Houdini the Great

Houdini the Great was commissioned by The Royal Danish Opera in 1988
Libretto: Erik Clausen
First performance: Spring 1989, The Gråbrødre Stage
First Cast: Lise-Lotte Nielsen, Gurli Pleser, Stig Fogh Andresen, Jørgen Ole Børch
Solo voices: Soprano: Kowalski, Alto: Mama, Tenor: Houdini, Basbaryton: Officer Law’n’Order
Orchestra: Trumpet, Bass guitar, guitar, accordion, keyboard, percussion
Duration: 1 hr. 15 min.
Forlag: Edition Wilhelm Hansen

Discography | See video | Hear sound | Sheet music sample |

Programme Note:

The matchless Houdini delighted the whole world with his tricks and illusions at the beginning of our century. The world was young. The emigrants thronged to America. You staked everything on survival – and getting into the limelight.
The Great Houdini is the story of such an emigrant, a boy with his roots in the streets “back in Salerno, Ferrari, Lasagne, Turin”: the escapologist Houdini. Houdini finds his niche in ordinary people’s dream of “freedom in the Land of the Free” and dexterously latches on to the needs of the age with his indomitable escaping tricks. He falls in love with the beautiful Polish emigrant Kowalski, but is steered through life by Mamma’s stifling love – and an obsessive passion for his art. Houdini embarks on a collaboration with “law and order”; an Irish police officer becomes his manager – and his wife Kowalski’s secret lover.

The Great Houdini is an opera with humour and poetry – a free fantasy over the life of Houdini.
The fates of four people, their dreams and hopes, are interwoven with some of Houdini’s most famous escape tricks.

Scene V. Houdini:
Come closer, ladies and gentlemen, madames, messieurs, mademoiselles, senoras, senores, senoritas, caballeros.
See a sensation, yes a sensation. I am in all modesty a king. Yes you heard me right, a king! The king of freedom in the land of the free. My name is Houdini. I’m the world’s original, the world’s greatest escape artist. I have broken in, I have broken out, nothing in the world can keep me in chains. My soul it yearns for freedom, for freedom. Free as a bird. I have been trapped in the darkest of caves, chained in the deepest of graves. But with the help of my freedom of thought, my pure heart, my swift hands, telepathy and the transport of souls, ropes break in two, locks open, chains snap. You shall see, what soon will happen. I will let myself be bound and tied, and to show there will be no cheating. I would like to invite, a person who might help me, help me perform this trick with no deception in sight…



  • “Houdini the Great is not the first opera to give a singing voice to the famous magician and escape artist, and it may not be the most ambitious, but I doubt if other musical treatments have more charm or sheer zest.. . . As plottet by Danish writer-director Erik Clausen Houdini’s life and carreer become an immigrant’s metaphor for freedom and escape from tyrannies of all kinds, with the action conceived as an in-your-face street show accompanied by down-an-dirty instrumental combo of trumpet, two guitars, accordion, calliope and percussion…”
    Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, 15/11/1999
  • Houdini gets the Danish Modern treatment, and he escapes delightfully unscathed.
    Peter G. Davis, New York magazine, 15/11/1999
  • “. . .Andy Papes og Erik Clausens “Houdini den Store” er ikke blot et pletskud i sig selv, der i løbet af blot en god times tid får kaldt på både det brede grin og klumpen i halsen…Den lille, store opera om den legendariske udbryderkonges storhed og fald, om frihed og kunst, om kærlighed og karriere, er nemlig alene discount i de ydre kulisser. I sit væsen er den et eksempel i musikhistorisk klasse på, hvor meget musikteateret fortsat kan bruges til…”
    Jakob Levinsen, Berlingske Tidende, 27/05/1995
  • Opera success!
    , Berlingske Tidende, 01/05/1989
  • The soul smiles when fairground fun becomes art. A modern opera that really hits the spot. It’s a success!
    , Politiken
  • Grandeur at Danish ensemble’s premiere.
    , New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Danish opera attracts hundreds.
    , Borneo Post, Kuching, Malaysia