tue 21/11/2017

Imagine Alma Deutscher: Finding Cinderella, BBC One review - beguiling profile of a musical prodigy | reviews, news & interviews

Imagine... Alma Deutscher: Finding Cinderella, BBC One review - beguiling profile of a musical prodigy

Imagine... Alma Deutscher: Finding Cinderella, BBC One review - beguiling profile of a musical prodigy

When your first full-length opera is premiering in Vienna - and you are only 11

Disarmingly likeable: Alma Deutscher

Morag Tinto’s documentary is a profile of composer Alma Deutscher, who hit the headlines at the end of last year when her opera based on the Cinderella story premiered in Vienna. What’s unusual about that, you might ask? Apart from being female, Alma was 11 years old when she finished writing it. Eleven. Think about it. I can’t recall much about my own talents at that age, apart from being able to tie my own shoelaces and build passable models out of Lego.

Alma is the real deal; frighteningly talented but disarmingly likeable. We see her at the family home in Surrey, the footage intercut with the final rehearsals and performance of the opera. Her linguist father has been filming Alma’s musical development since she was six, and shows host Alan Yentob clips of her at work, the pencil seemingly unable to keep up with the flurry of ideas which fill her head. At times, the fast-talking Alma seems baffled by her facility: “It’s a mystery… melodies just pop into my head.” Yentob is visibly flummoxed when Alma cheerfully improvises on four notes he plucks at random from a hat.

You wonder whether the parents will turn out to be the villains of the piece, but they’re remarkably level-headed. Alma and her younger sister Helen (pictured below, with Alma) are home-educated, but that’s only after Alma returned home upset on the first day of primary school, complaining that she’d not learned enough. On the basis of what we see, Alma does enjoy a happy enough existence. She plays in a treehouse and flits around the garden, twirling a glittery skipping rope which functions as a talisman.Alma and Helen DeutscherWe watch Alma during rehearsals for Cinderella. She’s thrilled to hear her material in context, giggling that “it sounds even better than when I think about it,” after one aria. She’s her own repetiteur, with Helen as page-turner. When conductor and orchestra arrive, Alma immediately queries bassoon parts and alters tempi, instructing her players with crystalline precision. Bryn Terfel and Sir Simon Rattle chip in, both awed by Alma’s gifts but stressing that she needs to develop at her pace, in her own time. Rattle shrewdly points out that, “It won’t always flow so easily… but we’ll all be there for her when it gets hard.”

So, is Alma’s music any good? Cynics might point out that it sounds like technically brilliant pastiche, the work of a supernaturally gifted student who has listened to lots of Mozart and Schubert. But the ease with which Alma inhabits the idiom is phenomenal, and it’s clear that she understands instinctively the nuts and bolts of how music works. The most touching sequence comes near the close, with Alma and her sister duetting on a pair of violins once owned by Mozart. Such a shame that this enjoyable film was broadcast so late on a Monday night: luckily it can be seen on iPlayer.

Alma queries bassoon parts and alters tempi, instructing her players with crystalline precision

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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'Home-educated, but that’s only after Alma returned home upset on the first day of primary school, complaining that she’d not learned enough'. To my mind, 'level-headed' parents should have realised school is as much about integrating with other kids as what you learn. But stilll, I guess I ought to watch this.

Sheila Hodge - Based on other interviews I've read, the story is not that simple. I'm quite certain that Alma's parents considered the social aspects of school as much as the academics. The course of action they took for Alma was not taken lightly, and reflected love and wisdom that could only have come from her parents. Please read and listen to other interviews about Alma for a more complete picture.

I firmly believe Alma's parents that they had no ideological reason for home schooling Alma and Helen. They did so based on what they saw as the unique needs of their gifted child. They are as aware as you of the need for social contact. Alma and Helen have friends, and until recently Alma had weekly ballet lessons. Perhaps, more would be better, but giving a unique child like Alma everything she would ideally need is impossible. Alma's parents have truly done their best, and Alma is clearly very happy.

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