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Nothing by DAVID BRUCE


The Guardian Best Classical Music of 2016
"one of the world premiere hits of the year" ★★★★★ The Guardian
"a pretty well flawless piece" ★★★★★ The Independent
"Nothing is the most powerful contemporary opera I’ve seen since Written on Skin, which is high praise indeed." ★★★★★
"The audience was held rapt by a performance that by any standards exerted a chilling power and intensity. " ★★★★ The Telegraph

Nothing, often described as a modern day Lord of the Flies, is a controversial and award-winning novel by Danish author Janne Teller. It tells the haunting story of a group of teenagers trying to convince their classmate that life has meaning. Things quickly escalate as the children go to ever more extreme lengths to try to persuade their friend that there are things worth caring about.

The book has been adapted as an opera by composer David Bruce and librettist Glyn Maxwell, co-commissioned and co-produced by Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera House, Nothing was premiered in Glyndebourne in Feb 2016 to huge critical acclaim (see below).

Composer, David Bruce, said: "Nothing deals with the most fundamental question of all – what is the point of existence? Just from the synopsis I knew it was fruitful operatic territory. What I particularly admire in the book is that the question of whether there is any 'meaning' (and if so, what it is) remains unanswered. It is in such ambiguities that music can flourish, saying so much more than words alone could ever say, and allowing thoughts, emotions and ideas to blossom in the mind of the listener."

Director Bijan Sheibani said: "Nothing is a very rich novel that reminded me of the huge, exciting, difficult journey teenagers go on, as they move from childhood into adulthood. Whilst the basic story is simple, Nothing spins a web of emotional conflicts, ethical dilemmas, and fascinating philosophical ideas.'

The score for Nothing mixes the chants, laughter and cruelty of the school playground with more soul-searching moments, as well as moments of wild energy as the class's 'group think' mentality causes their moral compass to begin to go astray.

In Feb 2017, the original production of Nothing comes to Aarhus, Denmark as part of aarhus 2017 European Capital of Culture. more info here.

A few snaps from the original Glyndebourne production (production shots courtsey of Robert Workman):

Pierre played by Stuart Jackson

The chorus in full swing

James Hall as Johann with Stuart Jackson as Pierre in the tree and the Glyndebourne Youth Chorus

Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Ursula, Tristan Hambleton as Karl

The Team

With Glyn Maxwell, Janne Teller and the Danish Ambassador

Press / Latest Reviews / Feb 2017
Milada Bendtsen

..the opera hall was full and the audience stood to applaud at the show’s close.

I stood with them, my head full of thoughts about the moment when children become adults and how much they are affected by the group to which they belong or want to belong. How difficult it is to feel responsibility as an individual, and most of all how I will bring my own children up so that they do not become invisible members of a crowd, but individuals that are proud of being themselves. ★★★★★ / Feb 2017
Ole Straarup

A moving and thought-provoking youth opera.

Kristeligt Dagblad ★★★★★ / Feb 2017
Peter Dürrfeld

The show has an amazing intensity and cohesion and is a great triumph for the Danish National Opera and its talent. It is a healthy sign for the incredibly enterprising institutions in Danish culture to have the food chain in order, and the young singers - not to mention the 20 musicians from the Royal Academy of Music Orchestra School, in the orchestra pit assisting the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra - has not only learned something from being part of this process, they have also given us, the audience, a fine experience on a Saturday evening, where "Nothing" turned out to be quite something.

Politiken / Feb 2017
Thomas Michelsen

"Nothing" is not for children. Read the line again, slowly, and then take your kid to come in and experience a piece that may well change both their and your life.

The Arts Desk / Jan 2017
David Nice

David Bruce's setting of Janne Teller’s terrifying but ultimately moral novella Nothing....this was a show that worked at every level, begging a London airing (the opera premieres in Teller's Denmark next year)

The Guardian / Dec 2016
Fiona Maddocks

The Guardian Best Classical Music of 2016
Glyndebourne... came out on top with one of the world premiere hits of the year, Nothing, performed by 14- to 19-year-olds of Glyndebourne Youth Opera.

Opera / May 2016
Michael Church

...what huge echoes were left in the mind by this brilliant production of a profoundly original work. ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Mark Pullinger

There's something decidedly odd about pitching up at Glyndebourne sans picnic hamper, wrapped up in heavy layers, the aroma of mulled wine wafting through the foyer at the interval. We were rewarded with something extraordinary....the opera asks deep existential questions about identity and what really matters in life, turning disturbingly dark as the action unfolds.

