A tragical comedy or a comical tragedy.
Punch and Judy elaborates the traditional puppet-play into an opera of stylised violence and ritual. While the simplicity of the children’s entertainment is retained in the opera by the characters—familiar and puppet-like—by the invented ‘nursery-rhymes’ of the libretto, and by the waltzes, lullabies and serenades of the music, the tragi-comic actions of a homicidal puppet are raised almost to the status of myth as Punch murders Judy over and over again.
‘As a whole the opera loses none of its powerful and sustained impact when compared with Birtwistle’s own more mature compositions. If anything, its startling primitivisms stand out more vividly, while its not inconsiderable moments of reflection and lyricism acquire an enhanced poignancy. The performance (a 1980 Gramophone Award winner) gains immeasurably from the alert control of David Atherton and the superlative musicianship of the London Sinfonietta.’ Gramophone