Dorset Opera: Berners - le Carrosse Du Saint-Sacrement
Dickinson, Peter, Musical Opinion
July 26, Coade Theatre, Bryanston, Dorset: Lord Berners' only opera, his longest work which took him two years to write, was staged in Paris in 1924 and again in 1948. In one act, as half a double bill, the Mérimée story gave Berners plenty of opportunities for showing people behaving badly, which amused him, and mocking heterosexual relationships - and the church.
La Pericola (Josephine Thorpe) is an actress who has taken Lima, Peru, by storm. She's the mistress of the cantankerous Viceroy (Graeme Danby) but seems to have been sharing her favours with a much admired young bull-fighter. After some wrangling about all this the Viceroy, who is suffering from what he insists is not gout, decides to spoil her by giving her his new carriage just arrived from Madrid.
He's not well enough to go to mass at the cathedral himself so she rides in the carriage alone. There is a huge scandal when the coachman, driving very fast, causes a collision with the coach of a prominent aristocratic lady and some fisticuffs result. When La Pericola and the Bishop both call on the Viceroy after the service he is surprised that she has donated the carriage to the church to take communion to the sick and dying. At the end we are assured that this will bring her eternal life.
The libretto is wordy but it comes off well, even with only intermittent surtitles, in the English translation from the original French made by Adam Pollock for the BBC production for Berners' centenary in 1983 (out on CD in 2001, Marco Polo 8.225 155). Berners' approach is throughcomposed without any breaks because he felt the story runs continuously towards the climactic carriage ride which functions like a gangster film chase.
It is difficult to see why this gem of a comic opera had never been seen in England but the need for a large orchestra may have been a deterrent. …