The story is set in the land of fables, where humans and animals
are persons alike. Walking along the road from one place to
another, Peddy/Pedrillo meets a number of colourful characters
such as a poetry-loving camel, a pompous carabineer, a
lachrymose sea captain and his formidable harpist wife, and a
wolf who keeps the economy going. Through these encounters he
tries to find out ‘what he is’: not an easy task, for all people
and animals identify him as something else, and different from
them. In the end Peddy/Pedrillo discovers that identity is not
to be defined in terms of something else: it can be good to be
many things at the same time.
In a way delightful to children and adults alike, Themerson
pokes fun at the skewed logic which often cements human society.
The theme of identity and the author’s humorous-ethical outlook
make his story highly relevant to the present age.
Theatre and Music
Besides, the text abounds in opportunities for musical theatre.
There are poems, stories and songs, and moments for dance. The
Camel-Professor who loves reciting poetry much more than
lecturing; the Sea Captain who has so often told the story of
his losses that even the trees and the stones can’t bear it any
more; the Prime Minister’s Wife who is compared to a
nightingale: these are ‘operatic’ characters.
In telling the story Themerson repeatedly uses the ritual
threefold of fairy tales, as when the wolf (in a parody of
Little Red Ridinghood) asks his companion to identify the good
smells in his restaurant. These are excellent opportunities for
the development of musical themes.
Since all the action is dependent on Pedrillo’s metaphoric walk
(or “Pilgrim’s Progress”) along the road from A to B, music
comes in naturally as an expression of mood and movement.
Responding musically to my reading of the story, I have tried to
revive something of the positive naïveté of a 6-to-8-year-old in
response to both the tonal idiom and the possibilities of
musical theatre. This was not so difficult. Listening to and
playing familiar music, or music in a familiar idiom, is a
constant exercise in the suspension of prejudice, the ability to
Inevitably the music betrays multiple influences and sources
(such as classical recitative, Ravel harmony, Latin-American
rhythms etc.) Even as an eclectic product, this specific amalgam
could only be created today (and by this person, I suppose). In
this sense the music may be like the protagonist:
But all the men I meet on my way think there is something doggy
about me, and all the dogs think there is something human about
me, and all the saw-fishes think there is something of a
nightingale about me, and all the cats think there is something
fishy about me […]. (p. 8-9)
But nothing else is like all these in this specific way; a
recognizable whole, I hope, not a postmodernist collage.
The score calls for three singers (mezzo soprano, tenor, bass)
interpreting multiple roles, a child in the title role, and a
narrator. The instruments of the ensemble are: flute/piccolo,
violin, viola, double bass, guitar, bass clarinet/clarinet,
trombone and percussion.
LM March 2009
Pedrillo Botón is
a chamber opera for an audience of children and adults. The text
is adapted and translated into Spanish from The Adventures of
Peddy Bottom by Stefan Themerson (1910-1988).
Themerson: The Adventures of Peddy Bottom, drawings by
(Amsterdam: Gaberbocchus Press/De
"[…] a major source of potential conflict in the contemporary
world is the presumption that people can be uniquely categorized
based on religion or culture. […] A uniquely divisive view goes
not only against the old-fashioned belief that all human beings
are much the same but also against the less discussed but much
more plausible understanding that we are diversely different."
Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Penguin Books 2007)