although the younger audience members may miss these details, Diana believes it’s vital “to expose children to interesting, complex music very early on, so that it just becomes part of their musical language”. She adds that there are scientific studies which link the neurological connection between music and learning.
“An illustrated miniature masterpiece full of microscopic detail, it entrances young and old alike”, Thoroughbass’s production of Debussy’s The Toybox will be performed at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre on Tuesday 9th July at 10:30am and 12pm, and on Wednesday 10th July at 10:30am. In September, Thoroughbass will reprise the production in the Southern Highlands (14th September) and North Sydney (21st September). Book your tickets now to this unique show!