Bruce sets Glyn Maxwell's excellent libretto with flair and skilful word setting. The vocal writing for Pierre, in particular, is Brittenesque, drawing parallels with other "outsiders" like Peter Grimes and Quint. The other distinctive writing is for Agnes, forced to have her pigtails cut off and thrown onto the pyre. Bruce writes florid, Baroque and neoclassical lines for her,

Bruce's choral writing is attractive – catchy anthems such as "Brilliant Things" really groove and the boys' gang flex their muscles with a Bernstein-like swagger. Their mob mentality draws more parallels with Peter Grimes.

Bruce's score is a marvel, the Southbank Sinfonia conducted with assurance by Sian Edwards. The prelude has a sense of cosmic doom, even hints of grandeur. Much of the harpsichord-flecked score glitters delicately, the double bass and harp accompaniment to "Nothing is worth saying" spare and haunting. Apocalyptic brass dominate as Ursula and Johan are told to follow Pierre's cryptic instruction "Do the last thing you'd do".

Nothing is the most powerful contemporary opera I’ve seen since Written on Skin, which is high praise indeed. I want to hear the score again. But first the book..

The Independent ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Michael Church

David Bruce's Nothing is a pretty well flawless piece which, unlike almost all other recent operas about adolescent alienation, rings true to life.

.. the logic of the plot exerts a vice-like grip, with the teenage cast - drawn from local schools, and led by five professional performers - singing and acting with blazing conviction. Bruce's accessible vocal lines – which have faint but pleasing echoes of Britten, Stravinsky, and Bernstein - are orchestrated with eloquent grace; the Royal Opera House, as co-producers, should ensure that this unforgettable production is much more widely seen.

The Telegraph ★★★★ / Feb 2016
Rupert Christiansen

Composer David Bruce and librettist Glyn Maxwell neither sweeten nor sensationalise the pill in their treatment of this grim parable.

Bruce's score is plushly lyrical with unabashedly melodic vocal lines that sometimes sound hauntingly Elizabethan and modal in their plangent melancholy. Five young professional soloists, led by Stuart Jackson as Pierre, sing them with eloquent beauty. The strikingly vivid choral writing is vigorous bordering on violent, and a superb ensemble drawn from schools in Kent and Sussex attack it with bravura. The audience was held rapt by a performance that by any standards exerted a chilling power and intensity.

The Observer ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Fiona Maddocks

Summer is over. School is back. Boasts and rivalries are alive and well in class 7D, who voice their objection to the trammels of uniform and homework in a sweet, neat, melodic chorus. This well-behaved opening gives no hint of the darkness to come in Nothing, a two-act opera, with music by David Bruce and words by Glyn Maxwell, given its world premiere on Thursday by Glyndebourne Youth Opera, for whom it was written. When the big boy in the corner, Pierre, suddenly blurts out that "nothing matters" and walks out, the impact is like gunshot. An offer to burn much-loved old toys, and then more precious and lurid items too, cannot coax their friend from the tree in which he sits staring at the sky. By Act 2, Bruce's robust yet delicately woven score has turned sour and raw. Catastrophe engulfs them all like a great sink-hole splitting open in the playground.

Bruce's score, full of tuneful anthems and ballads, also nods to ornate Renaissance traditions. Brilliantly drilled by the conductor, Sian Edwards, and the director, Bijan Sheibani, the entire company gave a highly professional and gripping performance. This is important for the audience, of course. More significant is the experience this gives all involved: not only the achievement, the camaraderie and the taste of opera, but giving, too, vital insight into mental health and crowd behaviour none will forget.

MusicOMH / Feb 2016
Melanie Eskenazi

[Nothing] played to packed houses on a chilly night, the warmth of the performances and the reception given to them providing us all with a foretaste of Summer.

‘Nothing will come of nothing / Speak again’ is King Lear’s advice to his daughter, and it was difficult to avoid the Shakespearean overtones in Glyn Maxwell’s libretto, but these were subtle rather than laboured, as indeed were the musical influences on David Bruce’s lyrical score. In the solo writing, it was Janáček who came to mind most often, the beautiful soprano solos at times recalling Katya’s impassioned music, and in the choral pieces Britten seemed very close to us, especially in the driven, intense ensembles for the villagers in Peter Grimes.

By turns febrile, innocent and threatening, these young singers [Glyndebourne Youth Opera] could send shivers down your spine as they made you recall the savagery of the boys in Lord of the Flies, or evoke the pangs of recognition at the touching sadness of those days in September when children return to school and realize that their magical Summer is really over.

Just three performances at Glyndebourne this time, but it’s safe to assume that Nothing will come to something in terms of entering the repertoire. It was a fitting opening to the 2016 celebration of 30 years of pioneering education work at the house.

The Arts Desk ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
David Nice

Brand-new youth operas tend to fall into two types. One is hugely rewarding for the participants, a skill learned and a treasurable experience shared to be remembered for the rest of their lives, as well as for their friends and family in the audience. The other, a rarer breed, does all that but also takes a gripping subject transformed by that strange alchemy of operatic setting, stunningly well performed by singers and players alike, and sears everyone who sees it with its special intensity. Nothing fits the latter bill like no other work of its kind I've seen.

