Wednesday 8 February 2012


Thelma is frankly not a very promising title for an opera. Norma cuts the mustard, but the name Thelma has too many odd contemporary references to be taken seriously at first. Thelma is in fact the name of the heroine of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's first (and only) opera. The opera was rejected by Carl Rosa Opera and the composer consigned it to a draw to be forgotten. Now the piece is receiving its world premiere, tomorrow, at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, presented by Surrey Opera in a production directed by Christopher Cowell.

By all reports, Coleridge-Taylor's music for the opera is strikingly attractive but the libretto leaves a lot to be desired. The libretto is the reason why Carl Rosa Opera rejected the piece and Christopher Cowell has had a go at improving things for this performance. Cowell has stuck to Coleridge-Taylor's plot and to his rhyming scheme; I'm afraid that my heart sinks when I think of a libretto in rhyming English, but there you are.

We are promised a grand romantic opera, something that  English composers do not seem to have been good at creating. Plenty had a go, but few, very few, seem to actually work on the stage. (Sullivan's Ivanhoe anyone?). Coleridge-Taylor was coming rather late to the party, Thelma was written in 1907, and composers now had to deal with not only Wagner's influence but Debussy's. Coleridge-Taylor died far too early to give any indication whether he would have had another go at opera, but his best pieces such as Hiawatha have an infectious romanticism that would have seemed to make him perfect for opera.

The performances are part of a year long festival of events celebrating Samuel Taylor-Coleridge.

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