With only a score and a few scribed margin notes for guidance, Christopher Cowell (Director) and Bridget Kimak (Designer) have had the delight of defining the focus and look of the new Opera.
The centre of the plot is occupied by the Maelstrom – a Viking word, coined to describe the treacherous whirlpool which lies between the Norwegian mainland and the Lofoten Islands. The word was well known to the Victorian public, following the publication of Edgar Allen Poe's poem “A descent into the Maelstrom”.
Inspired by the mystical world of the Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, Bridget Kimak's set consists of a series of simple lines suggesting the constant swirling of water, around and in which characters move. The costumes have also been conceived in a visionary style because, apart from a few archaeological remains, nobody really knows how the Vikings actually dressed.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor had obviously done some research about the Viking culture and myths before he wrote the Opera. However, there are a few incongruous details, like the devil Djaevelen sniffing snuff, which has been retained in a desire to remain faithful to the original text.


As Music Director Jonathan Butcher has commented, “We are explorers without sat nav, maps, or compass”. The excitement of a totally new opera is discovering the melodic paths and interpreting the composer's hints and signs.
Yet what emerges is a vivid and carefully crafted musical work, fully accessible to a modern audience. Living in the early twentieth century, it is easy to see why Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was Stanford's star pupil at the Royal College of Music. His orchestrations are stylish whilst supporting the action and singers. Jonathan Butcher also believes that Coleridge-Taylor was strongly influenced by the music of Dvorak whom he greatly admired.
When the production was first mooted, whilst the Company was on tour in Cornwall, Stephen Anthony-Brown bravely offered to undertake the transcription from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's “spidery” original hand written text – yet 600 hours later he is still enthusiastic about the work and will be appearing as the Neck King. Surrey Opera is very much in his debt.


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!

'Thelma', by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

A world première at Croydon

It's not often that a company has the opportunity to stage the World Première of an opera but such an opportunity has come the way of Surrey Opera and, as a company in Croydon where Coleridge-Taylor lived and worked, what other more fitting company should take up this exciting and enormously worthwhile challenge?

SC-T, as he is often affectionately known, had not prior to Thelma really tackled a full operatic work and it is curious that for his first venture into the genre he should choose to write the libretto himself – we have no evidence that to prove that it is by anyone else.

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 by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Surrey Opera staged the World Première of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's long-thought lost opera Thelma at The Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, where the composer lived and worked for his entire life, as part of a year-long Festival in the Centenary year of his death.
Coleridge-Taylor, a prolific choral and Orchestral composer, is probably best remembered for his major choral trilogy The Song of Hiawatha, performed annually for many years at the Royal Albert Hall and rivalling only Handel's Messiah and Mendelssohn's Elijah in the public's affections.
Thelma, a poetical setting of a Norse legend, is a thrilling saga of deceit, magic, retribution and the triumph of love over evil. With a score rich in melody and musical invention, plus Coleridge-Taylor's brilliant trademark orchestrations, Thelma might indeed supercede Hiawatha in popularity! The opera was the result of three years intense composition, but did not reach the stage, most probably due to Coleridge-Taylor's untimely death at the age of 37.
Surrey Opera now set the record straight in a new performing edition by Stephen Anthony Brown, with libretto edited by the opera's Director Christopher Cowell and design by Bridget Kimak. Surrey Opera's Artistic Director Jonathan Butcher conducted professional soloists and orchestra with the Surrey Opera chorus.



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