Review by Oliver Tims in Opera magazine
Surrey Opera at Trinity School, Croydon, October 24, 2013
In recent years Surrey Opera has begun boxing above its weight artistically - its première of Coleridge-Taylor’s Thelma in 2011 was a coup that marked the company out as one to watch for appealing and artistically visionary planning. George Lloyd’s Iernin is a similarly bold choice, mounted in commemoration of the composer’s centenary. When lernin was premiered in 1934, it established Lloyd as one of Britain’s brightest young talents and was admired by Beecham and Vaughan Williams. Yet a subsequent London production in 1935 was the last time the piece was seen, and Lloyd’s refusal to forsake lush late Romanticism for modish atonalism ensured his neglect by the post-war musical establishment. Good for Surrey Opera, then, for enabling this centennial reassessment. While Lloyd is no Benjamin Britten, there is enough in Iernin’s score to suggest that, but for his deeply traumatic war service and the subsequent contempt in which his lyricism was held by programmers and commissioning bodies (but not, one suspects, by audiences), he might have made a significant contribution to English opera.
lernin draws on Cornish legend. The title role, a fairy maiden turned to stone, returns to life and ensnares the young nobleman Gerent with her supernatural allure; by the end of the opera she’s a stone again and Gerent returns to his betrothed, Cunaide. It’s a hokey maelstrom of sorcery, religiosity, revolt and renunciation that offers fine opportunities for mood and imagery: you can hear the wind and smell the heather in this impassioned music. Lloyd concocted this potent brew when he was just 19, and the score displays an astonishing maturity. The final love duet swells ecstatically, the choruses in Act 2 are tremendously stirring, and there are some thrilling climaxes. But momentum sags when the score strays from lernin herself, and things become truly sluggish towards the end.
The director, Alexander Hargreaves, updated the Dark Ages setting to a sort of general-purpose Edwardiana; one had to pretend not to hear references to thanes and the Saxon king. Ellan Parry’s designs were clean and serviceable, all bleached wood and draped linen. But there was nothing of the elemental or the mystical in them — a pity for a work rooted in Cornish landscape and folklore. I longed for some swirling mists and scurrying clouds.
In the title role, Catharine Rogers lacked the other-worldly allure fundamental to the character, but she has a most attractive gleam in her voice and she largely succeeded in balancing Iernin’s tricky blend of feeling and feyness. Edward Hughes, as her lover/victim Gerent, was a bit pinched; Håkan Vramsmo displayed a lovely tone as Edyrn, while Felicity Buckland fielded a small but valiant voice as a gorgeous-looking Cunaide. An indisposed James Harrison acted the role of Bedwyr while Jon Openshaw sang from the side of the stage; they made an effective duo.
But it was the chorus and orchestra that made this a performance to remember. The chorus was the most potent force on stage, and the evening really came to life with its zesty and heartfelt opening of the second half. And the orchestra was superb: the conductor Jonathan Butcher has honed a terrific ensemble, whose account of this deeply textured score was as fine as could be imagined on this scale.
Bella Bartock wrote in Inside Croydon
Yearning for opera fulfilled by this staging of Iernin
Given the free run of a boys’ school, albeit once most of the boys had gone home for the day, our regular arts reviewer, BELLA BARTOCK, did not hesitate to accept a ticket to the latest splendid production from Surrey Opera.
It’s not often that we get the opportunity to see and hear an opera sung in English, but this is the second time in two years that Surrey Opera has treated us to a joyful mythological feast written by an Englishman who lived in this borough.
Last year, I was lucky to witness the beautiful music, costumes and set design of the debut performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Thelma at the Ashcroft Theatre, which was celebrating that Croydon-born composer’s life on the centenary of his death.
Now, they are performing Iernin, the first opera by George Lloyd, who lived in Croydon when studying at the Royal Academy, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of his birth in 1913.
The performances, which continue through to tomorrow, are at the Trinity School Theatre. And what a theatre! It certainly beats what has become a grubby Ashcroft hands down, and is just the latest worthy local production which has, for a range of reasons, opted to be staged outwith the Fairfield Halls.
