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Thelma review at Ashcroft Croydon

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In the year marking the centenary of his death, Croydon – where Samuel Coleridge-Taylor lived for nearly the whole of his life – is commemorating him in style with a substantial festival, one of whose major events is the world premiere of his only opera.

One of Britain’s first important black composers, in his lifetime Coleridge-Taylor was a celebrity. Born in Holborn in 1875, he trained at the Royal College of Music and came to attention with the premiere of his cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in 1899. With two more sections added, Hiawatha became a choral society standard for decades, and was regularly staged at the Albert Hall. His music later become unfashionable, though there is now a revival underway.

Written probably to his own libretto, Thelma was composed in 1907-09 but not performed during Coleridge-Taylor’s lifetime. To his own heavily revised libretto, Christopher Cowell’s discrete and effective production reveals its qualities, but also its faults. The second act is much too long, and the pacing as a whole awkward. But there is some very attractive music here, especially in the scene in the undersea kingdom – a genuine highlight.

Thelma is set in Norway in the 11th century, where a standard love triangle is complicated by broken promises and the possession of a magic amulet. It’s naive stuff, as is some of the score, the best of which nevertheless has an almost Dvorak-like charm.

Under Jonathan Butcher’s astute baton, the company impresses with strong voices throughout. We may not hear Thelma again for a while, but Surrey Opera has done it proud.

Production Information

Ashcroft, Croydon, February 9-11

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Christopher Cowell
Jonathan Butcher
Surrey Opera
Joanna Weeks, Alberto Sousa, Hakan Vramsmo, Rhonda Browne, Tim Baldwin, Oliver Hunt, Patricia Robertson
Running time
3hrs 15mins
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