COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 81

The Chronicle of Nine: The Tragedy of Queen Jane (1984)

for Soprano, Two Altos, Four Tenors, Two Baritones, Bass, SATB Chorus, Orchestra (Opera in Three Acts)

Libretto by Florence Stevenson

Duration: 120 min.

Recording: forthcoming on BMOP/sound

Premiere: 2020; Odyssey Opera; G. Rose; New England Conservatory, Jordan Hall, Boston, MA

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The Chronicle of Nine is in the copious tradition of operas about thrones and those who jockey around them: in this case concerning the character of Lady Jane Grey (ca. 1537–1554), whose marriage and ascendancy were arranged more or less in spite of her, and who was overthrown and ultimately condemned by the forces of the (rightful) Mary (Tudor). The libretto is by Florence Stevenson and combines a straightforward dramatization of the events with great sensitivity to the people who lived them. Several important scenes in the opera are duets. The composer has tried to intensify the mood of these both melodically and coloristically: the love duet between Jane and her (arranged) husband Guildford Dudley emphasizes harp and vibraphone; the dialogue for Jane and Mary before the execution uses only an accompanying ensemble of six cellos. Of course, there is still room for grand crowd scenes and heavy orchestral preludes; indeed, the four orchestral movements have been extracted to form Symphony No. 7, “The Tragedy of Queen Jane.”

As for titling the opera, The Chronicle of Nine was the original name of Ms. Stevenson’s stage play, and she meant it to refer to the number of days of Jane’s reign. But in the opera the title refers not only to that but to the number of active singing roles and the number of scenes in which there is vocal action. (The compose tries to ascribe to coincidence the opera’s nine-squared opus number—81!)

For much of the text, the vocal music is less in a set-aria tradition than in the manner of impassioned-recitative or through-melody, as one finds in one way or another in such operatic composers as Monteverdi and Wagner. In the English language, however, perhaps the closest comparison is with Vaughan Williams’s Riders to the Sea. In part for contrast to this, a tenor, acting as a minstrel, sings an introductory vocal ballad between the prelude and first scene of each act; these are of a more “arioso” style and relate to the style of Elizabethan lute songs. (Arnold Rosner)

The work was premiered in February 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts by Odyssey Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose and recorded for future release on the BMOP/sound label. The cast was: Lady Jane Grey (Megan Pachecano); Earl of Arundel (James Demler); Earl of Pembroke (David Salsbery Fry); John Dudley (Aaron Engebreth); Lady Dudley (Krista River); Guildford Dudley (Eric Carey); Henry Grey (William Hite); Frances Brandon Grey (Rebecca Krouner); Lady (Queen) Mary (Stephanie Kacoyanis); A Minstrel (Gene Stenger)

Several excerpts were previously recorded:

The purely orchestral preludes to each of the three acts plus the wedding ballet comprise the four movement Symphony No. 7, “The Tragedy of Queen Jane.”

The three minstrel ballads that precede each act comprise the song cycle Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady.

Jane’s extensive “Good Friday Aria” (Into Thy Hands) from Act I, Scene 2 is also a performable extract and has been separately recorded.