Iernin is the tale of a Celtic fairy maiden – stay with me on this – who has been turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath. She returns to life in the 10th century to love a Celtic nobleman who, entranced, deserts his own wedding for her.
This opera was Lloyd’s first, which after premiering in Penzance in his native Cornwall was transferred to London where it enjoyed a lengthy run at the Lyceum, off the Strand. But it has not been performed since that 1935 production (which may not be a good sign), but it seemed fresh partly due to the Edwardian costumes and the sparse imaginative settings and lighting.
Catharine Rogers was beguiling as the playful Iernin with a powerful soprano voice that filled the air.
Edward Hughes was charming as the young man Gerent swept up in his love for this dream woman who could take him away from responsibilities.
Felicity Buckland as Gerent’s fiancée Cunaide, the third part of this love triangle, gave a great performance of patience and duty to offset the wildness of the other two.
The singing and orchestra were on perfect form but special mention must go to the double act of James Harrison and Jon Openshaw; as Harrison was unable to sing the part of Bedwyr due to voice problems, he acted it while to the side of the stage Openshaw sang for him when not performing his own part as the priest.
Director Alexander Hargreaves has done a stunning job re-imagining Iernin and the remembrance setting of act three is particularly touching when considering the time of the year and the war time efforts of George Lloyd himself.
Lloyd served in the Second World War with the Royal Marines with the Arctic convoys aboard HMS Trinidad, a ship which managed to torpedo itself. Lloyd was rescued but was severely traumatised by the experience. After the war, although he was commissioned to write an opera for the Festival of Britain, Lloyd opted to withdraw from the London musical scene, growing mushrooms and carnations in Dorset while his melodic musical style, which had been admired by Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Sir Thomas Beecham, had apparently fallen out of fashion.
Lloyd never stopped writing music, though, and by the 1970s, when Lloyd moved back to London, his efforts began to be more widely appreciated and more of his work was performed. In 1981, his Sixth Symphony was performed at The Proms.
In its obituary published on his death in 1998, the New York Times noted his change of fortunes: “A story told about Mr Lloyd in the late 1980s suggests the extent of the popularity that his works had achieved.
When Tower Records opened its outlet in London, Mr Lloyd wandered into its classical department and heard one of his works on the sound system. Surprised, he walked to the counter and asked a salesman, who was dressed in punk fashion with orange spiked hair and a nose ring, what was playing. ‘Why sir,’ the salesman said, ‘it’s your Fifth Symphony’.
Surrey Opera has done a marvellous job considering the lack of funding to the arts these days. One can only hope more people go along and fill the seats to help fund more discoveries from forgotten British masters like this.
CheyneyK wrote: (on blogspot)
This is the 100th anniversary year of composer George Lloyd. A precocious British composer, Lloyd’s career in music was truncated by a violent experience in the navy during the second world war - and a no less considerable if very different reaction to modernism, and specifically serialism, in music. This year’s BBC Proms celebrated his anniversary with a pair of works from his later (post 1973) Indian summer of composition. His opera Iernin which Surrey Opera have produced in London (and will shortly take to Lloyd’s home of Cornwall) is from the early flush of writing music. The opera sets a libretto by Lloyd’s bel canto-loving father and concerns a local myth about the standing stones of St Columb Major, supposedly women under a spell. One of the stones, Iernin, is brought back to life and - probably metaphorically (!) - bewitches a prince on the eve of his wedding.
Surrey Opera have done a handsome job in bringing this little-known opera (despite a warm première reception in 1934) to life. This is a fully-staged production with a 30-strong pit orchestra under Jonathan Butcher, the chief advocate of the work and responsible for the judicious balancing act of making cuts for the evening’s drama whilst letting us hear the score. Still a teenager, George Lloyd’s style is a difficult to pin down, though there is more of the Wagnerian tradition of expansiveness and programmatic detail in the orchestration than that of the vocal formality of Verdi. Neither does the obvious bucolicism of Vaughan-Williams weigh the score down, despite some appropriate modalism. This is original music which swirls about us like the climate that is referenced at moments in the plot and builds to regular totemic moments that reflect the old rock face of the coast.
