Iernin Surrey Opera Trinity School, Croydon Coming to St John's Hall, Penzance this weekend
Review by Bruce Reader
I WAS fortunate to have been present at Surrey Opera's production of George Lloyd's opera Iernin at the theatre of Trinity School, Croydon, last week.
It was the Cornish landscape that truly inspired the 21-year-old Lloyd's first opera Iernin.
Not staged since its premiere in 1934 and its London run in 1935, Lloyd's Iernin, based on a Celtic legend inspired by the Nine Maidens stone circle near Penzance, tells the story of a maiden turned to stone by puritanical priests, only to reawaken hundreds of years later and ensnare the heart of a betrothed Cornish nobleman.
This is set against the backdrop of a soon to be occupied Cornwall and the struggle of its leader and people to retain their independence from the Saxon overlords.
At the time, the Cornishman reported "scenes of great dramatic intensity and moments of lyricism are embodied in the Cornish grand opera, Iernin which was produced for the first time at the Pavilion, Penzance on Monday night".
The Times' music critic Frank Howes was present at the first performance and it was his glowing review that enabled it to be transferred to the Lyceum, London where it achieved great success.
The Surrey Opera production has had three performances in Croydon before transferring to St John's Hall, Penzance, for two more performances on Friday and Saturday, effectively taking the opera home.
Jonathan Butcher conducted the chorus and orchestra of Surrey Opera together with a strong cast consisting of Catherine Rogers (Iernin), Edward Hughes (Gerent), Felicity Buckland (Cunaide), Hakan Vramsmo (Edyrn), James Harrison (Bedwyr), Jon Openshaw (Priest), James Schouten (huntsman), Robert Trainer (Saxon thane), Tim Baldwin (old man) and Georgina Perry (little girl).
Producer Alexander Hargreaves has seen in the libretto of this opera more than simply a love story but selflessness and love of an ideal, drawing on connections with the composer's own Second World War experiences. Certainly if one reads the libretto in this context one can see that the librettist, the composer's father, William Lloyd, must surely have had his own First World War experiences in mind.
Even though the composer may not have had 20th century dress in mind for his opera set in the 10th century, he would, I know, have approved of the simple but effective stage sets. In Catherine Rogers this production had a first-rate Iernin, an extremely taxing role to which she brought her fine voice.
There were many musical highlights including a wonderful first act duet from Edward Hughes (Gerent) and Hakan Vramsmo (Edyrn) as well as Gerent's following aria Long Years Ago. Both these singers showed fine voices as well as great dramatic presence.
The spoken dialogue in Act 2, Scene 1 was particularly effective with Tim Baldwin as the old man, holding this section together brilliantly. In Scene 2 Jon Openshaw made a fine priest, full of presence and stature, also having to sing offstage for an indisposed James Harrison (Bedwyr) who, nevertheless acted his role on stage.
Rogers brought tremendous strength to her final aria Hear Me, Thou Shining Power, finely building the drama in a piece that is by turns affectingly beautiful and dramatic. How she sustained the power and sensitivity was remarkable in this taxing aria. In the transition to the orchestral storm sequence there was some very fine string playing.
Act 3 brought a terrific duet from Catherine Rogers and Edward Hughes with some more fine playing from the orchestra as well as the trio from Felicity Buckland (Cunaide), Edward Hughes (Gerent) and Catherine Rogers (Iernin), so wonderfully done.
In some ways this production risked the usual controversy over the use of modern dress yet the effect when the end of the final act arrived surely justified this view. There can be no doubt in all other respects that this production was musically a triumph.
If you are able to get to Penzance for the final two performances you will be assured of a memorable evening.
Performances start at 7.30pm - ring the box office on 01736 810181.
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