The Summer Child
Report up-dated Friday 13 January 2023

A chamber opera based on an ancient British legend taken from “Historia Regum Britanniae” 

(The History of the Kings of Britain) by the 12th century Welsh monk Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Synopsis

The opera tells the story of the love triangle between Locrinus and Gwendolen, the mythical first king and queen of England, and the king’s secret concubine Estrildis, who is imprisoned in an underground cave, along with their daughter, Hafren, the eponymous “Summer Child”. Locrinus is terrified to reveal this double life because of the threatening presence of Gwendolen’s aging father, Corineus the giant killer.  The relationship between Corineus and Gwendolen’s son, the young prince Maddan, culminates in the Ballad of Gogmagog, Corineus' account of how he slew the fearsome giant, providing a delightful sub-plot to the story's tragic conclusion. Locrinus deceives both his wife, his father-in-law and his own mother, Ignoge, by pretending that the cave is the ritual shrine of his ancestors. When Corineus dies, Locrinus begins to live openly with Estrildis, banishing Gwendolen to her Cornish home. But the sons of Corineus murder Locrinus in revenge while Gwendolen has Estrildis and Hafren drowned in the River Severn. “Afon Hafren” is the Welsh name for the Severn. The unfolding narrative of the opera is interspersed with a series of interludes describing the flow of the river from source to sea in poetry and music. In the opera’s closing scene, Estrildis and Hafren are overwhelmed by the Severn’s famous tidal bore like a “Deus ex Machina”.

Progress report

It is a little over 3 months since my last progress report dated 28 September 2022. Preparation of a full score for chamber orchestra is now well advanced. For various creative reasons I decided to begin work first of all on the third and final act. The death from old-age of Corineus the giant killer happens at the end of act 2. In Act 3 all the tension and conflict is unleashed that the stabilising presence of Corineus has repressed during the first two acts. 

The partially completed full score is available for perusal on line:

Cast

Estrildis (A woman imprisoned by Locrinus as a sex-slave) – coloratura soprano requiring exceptional vocal range (G3 to Eflat6) and vocal virtuosity.

Chorus – solo counter-tenor performing the river poem during “river-interludes”. The counter-tenor voice emphasises the androgynous nature of the role. 

Locrinus (First King of England) – tenor  

Gwendolen (Queen and wife of Locrinus)– soprano
Maddan (The 7-year-old son of Gwendolen) – ideally a boy soprano, but could be taken by an adult female as a child-impersonator.

Ignoge (Mother of Locrinus) – contralto

Corineus (Father of Gwendolen, also known as the Giant Killer) – bass-baritone - A highly characterful part requiring a big voice and a big personality.

Hafren (The 7-year-old daughter of Estrildis) – as the Summer Child, she is the eponymous character. Could be taken by an adult child-impersonator.


Time line of the creation of "The Summer Child"

1988  First encounter with the legend of Sabrina, goddess of the River Severn, at a children’s entertainment during the Bath Festival. 

Purchased a copy of The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth to find out more.

April 1989: First expedition to observe and photograph the Severn bore.

Summer 1991: family boating holiday on the River Severn.

1995 Obtained a copy of Robert Graves’ “The White Goddess”.

Undertook extensive research into the origins and meaning of the legend of Sabrina including motivic connections with Celtic, Greek and Roman mythology.

April 1999: Completed the poem Afon Hafren; 43 verses in rhyming quatrains charting the river’s course from source to sea.

February 2000: Completed first draft of operatic libretto with detailed research notes.

2003: Awarded a grant of £7,500 by South West Arts to compose the opera.

2003: Several expeditions by car to visit and photograph the River Severn from source to sea.

2003: Completed a vocal score with piano reduction of the opera in a version based on the system of Sea Chords.

(Sea Chords were originally created for the sea interludes of my opera “Seven Stars” (1989) the homophonic link is entirely coincidental.)

2005: Obtained a senior lectureship at Oxford Brookes University; Obliged to abandon work on the opera for the time being through pressure of time.

2010: Discovered the principal of “All-Interval-Fractal-Sets”.

2011 Began work on sketches for a complete redraft of the opera based on All-Interval-Fractal-Sets. The process of drafting a complete structure for a new version of this 3-act opera according to fractal principles took 10 years.

2011 Began writing songs for voice and piano in order to develop greater stylistic versatility in writing for the solo voice. Works Include “Six Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay” (2011 - for mezzo-soprano and piano; written for Lore Lixenberg), “Dark Seas” (2014 - 5 poems by Philip Larkin for coloratura soprano, clarinet and piano; written for Sarah Leonard), “Three Shakespeare Sonnets” (2016) and “Mountains of the Mind” (2017 - settings of 12 poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins for high baritone and piano).

14 May 2013: first performance of “The Ballade of Gogmagog” at Bristol Music Club with the composer in the role of Corineus accompanied by a small orchestra conducted by John Pitts. This is the only part of the version of “The Summer Child” based on the theory of Sea-Chords that was ever fully orchestrated. The entire version based on Sea Chords was eventually abandoned altogether.

2019: Devised the principle of Zooming-into-Infinity using All-Interval-Fractal-Sets to create River-like structures in sound.

July 2020: Posted a video on YouTube combing a reading of the poem “Afon Hafren”, a sequence of photographs from the 2003 River Severn archive and a musical accompaniment based on the principle of Zooming-into-Infinity created using Sibelius computer software.

December 2021: Resolved to complete the new version of “The Summer Child” based on the principles of All-Interval-Fractal-Sets, prompted by a call-for-scores by Fresh Squeezed Opera of New York; Completed a new version of the Ballad of Gogmagog scored for small chamber ensemble in time Fresh-Squeezed Opera’s December deadline.

January 2022; Began work on the vocal score of the complete opera with piano reduction in short score.

July 2022; Completed the vocal score with piano reduction in time for another deadline from Fresh Squeezed Opera.

27 September 2022: Completed a revised version of the vocal score incorporating more detailed dynamics, articulation and tempi. Began work on the full orchestral score. For creative reasons, decided to begin with the 3rd and final Act.

January 12 2023: Completed the orchestration of Act 3.

Documentation

In addition to the half-completed full score, the following material is currently available for perusal on line. I have removed the vocal score with piano reduction for the time being. There have been so many revisions during the preparation of the full score that that vocal score is now significantly out of date.