Lloyd is never understated in anything he says and, singing the title role, Catharine Rogers undertakes a considerable workload. Hers is a noteworthy performance by any standard, paced to take her right through to the Liebestodesque conclusion but which also incoporates light passages that reflect her delight in de-petrification, fear of the locals and love at first sight. Her sound is helped by the Mitre Theatre (at Trinity School, Croydon), a long wooden box, not dissimilar to the Mermaid Theatre, London. In alt Rogers voices shines with metallic spark and the words are unstintingly clear.
The rest of the cast bring a strong, diverse palette of colours in around her. Ed Hughes gets a bit of a raw deal as the prince Gerent but makes the most of his moments; as his jilted bride Cunaide, Felicity Buckland makes the most of the final Act peroration, proving persausive not only on stage but in fact. I’m trying no to make too many Tristan-und-Isolde-isms here but Håkan Vramsmo’s handsomely sung Edyrn is what you might expect Melot to be in a Tristan-prequel. The evening’s ‘King Marke’, Bedwyr, was graciously walked by an indisposed James Harrison whilst Jon Openshaw more than competently warmed up for his later cameo as the Priest by singing the king from the side.
However, the opera really came alive when the chorus were on stage in ensemble. The company were really excellent, coherent, well-tuned and bringing not only finesse but crucially, credibility to the staging with which Alexander Hargreaves has used to plot a course through the work. With proper attention to the costume, set and lighting design, nothing had been subordinated to what one must assume is the inevitable cash constraint - as one who has performed with the company previously, I can attest to a not-to-be-sniffed-at slush fund of goodwill from friends and performers alike. A worthy exercise for this anniversary year and one that (one hopes) will be welcomed at its homecoming performances next week.
Bruce Reader posted in The Classical Reviewer :
Surrey Opera’s fine new production of George Lloyd’s Iernin is a triumph
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, Surrey on Friday 25th October 2013.
It was the Cornish landscape that truly inspired the 21 year old George Lloyd’s first opera Iernin. Not staged since its première in 1934 and its London run in 1935, George 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 and Cornish Telegraph 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.
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), Håkan 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 twentieth 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.
Alexander Hargreaves’ direction provided many fine moments, though, when the huntsmen appear on stage, it was perhaps rather too busy with the chorus too centre stage. I was also not entirely convinced by the modern dress version of the Saxon Thane when he appears early in Act 2. However, these were small matters in this fine production. The orchestra and chorus were first rate in the huntsman scene with a fine horn solo from the principal horn.
There were many musical highlights including a wonderful first Act duet from Edward Hughes (Gerent) and Håkan 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.
Catherine 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.
Felicity Buckland was a fine Cunaide particularly in the Act 2 What if I have their love one of the great arias that she has in this opera and, perhaps the greatest aria in the whole work when, towards the end of the final Act, she sings The spell is passed. Into this final scene Director, Alexander Hargreaves, brings soldiers in twentieth century uniforms. Iernin, now returned to her form as a stone, is finally revealed as a war memorial and Gerent as an injured soldier. Whilst not what the composer would have expected, Cunaide had already prepared us for this moment when, in her preceding aria she sang Who willingly gave their breath that you and yours might be free. I found this scene almost unbearably poignant.
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.
If you are unable to make the journey then the complete opera conducted by the composer can be obtained from Albany Records UK .
OK, so several people have beat me to the ‘yearning for Iernin‘ pun, so something more prosaic had to be drafted in for my reflections on Surrey Opera’s performance of George Lloyd’s 1934 opera. Once again, as with their Thelma last year, this thoughtful company have bravely ventured into relatively unknown repertory and done it proud.
