How do you set a classic novel to music? Moreover, how do you set that most popular of English novelists, Jane Austen, to music?
Jonathan Dove said that he ‘heard music’ when he first read Mansfield Park. With leading British opera librettist and playwright, Alasdair Middleton, he set about adapting this classic novel, and from the first words sung by the whole company, ‘Mansfield Park, Chapter One’, there is a strong narrative drive, impeccable vocal writing and wonderful ensembles that sparkle with style and wit.
This composition has the distinction of being the first completed operatic adaptation of any Jane Austen novel ever to be staged. Commissioned by Heritage Opera Company in 2011 as a site specific piece to be performed in stately homes, it has 10 solo roles accompanied by an intimate chamber orchestra.
In a 2017 interview in the Guardian, Dove said that ’Fanny Price’s pained silences gave me the impulse to write music for her’. He picked up the musicality of Austen’s writing and, in conjunction with Alasdair Middleton, created a witty and accessible interpretation. The music is an enjoyably eclectic mix of styles from classical pastiche to Philip Glass by way of the soaringly romantic, as well as hints of Benjamin Britten and even Stephen Sondheim.
This is a love story at heart, as Fanny Price and the other residents of Mansfield Park and their friends overcome hurdles to find true love and happiness during the course of the opera’s 18 chapters. There are all sorts of repressed emotions – symbolised by the formality and constraints of the ‘Big House’ – and it can also be seen as a prophetic social panorama, with its underlying clash of moralities as old Tory ‘decency’ goes head to head with nouveau riche opportunism.
Book tickets for Mansfield Park