Commissioned by W11 Opera in 2011
Synopsis: It is 1920. Two brilliant young artists raise their seven children in a faded Georgian townhouse. When the depression hits they are forced to seek their fortune in America. The children are left in the silent and lifeless home under the austere care of sinister distant cousins who drain all colour from the house and engineer its demolition. Will they survive the terrifying regime? Will the house be saved from destruction? Will light return to the hallways and laughter echo once more up the stairs?
|Music Director||Philip Sunderland|
|Soloists||William Carrington, Georgie Carrington (his wife), Crimson, Emerald, Indigo, Amber, Sky, Violet, Ruby (the Carrington children), Mrs Hardwick, Miss Pinchbeck, Agnes and Edith Hardwick, Old Servants (Stable Boy, Maids, Housekeeper, Cook, Butler), Charlie, Walter, Miss Henrietta Jolly, Cornelia Emily Fitzhamilton, Mary, Mr. Pidgeon, Pamela Golden, Betty, Mavis, Benzine, Thinner, Butler, Photographer|
|Groups||Maids, Trustees & Executors, Developers, Salvagers, City Gents, Women Racers, Flappers, Psychics, Mothers, Children, Junior Pidgeons, Policemen, Reporters, Charlie Chaplins, Silent Movie Cops|
|Orchestra||Violin, Cello, Bass, Clarinets, Trumpet, Harp, Piano|
Notes on Production:
This opera was commissioned to celebrate W11’s 40th Anniversary and is a multiple layered drama spanning from the early 1920s through to the Depression in the 1930s. It centres around a family and the beautiful but derelict house they live in with a painting of 18th century Hogarthian servants who step out to form a chorus. The opera has a bittersweet ending.
The music has a variety of references with some challenging harmonies and beautiful sequences. The band was 9 players. There were multiple roles for all abilities including an excellent part for a broken voice (William Carrington) and some good parts for younger children (the Carrington children and younger pigeons).
A large cast is needed to fulfil all the requirements and using a cast of 80, many in the auction scene doubled as Carrington servants,Charlie Chaplins or silent policemen.
Within the set framework of the old house, projection was used to great effect. Period costumes were needed ranging form 18th century servants through the 1920s to 1930s Hollywood.
Running Time 70 minutes.
Music and video
Part One – House
A Georgian London townhouse is being put up for sale. It is the 1920s, but the original Old Servants, including a Butler and a Housekeeper, emerge from a painting which hangs in the house. They are alarmed by the sound of Developers and Salvagers who plan to pull down the old house. Reflecting on life whilst cleaning the panes, Windowcleaners Walter and Charlie are startled to see that the paintings are alive.
At the auction Miss Jolly the Auctioneer introduces the Trustees and Executors of the estate who explain that the deceased owner, Cedric Fitzhamilton, has no surviving relatives. Mothers and their Children reminisce and Psychics try to connect with the house’s aura. Hedonistic Women Racers and Flappers arrive, followed by City Gents who want to exploit the development potential of the building.
The Auctioneer talks up the worth of the house’s original features. Artist William Carrington and his wife Georgie see the house’s true value as a place of creativity. The Crowd makes bids, with the Developers planning to turn the home into a retail emporium. But the auction is halted by Cornelia, an elderly lady, attended by her carer Mary. She is Mr Fitzhamilton’s sister, heiress to the estate. Inspired by the house and its culture Cornelia has spent her life seeking warmth and colour. She bequeaths the house to artists William and Georgie so that they can live their dream.
Part Two – Creation
William’s artistic vision is to celebrate light and colour. Whilst he works Mr Pidgeon the bank manager arrives, flanked by Junior Pidgeons. They explain that the Carringtons’ finances are precarious. However, two Agents suddenly appear and, recognising the potential of William’s work, produce an enormous cheque.
Flushed with cash, the home can now afford a Butler and Staff. William gives Georgie a box which contains a scarf. This sensual scarf engulfs the couple, stimulating memories and kindling their passions.
Nurses and Staff attend to support and celebrate the impending births but the happy atmosphere is chilled by the entrance of William’s cousins Mrs Hardwick and Miss Pinchbeck. Walter and Charlie watch as, in quickening succession, a palette of seven children are produced – Crimson, Emerald, Indigo, Amber, Sky, Violet and Ruby, all snapped by a Photographer.
Crimson’s 13th birthday. The Carrington Children frolic and squabble, then decide to play ‘Scary Witch’. On cue, Mrs Hardwick makes an appearance with her daughters Agnes and Edith and her sister Miss Pinchbeck. Agnes and Edith are not allowed to play with the Carringtons. As Crimson blows out her birthday candles, the scene freezes and the Old Servants reveal that the economy is fraught by Depression. Mr Pidgeon and the Juniors warn William of his dire straits, but American art collector Pamela Golden, during an interview by Reporters, telephones to invites William and Georgie to New York. They agree to go, leaving the children under the ‘care’ of Mrs Hardwick and Miss Pinchbeck.
Part Three – Crisis
The house has been drained of colour and play. Mrs Hardwick tampers with the children’s letters and decides to sell the house in William’s absence by forging a deed of sale. The Carrington Children are muted. The Old Servants and the Children bemoan the repressive atmosphere.
Developers and Salvagers return and plan to gut the building of its features; Georgie’s scarf is snatched by Miss Pinchbeck, who responds to its sensuous spirit. Children and Old Servants consider their lonely fate, observed by the redundant Windowcleaners.
Psychics connect with the spirit of the Old Servants, channelling a distress signal to William and Georgie who are watching a Charlie Chaplin movie in America. The Chaplins, chased by Silent Movie Cops, find their own voices and exhort the Carrington Children to find theirs. The Children take heart and make their escape whilst the house is pulled down around their ears.
Miss Pinchbeck and the Hardwick girls have discovered fun and life and refuse to support Mrs Hardwick’s plans. The Pidgeons, Trustees and Executors discuss the demolition. But before the house is filleted, William and Georgie return with Pamela Golden, her Assistants and the Agents. Miss Pinchbeck reveals Mrs Hardwick’s duplicity and Pamela Golden solves the crisis by paying off the developers.
Mrs Hardwick is arrested by Policemen while dancing under the influence of the scarf, and the house is returned to its original brightness.