Tuesday 4 August 2020

A tale of life, death, illusion and hope: live opera returns to London with HGO's performances of Holst's 'Savitri'

Holst: Savitri - HGO - Lauderdale House
For those of us missing live opera performance in London, HGO (Hampstead Garden Opera) have the solution. The company is staging Holst's Savitri in socially distanced performances in the gardens of Lauderdale House, on 13, 15, 20, 22 August 2020 with two performances per day.

The production will be staged by Julia Mintzer and conducted by Thomas Payne, with Lizzie Holmes, Joanna Harries, and Esme Bronwen Smith sharing the role of Savitri, Jack Roberts and Alex Aldren as Satyvan, and, Dan D'Souza and Theo Perry as Death.

Holst's Savitri is based on an episode from the Mahābhārata, and it was premiered in an amateur performance in 1916 with the first professional performance in 1923 conducted by Arthur Bliss. Holst intended the opera to be performed 'in the open air or else in a small building'. Savitri was the first of Holst's four operas (the others are The Perfect Fool, 1923, At the Boar's Head, 1925, The Wandering Scholar, 1934) and it remains the most successful of the four though Holst's operas remain even more neglected than those by his friend and colleague, Vaughan Williams.

To understand the problems with Holst's operas, it is perhaps worthwhile going back to Michael Kennedy's book The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (originally published by Oxford University Press in 1964) where he says:

'Vaughan Williams loved and understood Pelleas [Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande]; Holst hated it. This is perhaps why [Vaughan Willaims'] Riders to the Sea is so much more effective than Savitri, which it resembles'

Full details from the HGO website.

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