Never heard of “Thelma”? Well now is your chance!
Musical works that have never been performed usually have an interesting story behind them – either they are lousy, unfinished, or the composer felt dissatisfied with it, but none of these reasons apply to “Thelma”.
Written between 1907 and 1909, Samuel Coleridge Taylor clearly expected his opera to be performed, but as Catherine Carr, who discovered the manuscript tucked away in the British Library in 2003, said,
The thing I've not been able to understand is why it wasn't staged. Van Moorden, the artistic director of Carl Rosa Opera, refused to stage it and Coleridge-Taylor was bitterly, bitterly disappointed.
People have said there were insurmountable staging problems. I don't know. Maybe the technical demands of that time were too problematic to engineer. Certainly it cannot have been the music, the quality is such, it couldn't have been that!
Some have suggested that after this disappointment, the work was dropped because Coleridge-Taylor was simply too busy.
He travelled widely, received many commissions and, conducted choirs and orchestras, including performances of his most popular work, The Song of Hiawatha. It seems the chain-smoking composer led such a hectic life it is not entirely surprising that his opera never saw the light of day again.
In 1912 he died prematurely, at the age of 37, and his papers remained in Croydon with the family until the early 1990's when they were eventually given to the British Library.
As part of the 2012 Centenary year celebrations to be held in Croydon, members of Surrey Opera have been grappling with the original hand-written score and the new transcription by Stephen Anthony Brown in readiness for the first ever production of the opera at the Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls 9-11th February 2012.
Fortunately our well known Director Christopher Cowell is not discouraged by “the insurmountable problems” and brings the additional experience of working in Scandinavia, thus ensuring the work – based upon a Norse legend – reflects a genuine Nordic flavour.
Will “Thelma” appeal to a 21st century audience?
Definitely – opera lovers are in for a treat.