The choruses and bit-parts are marvellously singable, tonal even when something else more sinister is going on down in the pit.... they gradually metamorphose into a group anger which comes close to the visceral intensity of Peter Grimes.

The epilogue (pictured above), which takes us beyond the eerily dominant chorus of "we heard about it; we were not there", is deeply satisfying. Interesting: as I write I feel it hard to let go of the experience. We need to see it again, and soon.

The Stage ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Edward Bhesania

There could hardly be a stronger testament to Glyndebourne’s education work, which began 30 years ago, than this compelling and unsettling opera by David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell, based on a novel by Janne Teller. Bruces’s music combines folk and Renaissance overtones with shifting effects which seem to reflect the teenagers searching for their own paths, and there are some remarkably touching moments of sparseness.

Nothing is a bold statement, not only in its questions of material possession, sacrifice, group behaviour and moral boundaries – but also in not pretending to offer answers. It’s as moving, authentic and thought-provoking an opera you’re likely to see for some time.

The Argus ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Eleanor Knight

David Bruce’s new opera, based on Janne Teller’s novel, is magnificent as it is unsettling. The rich score illustrates every emotional switchback from the happy-go-lucky, to suspicion, self-doubt, euphoria, conformity, rebellion, that is the roller coaster ride of adolescence.

The ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Andrew Kay

I have come to expect excellence form Glyndebourne’s Education Department and community projects, previous productions have been universally excellent but Nothing is a new peak. David Bruce's score and Glyn Maxwell’s libretto are superb.


for 5 soloists, Youth Choir & Symphony Orchestra. Opera in 2 Acts.

Soprano, Tenor, Counter-Tenor, Mezzo-Soprano, Bass-Baritone
Youth Choir (c.50-60 performers aged c.14-20, some with small solo parts)
3(pic), 3(CA), 3cl(Bcl), 3Bsn, 3Trp, 4Hn, 3Tb, 4Perc, Harp, Harpsichord, Strings(10,8,8,6,4)

(One part per instrument in the orchestra is designed to be playable by a talented younger player.)

Large Orch Bass Drum (with cymbal attached to side), Large Tam Tam (with bow), Marimba, Kit Bass Drum, Tambourine with skin, Timpani, Small 8" splash cym, Triangle, crash cym, Glock, Low Tenor Steel Drum (range C#4-C6), snare drum, 2 Large Stones, Sandpaper blocks, Shekere, Susp cymabal and bow, Ruler

Duration 1hr 45 mins
Composed Jan 2014-Jun 2015
First performance Glyndebourne 25 Feb 2016
Commissioned by Glyndebourne and ROH

Past Performances

  • Feb 25 2016
    Glyndebourne (Glyndebourne)

  • Feb 26 2016
    Glyndebourne (Glyndebourne)

  • Feb 27 2016
    Glyndebourne (Glyndebourne)

  • Sep 4 2016
    Covent Garden Piazza (Glyndebourne Youth Opera) (extracts)

  • Feb 4 2017
    Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark (Danish National Opera (Den Jyske Opera)) (Danish Premiere)

  • Feb 5 2017 3pm
    Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark (Danish National Opera (Den Jyske Opera))

  • Feb 7 2017
    Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark (Danish National Opera (Den Jyske Opera)) Schools Performance

  • Feb 8 2017
    Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark (Danish National Opera (Den Jyske Opera))

  • Nov 14 2020
    Royal Danish Opera (Royal Danish Opera)

  • Nov 17 2020
    Royal Danish Opera (Royal Danish Opera)

  • Nov 22 2020
    Royal Danish Opera (Royal Danish Opera)

  • Nov 27 2020
    Royal Danish Opera (Royal Danish Opera)

  • Nov 3 2023
    Oslo Opera House, Norway (Norwegian Opera)

  • Nov 5 2023
    Oslo Opera House, Norway (Norwegian Opera)

  • Nov 7 2023
    Oslo Opera House, Norway (Norwegian Opera)

  • Nov 11 2023
    Oslo Opera House, Norway (Norwegian Opera)

  • Nov 15 2023
    Oslo Opera House, Norway (Norwegian Opera)

  • Nov 18 2023
    Oslo Opera House, Norway (Norwegian Opera)

  • Nov 21 2023
    Oslo Opera House, Norway (Norwegian Opera)

Related Posts

 • Nothing in Oslo (11/8/2023)
 • Nothing (Intet) in Copenhagen (11/16/2020)
 • Nothing in Denmark (1/4/2017)
 • Nothing has gone (3/1/2016)
 • Time for Nothing (2/22/2016)
 • Two for one (10/7/2015)
 • Thoughts on Nothing (6/10/2015)


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