THE LOCKED DOOR
AN OPERA WITH MUSIC BY GEMMA McGREGOR
AND LIBRETTO BY PETER DAVIDSON
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: MATTHEW BURNS
ADELINE VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: MEGAN CORMACK
URSULA WOOD: KATHLEEN CRONIE
CONDUCTOR: CHRIS GRAY
DIRECTOR: OLIVIA FUCHS
BUTCHART RECREATION HALL
Friday, 30 October 2015
The Locked Door, a short opera by composer Gemma McGregor and ace librettist Peter Davidson tells the story of the fraught relationship between the famous English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, his first wife Adeline and the poetess Ursula Wood who worked as his librettist, became a carer for Adeline who was crippled with arthritis, was his mistress and eventually became his second wife and biographer. The action of the opera takes place one winter’s night during the Second World War in 1942 when Vaughan Williams would have been over seventy years old. At that time, the composer was helping the war effort by serving as an air raid warden.
From these few details it will be obvious that this is a very complicated story. We have the relationship between the composer and the two women, the relationship between the women, the war, and the writers block which was afflicting the composer depressed by the war and the deaths of so many people that he knew. What was absolutely amazing in this production was the way in which all these details were put across so clearly and cogently to the audience. The stage decor with props like the warden’s tin hat on the desk, the crumpled sheets of music manuscript all over the floor, Adeline’s wheelchair, her shawls and her medicines and a couple of times the air raid siren – all these things explained so much detail of the story and its background almost instantly to us in the audience. The setting was splendidly atmospheric; I felt we were there with the characters in 1942 sharing the composer’s grief over the war, his concern for Adeline and his guilt about his irresistible feelings for Ursula. The libretto by Peter Davidson was sparse but absolutely to the point and believable. Short utterances of spoken dialogue carried so much weight in moving the action onwards. The three performers gave us a wonderful tour de force of acting – there was the composer’s discomfiture at his position, Matthew Burns showing genuine concern for Adeline yet being drawn to Ursula. Adeline played by Megan Cormack displaying rage and despair over her condition and the threat of losing her husband and then Kathleen Cronie vamping it up in her attitude to Vaughan Williams and her jealousy to begin with directed against his first wife. The three performers sang clearly too and Gemma McGregor’s music was brilliant. As carefully condensed and melodically cogent as her libretto, it lent its wonderfully expressive power to the atmosphere of the piece as well as highlighting the emotional turmoil of the characters.
The orchestra consisted of only five players conducted by Chris Gray whose presence on the podium is a guarantee of a first class performance. The instrumental quintet boasted some of the University’s most accomplished musicians, violinist Jack Christie, Kirsty Thompson on clarinet, Peter Davis on cello, Jesse Harte on flute and John Fredrick Hudson on piano – all well known names with a top reputation.
I have heard nothing but praise for this production from the many people who attended. On the opening night so many people wanted to see the opera that many had to be turned away for lack of seats. Unfortunate, yes, but nevertheless isn’t that just what we like to hear about musical performances these days? Congratulations to all concerned!