Ahead of the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s birth in 2022, Opera Holland Park is releasing a performance of The House of Life. Leading British tenor David Butt Philip and the acclaimed pianist and accompanist James Baillieu were filmed for Opera Holland Park by Simon Wall at Leighton House Museum.
Contemporaneous with Vaughan Williams’s bracing Robert Louis Stevenson cycle, Songs of Travel, the song cycle The House of Life is an uninhibited and intimate celebration of mutual love. It draws together six of the most delicate, devoted and delirious sonnets by poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Love Sight, Silent Noon, Love’s Minstrels, Heart’s Haven, Death in Love and Love’s Last Gift.
When Rossetti’s first wife and muse, the Pre-Raphaelite poet, painter and model Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Siddal, died in 1862 at the age of 32, Rossetti buried his poems with her. When he later retrieved and published them in 1870, he was subject to an excoriating attack by the literary critic Robert Buchanan and was accused of celebrating ‘merely animal sensations’ in his sonnets.
The motifs of sunlight, twilight and moonlight are skillfully wrought in music from the period between the composer’s studies in Germany and London, and his studies in France with Maurice Ravel. The love described is ecstatic with no hint of impending tragedy.
Long associated with Opera Holland Park, and a building with which the poet and artist Rossetti was familiar through his friendship with Frederic Leighton, Leighton House Museum forms the backdrop of the filmed recital. David Butt Philip had learned The House of Life as a young baritone and was determined to revisit the song cycle as a tenor in this transposition.
James Clutton, Chief Executive and Director of Opera, says:
“David has graced the stage at Opera Holland Park many times, always with that dazzling voice and that golden talent. We had long been discussing ideas for possible recitals but when David suggested The House of Life, I wanted it to be the first in a new series of OHP recitals. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be there at the filming and hear the soaring music of Vaughan Williams, the alluring words of Rossetti and the partnership between David and James Baillieu, and to enjoy the experience of being transported away from 2021 to another time and place – a perfect place at that.”
The House of Life will be streamed via the company’s YouTube (here) and Facebook (here) channels at 7pm on Tuesday 13 April, with a suggested donation of £5. It will be available to watch on demand until 30 April.
Opera Holland Park would like to thank The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust for making this project possible.
ABOVE: James Baillieu (piano) and David Butt Philip (tenor)