Friday, 5 July 2013

Monsieur Gounod and Mrs Weldon

Charles Gounod
A few years ago, whilst doing research for a programme note on Gounod relating to his stay in England in the 1870's, I discovered the composer's curiously close relationship to the singer Georgina Weldon. Gounod ended up moving in with Georgina Weldon (and her husband) and having a very close, passionate relationship. Despite the fact that not only was Gounod married, but his wife had come over to England with him. Now Henrietta Bredin has created a show based around the event using a selection of Gounod's songs and a spoken narration. Monsiuer Gounod and Mrs Weldon is being performed at the Buxton Festival on Tuesday 9 July 2013 at 12pm at the Pavilion Arts Centre with Keri Fuge, soprano, Adam Kowalcyzk, tenor, accompanied on the piano by Stephen Barlow, with Michael Pennington as narrator.

It is a fascinating episode and sheds an interesting light on Gounod. It all started because of the Franco-Prussian war when, like a number of other artists, Gounod felt life in France would be impossible and travelled with his family to England where he was well known for his sacred music. Henrietta Bredin explains:-

'Taken up by Henry Littleton, director of the concert promoter and publisher Novello, Gounod’s work soon became extremely popular and he was rapidly adopted as a prize asset at society gatherings, accompanying himself on the piano as he sang songs and arias from his operas in his expressive, appealingly husky tones. One February evening in 1871 he spotted a new and pretty female face amid the throng of admirers and sang, as she was to write later, ‘as if he was specially addressing himself to me’. She responded with an outburst of emotion: ‘I did not know which way to look. My tears, which had begun to flow at the first line, had become a rivulet, the rivulet had become a stream, the stream a torrent, the torrent sobs, the sobs almost a fit!’

This impressionable young(ish) woman was Georgina Weldon, a singer and champion of her own methods of vocal teaching. At 35 she was nearly 20 years Gounod’s junior but they struck up an immediate and intense friendship – despite profoundly misunderstanding each other from the start. He construed her extravagantly emotional outpourings as indication of a deeply passionate and sexual nature, while she interpreted his ardent gaze as a sign that he wanted to be mothered.

After a cataclysmic argument with his wife, Gounod fled to Georgina for comfort and ended up moving in to live with her and her extremely tolerant husband Harry in their house in London’s Tavistock Square. He remained there for nearly three years, attempting to compose, assisting Georgina in her plans for a singing academy and allowing her to nurse him when ill (which he often was), promote his career, found a choir in his name and sing his music in public performance.

Things started to go wrong very swiftly; there were screaming matches, tears and tantrums, threats of suicide from both parties and, ultimately, a prolonged and vicious lawsuit.'


To find out more, go along to the event at the Buxton Festival.

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