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date: 14 July 2020

Violins of Saint-Jacques, Thelocked

  • Roger Covell

Extract

Opera in a prologue and three acts by Malcolm Williamson to a libretto by William Chappell based on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s novel; London, Sadler’s Wells, 29 November 1966.

Steamy foreboding and hectic pleasure aptly characterize this drama of a small colonial Caribbean island on the eve of a volcanic explosion that buries it in the ocean, leaving only the ghostly echoes of its carnival violins to frighten away the superstitious fishermen of the prologue. Two leading St-Jacques families hope to reconcile their differences in a grand carnival night party and ball. The son of one family, Marcel (baritone), woos the daughter, Josephine (mezzo-soprano), of the other and makes plans to elope with her that night. Josephine’s cousin Berthe (soprano) mistrusts Marcel and, for the moment, rejects the declarations of her own suitor, Josephine’s brother Sosthène (tenor). The night’s events include disclosure of Marcel’s existing marriage and Berthe’s discovery that Sosthène has grown into the man she might marry. All of this is nullified by the volcano’s catastrophic explosion. Because Berthe has rowed out to sea to try to forestall the eloping lovers she is the only person on the island to survive. Her scena in a small boat on a featureless ocean ends the opera....

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