Last year, the company performed at the Fairfield Halls (the Ashcroft Theatre, to be precise). This year, they were (apparently) priced out of the venue and moved to the Mitre Theatre, Trinity School, on the way to Shirley (so I overheard someone connected with the company saying). Slightly tricky to get to (except for those of us living down the road), but an attractive auditorium, excellent acoustic and comfortable (non-squeaky!) seating were all compensations. It’s surprising how the sound of a bell in a school corridor can still trigger deeply-buried emotions, even when it’s now calling you back for the second half of an opera, and even if the £13,000-a-year Trinity School is some way away from my northern pit-village comprehensive. Anyway, it is worth the management of Fairfield Halls reflecting on the fact that this did not take place at their venue: if they are intent on claiming a position as Croydon’s cultural centrepiece (which is the rather ridiculous justification for flogging off some of Croydon’s valuables) then it needs not to be pricing out organisations like Surrey Opera, but going all out to nurture them and ensure that they feature as a mainstay of the cultural offer. The cheap touring shows, dubious comedy and Sunday worship can then be the rather sour-tasting icing on the Fairfield cake.
And so, back to Iernin. Finding an act-by-act synopsis of Lloyd’s opera is a bit of an endeavour, so the programme was definitely useful. Cornwall is our location, the Nine Maidens to be exact. The story picks up on the legend that these stones are nine faeries who were petrified by the local bishop as punishment for their tendency to lure local men into good times. (Never the men’s fault, of course…) Anyway, one of them comes back to life, only to find (with echoes of Rusalka) that acceptance into a life among the mortals is not forthcoming. She falls in love with, and enchants in return, a local bigwig who is about to marry the King’s daughter, but is eventually chased back up to the stones into which she returns.
The production by Alexander Hargreaves was an updating, to roughly the period of the composition of the work. With relatively simple, but effective, stage pictures by designer Ellan Parry, it was atmospherically lit by Alan Bishop. Alongside a fairly straightforward and clear telling of the narrative, the production was concerned with the uncertainties that abounded in its pre-war period, and the rise of hate-filled crowds who would exclude, demonise – and worse – those that were not ‘of them’.
Picking up on George Lloyd’s traumatic experience of war, the Act 3 close (after Iernin’s re-petrification) sees World War II soldiers appear over the back of the set, and the would-be Prince, Gerent, take up the position of their leader. For me, this intervention didn’t quite flow smoothly from what had gone before, but the replacement of the stone Iernin with a war memorial, complete with its list of the dead, very quickly established an effective and moving set piece, accompanying the opera’s concluding paean for a better world.
Under the direction of Jonathan Butcher, the 30-odd strong orchestra gave a warm and confident reading of Lloyd’s symphonic score: thickly textured, but delivered with a pleasing clarity. By the end of the first half (up to Act 2 scene 1) I was struck by how symphonic it felt, a very organic musical development, but which didn’t quite set the drama in motion. After the interval, however, things really picked up. Chorus, orchestra and soloists came together to deliver a confrontation scene between Iernin, Gerent and the chorus of hate-filled villagers that was reminiscent of Peter Grimes, tinged with echoes of the crowd’s threatening descent into violence in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The spoken interjections, still accompanied by the orchestra, that established the crowd in festive but gossipy mood before Iernin’s arrival, were a tremendously effective touch. The libretto, by Lloyd’s father, was tinged with a rather Victorian hue – quite a few thou’s and thy’s – but was well put across, aided by surtitles to the side of the stage (though they could do with someone taking an editorial eye to them).
All of the soloists did the work proud, though the relatively even level of the orchestra and stage (there was no sunken pit) meant some of them battled against the passages in which larger forces were deployed. The Gerent of Edward Hughes grew in vocal presence as the evening went on, and he was appropriately urgent in the last duet with Iernin. As Bedwyr, the King, James Harrison had been unable to sing earlier in the run, and whilst there were the evident remnants of a cold or similar, he nonetheless stayed the course with admirable power. As Gerent’s ruthless friend, Edyrn, Håkan Vramsmo returned to the company after his performances in Thelma last year with an imposingly full baritone voice. Felicity Buckland was the Princess, Cunaide, to whom Gerent was pledged, and beautifully conveyed a stoic resolve in the face of her changing fortunes. Other contributions were effectively made by Jon Openshaw (Priest), James Schouten (Huntsman), Robert Trainer (Saxon Thane), Tim Baldwin (Old Man), and Georgina Perry (Little Girl).
