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THE YELLOW DRESS
This short opera takes an uncompromising look at one of the great challenges of our society: our treatment of older people, and particularly those whose mental fragility makes them both vulnerable and burdensome.
The story starkly explores the choices we are forced to make and how the ties of duty and devotion are tested by a chance of love.
Using a multi-media approach, the story travels across time and space to a deliberately equivocal conclusion.
The cast has two female singers (SS), and the role of Mother is primarily a spoken, acted role (except for a single, poignant, sung line), and a chamber orchestra of seven players: flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, keyboard and three percussionists who command a considerable battery of colourful instruments, both tuned and untuned.
The musical style of The Yellow Dress is still largely lyrical, with a musical language more demanding than that used for the Shakespeare songs, complementing the tone and subject-matter of the opera.
A young woman returns reluctantly from her holiday romance in the sun, to the stifling atmosphere of her elderly mother’s home. She arrives at the dark, airless house with the week’s shopping, and tries to slot back into her claustrophobic existence, but we can already feel her overwhelming desire for freedom. Her sense of duty keeps her there; but we find that her mother, with a declining mental capacity, has never loved her – making the situation even more difficult.
Mother and daughter experienced a traumatic event in the past, which has been pivotal for both of them. They both apportion blame to each other for the tragedy, and this unrest is expressed throughout the opera in the ever-present image of the sea.
Now that the daughter has returned, she is torn between the thankless task of caring for her mother and following her heart – she had a passionate holiday romance. The tension comes to a head when her lover starts demanding attention, and she cannot reconcile these two major threads of her life.
The opera’s conclusion is deliberately open-ended, leaving the listener with the unanswered question of how best to balance the duty of care with the promise of romantic love.