Vaughan William Opera Scenes


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In my opinion, Vaughan Williams' Operas have been neglected. When people have asked me what I am working on at the moment, and I say, I am organising an evening of Vaughan Williams Opera scenes, people have been shocked/ impressed/ confused, and have even gone as far as to say, "Vaughan Williams wrote operas?"

The first opera that I came across that Vaughan Williams wrote was 'Riders to the Sea' written between 1925 - 1932, a one act opera based almost verbatim on a play by Irish playwright, John Millington Synge. This opera progresses its storyline and develops the character's emotions through the recitative, the tricky rhythms and fiendish lines allow the story to evolve mainly through a speech like style of singing. The awkwardness of the music (to learn) runs parallel with the difficulty of trying to understand these complex characters.

I find it hard to believe that 'The Poisoned Kiss' (1927 - 1929) was written so close to 'Riders to the Sea' as the work is so different in style and character, in the score there is even direction to perform the work as a "musical comedy". This is one example that shows how versatile and creative Vaughan Williams was as a composer, he has clearly studied the libretto and given the characters music that best fits their situation, whether that be a dark story full of grief and loss or a light-hearted, commedia dell arte-esque comedy, Vaughan Williams has created the perfect music to bring these characters to life.

The 'Vaughan Williams Opera Scenes' event presents only a mere fraction of the operas that Vaughan Williams has composed, showing a section from each one of his operas, the other three are: 'Hugh the Drover' (1910-1920) a romantic ballad opera, Sir John in Love (1924-1928) an opera in four acts based on 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' and 'The Pilgrims' Progress' (1906-1952) which was arguably meant to be an oratorio with libretto adapted from a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan and fragments from the Bible.

Come along to see this one-off event and make your own judgement on whether or not Vaughan Williams Operas should be performed more often.

Next blog: Debussy, Verlaine and Watteau.


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