The Vanishing Bridegroom


Having just been to see the dress rehearsal of British Youth Opera’s production of my opera The Vanishing Bridegroom (heartwarming to me, of course) my first unoriginal thought is about how much work goes into any production; but particularly a ‘historical’ revival such as this. Which makes BYO’s curiosity about recent English-language repertoire all the more admirable (last year’s season for instance featured a precious revival of Malcolm Williamson’s English Eccentrics.) And unusual, as the more established companies seem very un-bothered about this, unless it’s by Britten.

It’s no accident that the very word Opera means Work (in the plural). Of course the first work on The Vanishing Bridegroom was done by me, thinking it up and writing it in the late 1980s. Over the years, the strain of doing something like that fades a bit and is replaced by pleasure, one hopes, at hearing the music again. That was increasingly my feeling last night at the rehearsal. But I will say that when I recently picked the full score out of the drawer where it had been reposing for the last couple of years, I felt a chill when sensing its physical weight, and therefore the savage amount of work it had entailed at the time of writing. Being pre-Sibelius era, the published full score is still in my handwriting; just glancing at the sheer volume all those notes, dynamics and barlines was rather shocking.

As so often, a revival in a small-ish theatre (this time the Peacock) has required a new edition. We have been very fortunate therefore to have available the reduced orchestral version made by composer Michael Lee for a recent production (2014) in Los Angeles, at Azuza Pacific University (whose director of vocal studies, Melanie Galloway, sang in the US premiere of The Vanishing Bridegroom at Opera Theater of St Louis in 1992.) However, the publication of a new set of orchestral parts has involved a major editing sortie courageously undertaken by BYO conductor James Holmes and my Music Sales editor Rosalind Mascall. In this brief survey of all the hard-workers who got us up to last night’s dress rehearsal, I haven’t even yet mentioned the upwards of thirty singers who have learned to sing their music with perfect recall. And another angle I hadn’t even been thinking of, a clutch of distinguished singing teachers was spotted yesterday evening giving last minute advice and encouragement to their pupils onstage. All those people at work for a few performances – is it worth it ? I begin to think that for those of us who do opera, working together - and the personal links that we make down the years because of that - is why we do it.

Pictured – nothing to do with The Vanishing Bridegroom, but a great sky view from the allotment.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer