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Music Text

Libretto by Christoph Klimke, based on the novel by Cornelia Funke (G)


2S,CT,3T,2Bar,B; actors; mixed chorus; childrens chorus(opt);
2(I=afl).picc.2(II=corA).2(I=asax,II=bcl).1.dbn-2.2.2.btrbn.0-timp.perc(4)-harp-pft(=cel,elec.kbd)-synth/sampler-strings(, min.; on-stage(opt):elec.gtr

Abbreviations (PDF)



This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.


World Premiere
Opernhaus, Bonn
Erik Petersen, director
Conductor: Daniel Johannes Mayr
Company: Junge Opern Rhein-Ruhr / Beethoven Orchester Bonn


JON Lyric Tenor
ELLA Lyric Soprano
ZELDA Young dramatic Soprano
LONGSPEE Lyric Baritone
ANGUS Lyric Baritone
STU Lyric Tenor
STOURTON Countertenor (or Bass)
ELA Lyric Soprano (solo from chorus)
John's Mother Lyric Soprano (solo from chorus)
Mrs. POPPLEWELL Alto (solo from chorus)
Mr. POPPLEWELL Baritone (solo from chorus)
Mr. RIFKIN, teacher Character Bass
Four Ghosts Baritone / Bass (soli from chorus)
Chorus of Toads 3 Actors

Jon’s father has long been dead. His mother has married another man, who Jon doesn’t get on with; thus he decides to go to a boarding school. He shares a room with Stu and Angus, and also gets to know Ella. Suddenly, in the history class, Lord Stourtan, a dead knight with a silk noose, appears. He pursues Jon and tries to kill him. Only Jon can see the knight, which is why everybody thinks he is crazy – everybody except for Ella. She offers to help him and takes him to her grandmother Zelda, who soon finds out the true reason for the dead knight’s behaviour. Stourton has been seeking revenge against the male descendants of the Hartgills since 1557, when he was hanged on a silk noose for the murder of his caretaker, William Hartgill – and Jon’s mother is a born Hartgill! Ella takes Jon to the grave of Knight Longspee in the cathedral; he is the only one who can help Jon. At the next attack, Jon calls up Knight Longspee, who stabs Stourton and makes the ghosts disappear. Now it is Longspee who asks Jon for help: upon his death, his heart was swapped so that his wife has the wrong heart with her in her grave. Jon promises to find Longspee’s real heart. Ella and John begin to argue: Jon doesn’t want Ella to help him as Longspee has only asked Jon himself for help. Ella tells him she does not know anything about hearts. Jon recognizes his feelings for Ella and asks her for forgiveness.

Press Quotes

At the end, the multigenerational audience enthusiastically and boisterously celebrated the presumably first operatic setting of a book by bestseller authoress Cornelia Funke.... This production is vibrant through and through on all levels ... the optics brilliantly match the sensually eclectic music of James Reynolds, whose Broadway experience is just as audible as his familiarity with electro- or synthipop and naturally classical compositional technique. A carpet of string sound meets electric guitar, saxophone, contrabassoon, and a whole legion of trombonists and percussionists. Many beautiful pieces come off well, the most beautiful perhaps being the terzet of the blustering school boys after the pillow fight.... A highlight are the "toads." The formidable actor and dancer Cedric Sprick performs break dance and hiphop, flanked by two kids from the youth chorus of the Bonn Theater, in such a way that it’s a joy to watch. The sounds give the music and text an additional relaxing as well as seductive dimension.... Following several performances in Bonn, the production will be presented in the next season in Dortmund and at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. Something to look forward to.
Andreas Falentin, Die Deutsche Bühne, 03 Dec 2017

It is very clear: at work here are professionals who understand quite a bit about what a "family opera," with children between the ages of eight and twelve as the core target group, has to offer in order to reach the heart and mind. And that is quite a lot, as shown by the sustained, and at times frenetic final applause in the Haus am Boeselagerhof ... It is stroke of luck that composer James Reynolds, who hails from California and lives in Berlin, first accepted a draft version from the acclaimed authoress Funke and dedicated himself to a version for the large stage.... If "hearing with the eyes" is worth it, then listening with the ears is especially worth it. To be experienced are all the nuances from garish to intimate, all sorts of percussion, glockenspiel, electronic music of the spheres, movie music, big-band sound, rap, chamber music, borrowing from musicals, even perfectly fashioned arias.... This top-notch spine-chiller certainly has what it takes to become a repertoire opera for the whole family.
Ralf Siepmann, O-Ton, 04 Dec 2017

Enough material to make tricks through to the happy end. This succeeds impressively. Reynolds understands how to atmospherically use entirely different musical influences. Not only that seven percussionist in the orchestra pit were anything but underemployed, he also works with neat thriller effects in the violins, for example, that bring to mind Bernard Herrmann’s music to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The Catholic Dies irae sequence drones in the cathedral scene, while video-generated organ pipes on the walls interlock like a voracious monster apparatus. The Beethoven Orchestra, under the baton of Daniel Johannes Mayr, rendered heavy sounding work.
Bernhard Hartmann, Bonner General-Anzeiger, 05 Dec 2017

In the staging by Erik Petersen, the piece offers tempo, action, groovy music, and an exciting story. Here one is greatly entertained for nearly two hours, and indeed at the highest level.... For there is one thing that you cannot skimp on – as rather convincingly shown by the Bonn production of Ghost Knights – if you want to make opera accessible to new audiences: quality.... The powerful orchestra is the fitting medium for Reynold’s colorful and effective music.... Ghost Knights in Bonn is fun and the trip is worth it – for the whole family.
Guido Krawinkel, concerti, 08 Dec 2017





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