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Coleridge-Taylor Thelma

Cast: Thelma Joanna Weeks Eric Alberto Sousa Carl Håkan Vramsmo Gudrun Rhonda Browne King Olaf Tim Baldwin Djaevelen Oliver Hunt Neck König Stephen Anthony Brown Trolla Patricia Robertson

Surrey Opera/Jonathan Butcher
Director: Christopher Cowell
Designer: Bridget Kimak

Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon, Surrey 10 February 2012

See S C-T Festival in Croydon

Famous in his time, the Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) lived and worked in Croydon for his entire life. His Hiawatha's Wedding Feast had collosal sales and regular spectacular performances under Sargent; he'd sold it outright for 15 guineas and died at 37 in poverty. That led to the creation of the Performing Rights Society. I was introduced to his Petit Suite de Concert by my mother, and enjoyed playing it for many of my younger years...

Coleridge-Taylor's home town is doing the centenary of his early death proud, inaugurating a wide-ranging revival festival of his music, an historic event in Croydon and, of course, particularly for SC-T himself at large. His opera, rejected in 1909 and long thought lost, had been rediscovered in the British Library in immaculate full orchestral score, prepared by the composer for the Carl Rosa Opera Company, which turned it down, probably because of the libretto which seems to have been C-T's own, since when it languished unheard...

It has been readied for performance by Stephen Anthony Brown, who made necessary alterations to the libretto for this production, and decided that it was important to present Thelma complete with all the music (which may for the future need a little pruning of the lengthy middle Act).

Surrey Opera's Thelma, "a saga of deceit, magic, retribution and the triumph of love over wickedness", made for an interesting long evening with many incidental pleasures along the way.

Not a lost masterpiece, but with music well worth hearing, especially for the orchestra. It gave unalloyed pleasure to a capacity Croydon audience at the attractive Ashcroft Theatre (which shares foyer and restaurant with the adjacent Fairfield Hall).

There is no orchestra pit, and the orchestration is fulsome, but the acoustics are good and the singers had no problems making themselves heard.

Preparation was first class with generally excellent diction; indeed, by a paradoxical reversal of the usual, from a middle stalls seat I only managed to decipher some of the sur-titled text on the small, high-up box as I heard the words being sung!

The singers were all adequate, and I enjoyed best the clear, bright but unforced tenor of Alberto Sousa, ex-GSMD.

Jonathan Butcher made the most of the excellent orchestra's opportunities. The staging and design were imaginative given the limitations and I was glad to note that the performance we attended was being videoed.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See a fuller and fair review by"framescourer"
- could you kindly let me have an e/address to contact you? PGW

Picts: Eric (Alberto Sousa) & King Olaf (Tim Baldwin - above)
3rd Act ensemble (R)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's daughter approves apartheid !
See this shocking press cutting from December 1955 Jet Magazine (
which is still going strong)