University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Vaughan-Williams: The Pilgrim's Progress

04/01/2018 1:00 pm
04/01/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This was Ralph Vaughan Williams's last operatic essay, professionally produced at Covent garden in April of 1951. RVW had always wanted to write an opera based on John Bunyan's Christian allegory. Three times before I have aired the opera in its 1971 world premiere recording for EMI, with Sir Adrian Boult conducting and starring baritone John Noble as the Pilgrim. On all three past occasions I linked broadcast on a Sunday in late November to the American Thanksgiving holiday, with reference, of course, to the Pilgrims of the old Plymouth Colony.

Bunyan's book was intended to guide believers in leading the Christian life, so the allegory certainly lends itself well to the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. Sections of the score of the opera were written separately over a span of decades. Before Pilgrim's Progress the opera, there was VW's incidental music for a radio play version, broadcast by BBC on September 5, 1943. Boult led the BBC Symphony and BBC Chorus. Actor John Gielgud's voice was employed in the central speaking role of Christian. The complete radioplay and its music was issued through the British Albion record label on CD. That audio document I broadcast last Easter Sunday.

This Easter, however, I return to another recording of the full length opera released through the Chandos label of the UK in 1998. I last broadcast this two-CD release on Sunday, November 29 of that same year. Richard Hickox conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) and the Royal Opera Chorus. Our Pilgrim is British baritone Gerald Finley.