Yearning for opera fulfilled by this staging of Iernin

Given the free run of a boys’ school, albeit once most of the boys had gone home for the day, our regular arts reviewer, BELLA BARTOCK, did not hesitate to accept a ticket to the latest splendid production from Surrey Opera

George Lloyd: the sometime Croydon resident, whose opera Iernin is being performed by Surrey Opera this week

George Lloyd: a bust on display at Trinity School of the sometime Croydon resident, whose opera Iernin is being performed by Surrey Opera this week

It’s not often that we get the opportunity to see and hear an opera sung in English, but this is the second time in two years that Surrey Opera has treated us to a joyful mythological feast written by an Englishman who lived in this borough.

Last year, I was lucky to witness the beautiful music, costumes and set design of the debut performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Thelma at the Ashcroft Theatre, which was celebrating that Croydon-born composer’s life on the centenary of his death.

Now, they are performing Iernin, the first opera by George Lloyd, who lived in Croydon when studying at the Royal Academy, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of his birth in 1913.

The performances, which continue through to tomorrow, are at the Trinity School Theatre. And what a theatre! It certainly beats what has become a grubby Ashcroft hands down, and is just the latest worthy local production which has, for a range of reasons, opted to be staged outwith the Fairfield Halls.

Iernin is the tale of a Celtic fairy maiden – stay with me on this – who has been turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath. She returns to life in the 10th century to love a Celtic nobleman who, entranced, deserts his own wedding for her.

This opera was Lloyd’s first, which after premiering in Penzance in his native Cornwall was transferred to London where it enjoyed a lengthy run at the Lyceum, off the Strand. But it has not been performed since that 1935 production (which may not be a good sign), but it seemed fresh partly due to the Edwardian costumes and the sparse imaginative settings and lighting.

Catharine Rogers was beguiling as the playful Iernin with a powerful soprano voice that filled the air.

Surrey Opera have produced a wonderful revival of Iernin, George Lloyd's first opera, which has not been staged since the 1930s

Surrey Opera has produced a wonderful revival of Iernin, George Lloyd’s first opera, which has not been staged since the 1930s

Edward Hughes was charming as the young man Gerent swept up in his love for this dream woman who could take him away from responsibilities.

Felicity Buckland as Gerent’s fiancée Cunaide, the third part of this love triangle, gave a great performance of patience and duty to offset the wildness of the other two.

The singing and orchestra were on perfect form but special mention must go to the double act of James Harrison and Jon Openshaw; as Harrison was unable to sing the part of Bedwyr due to voice problems, he acted it while to the side of the stage Openshaw sang for him when not performing his own part as the priest.

Director Alexander Hargreaves has done a stunning job re-imagining Iernin and the remembrance setting of act three is particularly touching when considering the time of the year and the war time efforts of George Lloyd himself.

Lloyd served in the Second World War with the Royal Marines with the Arctic convoys aboard HMS Trinidad, a ship which managed to torpedo itself. Lloyd was rescued but was severely traumatised by the experience. After the war, although he was commissioned to write an opera for the Festival of Britain, Lloyd opted to withdraw from the London musical scene, growing mushrooms and carnations in Dorset while his melodic musical style, which had been admired by Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Sir Thomas Beecham, had apparently fallen out of fashion.

Lloyd never stopped writing music, though, and by the 1970s, when Lloyd moved back to London, his efforts began to be more widely appreciated and more of his work was performed. In 1981, his Sixth Symphony was performed at The Proms.

In its obituary published on his death in 1998, the New York Times noted his change of fortunes: “A story told about Mr Lloyd in the late 1980s suggests the extent of the popularity that his works had achieved.

“When Tower Records opened its outlet in London, Mr Lloyd wandered into its classical department and heard one of his works on the sound system. Surprised, he walked to the counter and asked a salesman, who was dressed in punk fashion with orange spiked hair and a nose ring, what was playing. ‘Why sir,’ the salesman said, ‘it’s your Fifth Symphony’.”

Surrey Opera has done a marvellous job considering the lack of funding to the arts these days. One can only hope more people go along and fill the seats to help fund more discoveries from forgotten British masters like this.

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