Crowning the cast was the impassioned, vivid and febrile Iernin of Catharine Rogers: a gorgeously fulsome voice, and an unstinting dramatic energy. She fully anchored the performance, and was commanding in her longer monologues: beautifully conveying the thrill of being returned to life, and the tragic terror of being faced with a return to stone.
An excellent evening spent discovering an unknown opera. And in Croydon: I could get used to this.
Review by Rob Barnett of Seen and Heard International
The Cornish-born composer George Lloyd wrote three operas all before the age of 38. Their completion and premièrs marked and coincided with crucial events in his life. Iernin (1933-4) written when he was in his very early twenties and The Serf (1936-8), completed when he was 25, appeared as fascism reached its apex and erupted into the Second World War. John Socman was written for the Festival of Britain (1951) with the war six years over but with its life-scarring events for the composer still vivid. The experience of the première of John Socman was for many years to drive Lloyd away from engagement with the musical establishment and vice versa. Between the first two operas and the last came his march HMS Trinidad – heard at this year’s Proms in its orchestral version – and the great symphonies 4 (1946) and 5 (1948).
The subject matter of all three of his operas focuses on British/Celtic legends and medieval history. In that sense Lloyd can be rather haphazardly grouped with the likes of Alan Bush and Rutland Boughton. The latter is closer in style than Bush though both Bush and Boughton wove their Socialist convictions into the music. Iernin’s continuous flow of music rather than a series of stop-start arias and choruses places the Lloyd work closer to Boughton than to Bush. During the course of a really enjoyable evening I thought especially of Boughton’s Queen of Cornwall which has a setting related to that of Iernin and also gave a voice to the scenery: here the Nine Maidens – there aren’t nine singers, though. One also senses parallels with Boughton’s great hit of the 1920s, The Immortal Hour, especially in Act I where Iernin, sung and acted magnificently by Catharine Rogers, revels in the beauties of nature while also caught up with the glories of her faery brethren now long-gone.
However the character parallels with a non-British opera were even stronger at least in terms of mix of influences. That opera is Howard Hanson’s Merry Mount which again opposes pagan voices with those of Christianity and juxtaposes a tragic love-story. In the Hanson the folk influence is found in the ‘wicked’ Maypole dances for the villagers. Lloyd’s discretely woven choral singing – often unison – is much to the fore in the Keverne hunting chorus complete with a glowingly masculine role for principal horn Ian Stott. The choir is also to be heard in The Giant of Carne Galva and The Lonely Raven’s Cry.
The story of Iernin has its twists and turns, but simply put, we have Iernin waking after hundreds of years from a Christian curse that changed her and her sisters into stone. The action is set in Saxon times though the costumes in this production – apart from that of Iernin herself are approximately Victorian. This is presumably to emphasise the remove in time between Iernin’s ever-young golden era and the more materialistic Cornish world into which she awakens. There, soon after her awakening, from stone is Gerent – a nobleman from Castle Bosigram – who seems mystically to have known her all his life. The two fall instantly in love though Gerent is in fact betrothed to Cunaide, the daughter of Prince Bedwyr. Gerent is dragged away and back to his marriage to Cunaide by the fierce and stalwart Edyrn. Bedwyr is caught between loyalty to his Saxon King and his history and dreams of Cornish autonomy. A wedding procession with Gerent and Iernin is interrupted by the other-worldly Iernin who strikes aside the Cross. The two lovers then flee to the hills after Gerent openly defies the priest, the crowd and the Court. In the third and last Act, after a great storm – presumably equivalent to the storm that racks the lovemaking in Walton’s Troilus and Cressida – the two lovers engage in a troubled and passionate duet. They are then joined by Cunaide who implores Gerent to return to her and to reality. Iernin forsakes Gerent and turns dancingly back to stone in her place amid the Nine Maidens. Gerent departs for the realities – one senses that his marriage to Cunaide will be a compromised and troubled one.
