Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
First Committee Member
Taras Krysa, Chair
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Graduate Faculty Representative
Number of Pages
The 1951 premier of The Pilgrim's Progress by Ralph Vaughan Williams was not a success. Two years later, Vaughan Williams told Michael Kennedy that "the Pilgrim is dead."1 A handful of attempts have been made to revive the work in the last few years, and a second recording of the opera by Richard Hickox has revived some interest.
Despite this progress, three big problematic areas (outlined by contemporary critics and Vaughan Williams) continue to stand in the way of staging this work. These three areas are the Apollyon scene, the homogeneity of the tempi, and the lack of dramatic elements within the opera that affect the pacing of the production. In addition, two production considerations stood in the way of the premier's success, and these can be recognized and avoided in the future. The first was the inexperience of the stage producer, and the second — related to the first in many ways — was the lack of common vision and perception between composer, producer, and performers.
This document will explore all five issues mentioned above, will show how the Trinity Lyric Opera and Sadler's Wells productions addressed them, and will therefore act as a guide that suggests possible solutions. In preparing this paper I have been to the British Library to study the actual correspondence between Nevill Coghill (the stage director) and Hal Burton (the designer), photographs of the actual stage sets of the 1951 Co vent Garden production, photographs and materials from the 1906 Reigate production that Vaughan Williams wrote incidental music for, Nevill Coghill's production notes, Vaughan Williams's personal copy of The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan with his markings of texts later used in his libretto, and numerous newspaper reviews of the premier. I have also corresponded with Alan Thayer, the founder and director of Trinity Lyric Opera, gaining his insights into staging this work. Finally, I was able to attend final rehearsals and live performance of The Pilgrim's Progress at Sadler's Wells in London.
Other areas of interest are structural similarities between The Pilgrim's Progress and other operas that may have provided models for Vaughan Williams's musical and staging decisions. The inference that the work is inherently or fatally flawed, however, is contested. This work can and should be successfully staged.
The Pilgrim's Progress is not only the crowning work of Vaughan Williams's oeuvre, but is a profound work that deserves more frequent performance. As such, it should enter the public consciousness just as John Bunyan's book did nearly 400 years ago.
Composition (Music); Music--Performance; Opera; Vaughan Williams; Ralph; --1872-1958
Arts and Humanities | Music | Music Performance | Performance Studies | Theatre and Performance Studies
Brunson, Richard Brandon, "Ralph Vaughan William's the Pilgrim's Progress: Problems and Solutions for Future Performances" (2009). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 1192.