Opera for all

One of the lesser known archives within the UL’s music collections is the Coates-Lloyd Archive. Edith Coates and her husband Harold Powell-Lloyd were opera singers, who started their careers at the Old Vic in the 1920’s. Powell-Lloyd gradually turned from performing towards production and worked with both professional and amateur companies over a period of many years in the twentieth century. One of the most interesting areas of the archive is the collection of vocal scores marked up by Harold Powell-Lloyd for performance. Among these is a score prepared for a production of La Traviata by the Welsh National Opera in 1966.

Grand Theatre, Swansea, photographed by Fanrailuk. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Swanseagrand.jpg

This period was vitally important in the history of the WNO with changes being made both in the structure of the company (a move from an amateur to a professional chorus), whilst financial changes gave the company the possibility of having their own orchestra, rather than being dependent on the schedules of the City of Birmingham and Bournemouth Symphony orchestras, who had been providing orchestral support up to that point.  A hand bill tucked inside Traviata demonstrates how busy was the schedule of the Welsh National in spite of their limited rehearsal time and still largely amateur company. The spring season at the Grand Theatre, Swansea, included performances of Don Giovanni, Die Fledermaus, Fidelio, Traviata, Rossini’s Moses, and The bartered bride.  

Cartoon directions for a Welsh National Opera production of La Traviata
Copyright Cambridge University Library

The heavy workload is reflected in Powell Lloyd’s production notes for Traviata.  They are minutely prescriptive with the slightest action thoroughly worked out, and noted.  There are even sketches of exactly how Powell Lloyd envisaged a scene being played out. Little cartoon figures illustrate the closing moments of the opera with Violetta spinning into Alfredo’s arms before being caught by him and deposited on the divan.

Any business with props is carefully planned, and usually heavily underlined in Powell Lloyd’s notes.  Props were clearly something of an issue, and some pages of notes inserted into the vocal score make entertaining reading.  These appear to be hastily compiled presumably during one of the final rehearsals. All artists are warned not to wave their glasses around, while “Janet” is warned to “Keep fan still whilst Jack is singing”. Perhaps oddly there is little mention of musical problems in these notes; the cryptic note “Violetta. End of aria” indicates that there was some issue but there is nothing further on this. There are however copious notes on the placement of furniture and props, and reminders to cast members re costume “Alfredo – any other trousers?” This emphasis on the “business” of the production suggests that the musical side was already well established and rehearsed, but movement, use of props, costume, lighting and set design had to be re-thought and sometimes adjusted during each new staging at a different venue. Movement on stage was evidently carefully choreographed too, so that singers could perform freely without having to worry too much about the potential pitfalls of performing on an unfamiliar stage.

By 1973 Powell-Lloyd was retired but still worked extensively with amateur companies. In the same year, in common with companies throughout the UK, Redruth Amateur Operatic Society put on a production of Fiddler on the roof.  Powell Lloyd started work on the production in late October 1972 with a series of shows planned for April 1973.  The vocal score, in common with those of professional productions, is expertly bound, carefully interleaved and marked up.

A scene from Cambridge Operatic Society’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. Photograph by John Thompson http://www.jetphotographic.com/ Thanks to CaOS and Caroline Taylor.

Unlike earlier productions there is less emphasis here on dealing with props, although there are notes on basic stage movements (entrances, exits, who exactly should be on stage when).  It is clear even when flicking quickly through this score that Powell Lloyd was perhaps more deeply involved with the amateur productions than he was with many of the professional ones.  Here there are many lighting cues suggesting that his involvement here was with the overall design, rather than being responsible for one area more than another.  Indeed the only area in Fiddler where he largely abdicates responsibility is in the dance sequences; but even here where dramatic effect is called for Powell Lloyd is present, as for example in the dance sequence with the Cossack militiamen when a sudden moment of clumsiness presages the destruction of the village at the end of the musical.

Powell Lloyd’s vocal scores are a fascinating insight into the world of opera and musical theatre. Professional productions are often surprisingly rigidly engineered while amateur productions are ambitious and often much freer in their approach to performance. These scores are a snapshot of British opera production through the twentieth century.



About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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3 Responses to Opera for all

  1. sw508 says:

    Brilliant! Brings it all to life, and aren’t the little drawings for Violetta on the VS delightful!



  2. Pingback: To celebrate, to commemorate: Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976) | MusiCB3 Blog

  3. Pingback: Curious music objects | MusiCB3 Blog

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