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Archive for March, 2014

This may be the title of an opera I’m working on with writer Buffy Sharpe. So far we have a scenario, four characters, some text and a few musical sketches. We plan to have a chamber opera up to an hour long ready for performance in Summer 2014, and then maybe to expand it into a community opera for large numbers of children and adults for performance in 2015.

We aim to present a Peasants’ Eye View of the dramatic events of 1381, when there was a widespread rebellion against the imposition of a Poll Tax to fund wars in France. The Revolt led to the beheading of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (nice touch that), burning down of the palace of the chief politician, John of Gaunt, and might have brought down the whole governing system but for the touching faith of the rebels in the promises made by the young king, Richard II, to right their wrongs – promises never kept.

Our four characters are:

– a childless married couple of Kent villagers, Mathilda (soprano) and Thomas (baritone). They sing together, often completing one another’s sentences. They act as a form of narrator, reporting events, and commenting.

– John (tenor), a travelling tradesman, who brings news of events in other parts, and helps stir up rebellion.

– Simon (counter-tenor), a simple soul, who sings about daft ideas like all people being equal, and gets into trouble as a result. Mathilda and Thomas try to look after him.

The opera has four scenes:

– the village in Kent. Mathilda and Thomas complain about the sufferings of the Peasants and about the Poll Tax inspectors. John arrives with news that peasants elsewhere are rebelling and urges them to join. Simon, who has been locked up in Rochester Castle for his strange ideas, and has met the radical priest John Ball while there, wanders back home having been freed when the peasants raided the castle, singing strange things.

– Blackheath. The peasants seek a meeting with the King, but only get to speak to a messenger. Our 3 male characters are at the back of the crowd, half understanding what is going on. Mathilda arrives with food.

– Smithfield. The peasants have entered the City of London, looted and burned, and have come to Smithfield to meet the King. Their leader Wat Tyler goes ┬áto speak to the King but is killed. The peasants disperse in disarray. Again, the 3 male characters are at the back of the crowd, wondering what is happening.

– back in the Kentish village. The rebels are being hunted down. Simon is taken away and hung for his strange ideas. They others get on with their lives and keep their heads down.

Much of the musical style will be derived from familiar idioms, and in this way will represent an ironic comment on the action. They are peasants after all, and know that survival is the key thing. Mathilda and Thomas will sing in patter song, completing one another’s phrases. John will sing in English folksong style, reporting action in phrases of varying metre and length. Simon will sing in an ethereal style based on Renaissance polyphony, often using famous words spoken later in history.

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