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Great Delight

two operas by Elizabeth Maconchy


My first reaction, on seeing Independent Opera's double bill of operas by Elizabeth Maconchy [15 November 2007, Lilian Baylis Theatre, London UK] was 'why have I not seen these operas before', and my second was 'when can I see them again'. 2008 is Maconchy's centenary year and it was enterprising of Independent Opera, a company designed to give opportunities young singers, to select Maconchy's work for their new show. We tend to think of Maconchy as a composer of string quartets, she did after all write a great many and they are superb works. But during her lifetime she was known for a great variety of work including a number of operas.

The Sofa is a one-act opera based on a short story by Crébillon fils. The libretto is by Ursula Vaughan Williams and it is possible that Ralph Vaughan Williams (Maconchy's teacher) suggested the subject to her. The story is witty and risqué. A rich, rakish prince (Nicholas Sharratt) is holding a ball. He is attempting to seduce Monique (Sarah Tynan) but is interrupted by his grandmother (Josephine Thorpe) who is a witch and turns the prince into a sofa; he will stay that way until a couple makes love on him. After a couple of interludes, Monique reappears with an old flame, Edward, (George von Bergen) and they proceed to make love on the sofa, the prince thereby reappears. There follows an awkward trio, then Edward and all the other guests are ushered out, and the Prince and Monique make love on the sofa.

In setting the work, Maconchy evidently took great delight in creating a series of charming pastiches for the dance music which floats in the background. She also seems to have had half an eye on poking gentle fun at other operas. Director Alessandro Tallevi's assured production inevitably, perhaps, set the piece in the present day. The prince's ball has become a party and instead of ballroom dancing, the enthusiastic young cast gave us modern gyrations and a great deal of bad behaviour. Something of the piece's risqué period charm was lost, but it ensured that the plot made sense to a modern audience, less easily shocked than their forebears.

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Copyright © 19 November 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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