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Some notes about Thelma

Here are some press releases that we wrote about our production of Thelma:

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

The opera Thelma, which we performed proudly on February 9th - 11th 2012, was for a long time believed to be lost or destroyed; it was miscatalogued in the British Library and unearthed by Dr Catherine Carr, in the course of research for her PhD thesis.

The story of Thelma is presented as a Norse myth; good triumphs over evil and true love reigns (in the Romantic tradition).


Thelma is the daughter of King Olaf; she is in love with Earl Eric and he is in love with her. A bad man, Carl, also wants to marry Thelma. King Olaf wants her to marry Carl. Another lady, Gudrun, is in love with Carl.

King Olaf sets a challenge for Thelma's two suitors: she will marry the man who recovers a golden goblet that he lost to the sea where it is held in a kingdom of fearsome but good-natured sea necks. But it is necessary to pass through a dangerous maelstrom to reach that kingdom.

Eric's fairy godmother gives him an amulet to protect him on his journey. Carl steals it from him but Gudrun, knowing its story, returns it to Eric. Carl, assuming that Eric will be killed without the amulet's protection, tells the King that Eric is dead and Carl's wedding to Thelma is arranged.

Meanwhile, Eric gets the golden goblet and returns it to the King just in time before the marriage takes place. King Olaf arranges for Eric and Thelma to wed instead. Carl tries to kill Eric but Gudrun interposes herself and she is killed instead. Carl is carried off. Eric marries Thelma and everybody is happy.

about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Black man, was one of the foremost English composers of his generation.

His father was Dr Daniel Peter Hughes from Sierra Leone. He trained in England as a doctor and worked as a GP with a senior partner; when the senior partner died, he lost most of his patients and returned to Sierra Leone.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a founding organiser of the Pan African Congress in London in 1900.

In Washington DC, the "Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society" was formed by around 200 Black singers to perform his work. They sponsored his first trip to the USA.

As well as being a prolific composer, he was for periods of his life the "chief conductor" of the Croydon Symphony Orchestra and the Rochester Choral Society and he lectured at Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music.

He died of pneumonia at the age of 37.

His work was incredibly popular in the U.K. before the Second World War: the Royal Albert Hall held an annual costumed production of his Song of Hiawatha choral trilogy conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. His work went out of fashion after 1945.

Educated in composition at the Royal College of Music under C. V. Stanford in the same year as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, his music is very much English music of that period. You can hear, in Thelma, influences of Dvorak, Mahler, Wagner and Delius. But he has his own distinctive style of composition.


Article by Jonathan Butcher in Words and Music
Wikipedia entry for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation publishes articles about him.
Black Mahler is the home page for the biography of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor by Charles Elford.
Croydon Festival this year (2012), the 100th anniversary of his death.