It is at this point, with only ten minutes of the score to go, that director Alexander Hargreaves gives the audience a jolt. Cunaide is alone on the stage when a line of British Great War soldiers marches slowly up and into view rifles at the slope. The next image is of the wounded Gerent in officer’s uniform and with the few surviving soldiers in tin hats and the grieving villagers gathering around the stone into which, earlier on, Iernin had turned. The stone is represented, as were the Sisters at the start, by white-draped uprights. The white cloth is pulled aside to reveal not Iernin but a cenotaph stone listing the dead.
The staging for this production is very imaginative yet sparing. The Act I ‘Nine Sisters’ lose the white drapes to become furniture and a bust for Act II and Bedwyr’s court. The Act I cliff backdrop is irregularly crenellated to suggest the rugged tors and for Act II the drapes are removed to produce a suggestion of the castle ramparts. Blue light is used imaginatively throughout together with thunder sound-effects.
The cast acted and sang their hearts out. Iernin was never less than convincing and maintained her voice and enunciation despite being called on to dance in her various transformation scenes from and to stone, celebrating her liberation to flesh and blood, ferocious and fearful in the scene with the villagers and the priest. She is suitably Isolde-like especially in the lengthy Puccinian duet that dominates Act III. Catharine Rogers’ Iernin reminded me of Gwyneth Jones. She certainly has a sturdy Wagnerian way with her, yet she also conjured up a fey and wild-eyed spirit that ultimately made Iernin’s future with Gerent a write-off. The easily swayed and impulsive Gerent was heroically sung by Edward Hughes who evinced both a hopeless yet possessed passion with Iernin. He also mustered a defiance in the face of the Court after having been bullied into compliance by the dominant Noble Edyrn in the shape of Håkan Vramsmo. Ruthless Edyrn shocked the audience at the end of Act II scene 1 by slitting the throat of the haplessly fearful Saxon Thane – nicely sung by Robert Trainer – who has the audacity to try to force Cunaide into marriage to an English earl rather than Gerent. The very extended Act III duet between Iernin and Gerent is most impressive.
The part of Bedwyr was taken by James Harrison who though indisposed acted and mimed the role on stage in a commanding manner. The singing of Bedwyr was taken by Jon Openshaw who stood and sang from a raised and lit dais to the left of the staging. This worked better than you might guess – a tribute to both artists. Openshaw as the somewhat caricatured censorious priest played his role with burning distinction. The faithful Cunaide is a thanklessly grey character beside the volatile Iernin. She never gives up on her wayward Gerent. And the role was vividly sung and acted by Felicity Buckland. The excellent chorus with its front row stuffed with individual characters, bickering, joking, ranting and teasing brilliantly encompassed the extremes: their weakness, their mob fury, their tendency to revert to pagan dancing and then to turn back again under the exhortation of their priest when Iernin throws aside the cross in Act II.
The score presents a continuous orchestral flow from the violent in media res prelude onwards. There are no moments when they are marking time. Orchestral details are numerous but for the most part commandingly distracting; the stage action and singing are central. The style is Lloyd’s own but it is related to Sibelius and Bax. There were several occasions where I noticed similarities to the rocking-lapping figuration from Tintagel (Act I) and a similar regular ostinato from En Saga (Act III). The lyrical-dramatic side is to the fore and Lloyd does not embrace or even flirt with dissonance.
George Lloyd died in 1998 at the age of eighty-five. He shares a birth year with Benjamin Britten whose resounding celebrations have distracted from Lloyd’s centenary. Even so the composer’s family and related institutions have backed a series of performances and events that have given Lloyd’s reputation a deserved boost. We must hope for more.
Surrey Opera have a reputation for championing unusual repertoire. Last year they gave the world Première of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Thelma. Given the success of Iernin I do hope that they might be tempted if they are feeling ambitious to take on Boughton’s Arthurian Cycle of music-dramas or Holbrooke’s Cauldron of Annwn. As yet there are no signs of revival of John Socman or The Serf but they certainly represent promising prospects.
Croydon and its catchment can take considerable pride in Trinity School. The campus is welcoming and impressive and the glorious concert hall and music school provided a comfortable and inspiring venue for this rare revival of a full length opera which started at 7.30 pm and finished at about 10.30pm. I trust that attendances were better on the Friday and Saturday nights. I would estimate that at best only 20% of the seats were occupied. The head-teacher must also be congratulated for a sense of humour. His imposingly confident seated portrait in the foyer shows this gentleman’s thumb firmly over the word ‘school’ in the nameplate on the back of the bench against which he leans back. He may well have been trying to tell us something.
