It was my pleasure to have attended the ‘opera in formation’ of the ‘Good Lady Ducayne’ last week that ended Buxton Fringe Festival.
An evening in two halves, the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Michael Howard (art historian and the opera’s librettist) opened the evening with a more academically-inclined overview of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, her Strand short story ‘The Good Lady Ducayne’ (1896) and why this story makes for such a good opera due to its universal themes of love, power and desire. Michael led us on a literary and art historical journey of the Gothic mode, its illustrations and the nineteenth century’s medical advancements, given as a lecture with PowerPoint slides, while he overviewed his insider’s perspective on how the opera is being evolved for a new audience.
Given an outline of the opera’s plot (conclusions omitted to keep our curiosity up!), we then immersed ourselves in six of the arias. Although written as an opera, the arias were beautifully re-interpreted by Lesley Davies’ jazz tones and character expressions, and accompanied by the excellent pianist Steve Davies. These arias were focused in the middle of the opera, and detailed the changing relationship between Bella, the young companion, and the Good Lady Ducayne when knowledge, power and strength collide.
The event closed with a question and answer session with Michael, Lesley and Steve who provided more detail on their collaboration with the composer, Peter Byrom-Smith, how the other arias highlight other key themes, and future plans on how the opera will develop into its fully fledged form.
This is an opera to watch out for – as I’m sure the full piece will be incredible!