VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – The Poisoned Kiss
Adrian Partington Singers, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Richard Hickox
Gallanthus Roderick Williams (baritone), Hob John Graham-Hall (tenor), Gob Richard Stuart (baritone), Lob Mark Richardson (bass), Dipsacus Neal Davies (baritone), Amaryllus James Gilchrist (tenor), Tormentilla Janice Watson (soprano), First Medium Gail Pearson (soprano), Second Medium Helen Williams (soprano), Third Medium Emer McGilloway (contralto), Empress PersicariaAnne Collins (contralto)
Gramophone “Written in the late 1920s when he was at the height of his powers, The Poisoned Kiss is Vaughan Williams’s forgotten opera: this is the first complete recording. The composer chose his friend Evelyn Sharp to write a libretto based on a short story by Richard Garnett about a beautiful princess who lives on poison. But the verse treatment is deplorable. Though the pair had in mind the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the result is coy and self-conscious, never witty or pointed in a Gilbertian way. Vaughan Williams made revisions in 1936 and 1955, but there are still too many embarrassingly unfunny lines. This recording helps to rehabilitate the opera by eliminating virtually all the spoken dialogue.
Neither Vaughan Williams nor Sharp could work out the right balance between comedy and the central romance – the love between Prince Amaryllus and Tormentilla, brought up on poison by her magician father, Dipsacus. Though planned as a light opera, the music has substance. The score is rich in ideas; each number is beautifully tailored, never outstaying its welcome. At almost two hours of music, it has to be said that the opera is too long (and it would be even longer with dialogue), but the inspiration never flags. Charm predominates, with tender melodies like that in the Act 1 duet of Amaryllus and Tormentilla, ‘Blue larkspur in a garden’, and a surging emotional climax in the ensemble which crowns Act 2, when their love leads to the passionate poisoned kiss. There are direct echoes of Sullivan in the multi-layered ensembles and patter numbers, which come closest to achieving the lightness aimed at. Whatever the shortcomings of the piece, no lover of Vaughan Williams’s music should miss hearing this wonderful set, with a strong and characterful cast superbly led by Richard Hickox, and with atmospheric sound enhancing the musical delights. Janice Watson as Tormentilla sings with sweetness and warmth, while giving point to the poisonous side of the character, and James Gilchrist makes an ardent Amaryllus. Pamela Helen Stephen and Roderick Williams are totally affecting in their love music, and Neal Davies is firm and strong as the magician Dipsacus.”
Premiere recording of Vaughan Williams’s opera The Poisoned Kiss released in 2003. This romantic extravaganza contains some of the composer’s finest music, and a sense of fun runs throughout the delightful score.
Richard Hickox was famous for his championship of British twentieth century music, and was a conductor with a special affinity for the music of Vaughan Williams. His award-winning recordings of the composer’s work for Chandos are now generally cited by critics as top choice for the repertoire.
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