There is a complete CD recording of Iernin on Albany TROY 121-3 given by Marilyn Hill Smith, Claire Powell, Geoffrey Pogson, Henry Herford and Malcolm Rivers with the BBC Singers and BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by the composer.
Review by Malcolm Crowther in Facades
Catharine Rogers is intensely commanding singing the huge title role in George Lloyd’s first opera Iernin, a Cornish legend of a fairy doomed by love of a man, who turns to stone rather than live in a world of hate. With her very own elfin Lord of the Rings hair, Catharine Rogers is compellingly fairy-like and particularly thrilling in her mad scene. Written by a young man barely out of his teens, Iernin is a sumptuous opera from the inter war years inspired by Verdi and Donizetti, with a dramatic film score sweep, haunting melodies and rich colourful orchestrations vividly performed by Surrey Opera soloists and chorus conducted by Jonathan Butcher and directed by Alexander Hargreaves. Its first staging since its première in 1934, it is a rare opportunity to experience this very English grand opera.
Rosie Pentreeath wrote in BBC Music Magazine
We have spent the year celebrating the centenary of Britten and bi-centenaries of Wagner and Verdi. But there is a composer whose 100th year has remained relatively under the radar. This year marks the centenary of English composer George Lloyd and to celebrate, Surrey Opera is staging a little-known opera by the Cornishman.
On an appropriately wind-blown and rain-dampened Saturday evening, I headed to Trinity School Theatre in Croydon for a production of George Lloyd’s Iernin. Set in the wild and remote west of Cornwall, the three-act opera was inspired by, and composed in, the region where I grew up. Suffice to say it is a project close to my heart.
Born in St Ives, Lloyd completed the opera in 1934 at the age of 21. With a libretto provided by his father William, it is a tale of paganism and seduction set against feelings of nationalist antipathy. Eighty years after the work’s short run of performances, Surrey Opera has revived it with brilliant vividness.
In accordance with an enduring Celtic myth, Iernin is one of the nine maidens turned to stone on Boskednan moor near Zennor. When Iernin, played magnificently by soprano Catharine Rogers, is awakened she quickly seduces the honorable Gerent (tenor Edward Hughes). He is soon in turmoil, having to choose between a peace-ensuring marriage to the royal Curnaide, (the elegant mezzo-soprano Felicity Buckland), and his love for the wild Iernin.
The religious Cornish community fears the pagan maiden and the second act reaches a sinister climax as the townspeople turn on her. Baritone Håkan Vramsmo is stirring in his role as Gerent’s concerned friend.
Iernin soon realises that she merely loves the idea of Gerent and flees to the moors. Lamenting that she can no longer survive in this world of hate – ‘O make me as once before here with deep clean life, here in silence to dwell ‘til hatred pass from the world’ – she and Gerent engage in an intense scene of farewell. Hughes and Rogers, both with powerful vocals and moving acting, shine in their performances.
The next thing director Alexander Hargreaves does is to cleverly link the opera to the trauma that George Lloyd experienced serving as a marine in World War II. The narrative jumps forward in time rather abruptly and we catch up with Gerent the wounded soldier. In the final scene, he finds that where Iernin once stood (as a stone and as a woman) there is a monument containing the names of men sacrificed to the war. It’s a moving tribute to Lloyd’s sacrifice to war (he was one of only four survivors but was left with shell shock and suffered the effects of oil ingestion).
The orchestra under the direction of conductor Jonathan Butcher deserves a special mention for expert accompaniment and bringing Lloyd’s expressive score to life. There are moments of gorgeous richness in Lloyd’s music. The musicians, a combination of amateur and professional players, provided seamless shading to the singers’ arias and recitatives.
The staging is simple but evocative and I liked the company’s portrayal of the quirks of a rural community. Compact until the final act, which felt a little on the lengthy side, the production is an accessible watch and a triumphant revival of a neglected work.