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Last night I was very privileged to attend the first performance of Jonathon Dove’s chamber opera, Mansfield Park, based on Jane Austen’s novel. The first performance was held at Boughton House in Northamptonshire, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleugh who were also present and were very kind hosts.

For once the English weather was kind and we arrived at Boughton on a beautifully still, warm evening.

Boughton House is, in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in England, and is also in Northamptonshire, making it the perfectly appropriate place to stage an opera which is also set in that county. The Duke of Buccleuch writing in the programme noted:

Mansfield Park is coming home to its original Northamptonshire setting and although Boughton was sleeping during the regency period it is just the sort of place which might have witnessed the landscape gardening, amateur theatricals, balls and arranged marriages which Jane Austen describes with such fluency in this most moving of her novels.

I’ve waxed lyrical about Boughtons gardens before, when writing about one of the estate villages, Weekly, which was one of the locations for Pride and Prejudice (2005)( It served as Mr Collins’ Hunsford Rectory). It certainly looked stunning last night, and, prior to the performance, we were treated to drinks and canapes on the west terrace, then during the interval to more drinks in the serenely beautiful Fountain Court, with its white flowers scenting the air.

The audience was small-about 70 people – and the opera was staged in the Great Hall, the stage projecting into the audience from in front of the fireplace.

The set was simple but effective. The back drop was a white sheet printed with the opening page of Mansfield Park taken from the first edition. This material then continued onto the floor of the stage itself. The props were few- some chairs and a desk painted white- but the chairs wer also upholstered in the material printed with Jane Austen’s prose. The accompanying music was provided by one piano and four hands. Perfect for a travelling opera company and not too overwhelming in a small setting.

Heritage Opera which comissioned and performed the piece is a small opera company that specialises in performing operas in intimate settings. This is perfect for Mansfield Park, for it has always had a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere to my mind. The Bertram girls are desperate to fly the nest and the restraints  of Sir Thomas’s manner of parenting, and poor Fanny Price is effectively enslaved and has no choice where she is to reside, be it at Portsmouth or Northamptonshire.

The opera was of two acts: the scenes in Act One, or rather Volume One are set out below

and the scenes in Volume 2, here

The opera libretto very carefully  concentrated on the love story between Fanny and Edmund and the machinations of the Crawfords. As a result of time constraints some character were inevitably lost- notably William Price and Tom Bertram ( and the Portsmouth episode was omitted completely).And though Mr Yates did not appear(which was sad for meas he is one of my favourites) Julia did elope with him carrying a large Gladstone bag…. I have to say that to distill this very complex novel into  a performance of just over 2 hours in length and to address many of the important points in the novels was something I didn’t think could be done. But it was achieved last night with some aplomb and style.

I loved some of the arias for all the company, my favourite being Chapter Four, Landscape Gardening, where it was made very clear that  these changes to ye fallen avenues at Southerton were going to be made “because they could”, and the aria in Chapter Eleven,  A View of a Wedding” was very witty. The lyrics written by Alasdair Middleton, reflecting the short shrift Jane Austen gave to descriptions of weddings in her novels, reflecting her class’s dislike of parade and show :

Splendid wedding, splendid wedding: goodbye, goodbye!

The final aria “Chapter the Last” was exquisitly beautiful, a rather elegant but wistful setting of the opening of the final chapter of the book:

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

Indeed, it was a joy to recognise many, many passages from the novel quoted verbatim. I do love it when Jane Austen’s matchless prose is not destroyed , as has been very much the case with many of the latter TV and film adaptations of her works. Here, instead, it was glorified and relished. It was also a relief  to realise that all concerned in this production were not going to inflict the heritage bonnets and breeches vision of Jane Austen upon us.  The composer Jonathon Dove in his address to the audience before the performance, made it very clear that in this novel-as we Janeites are aware- nearly everyone acts very badly most of the time. As the director Michael McCaffery writes in the programmes:

The world of Jane Austen has become a world of cliches, nice behaviour and quiet moderate manners.What we tend to forget is that her books were about real people who breathed and existed at the time,rather than remote historical figures….

I could not agree more.

And of course the internalized dialogues of Fanny Price are simply crying out to be translated into arias when she can address us, her audience, with some passion about the dreadful goings on around her, and her heart  being ripped apart, bombarded as it is with tons of strong emotions:  unrequited love, frustration and jealously. Serena Wagner who portrayed Fanny last night  was the best Miss Price I have seen on stage of film.  Not odd, or a misfit, she is the one true moral point in the whole of the machinations unfolding about her. Ms Wagner portrayed her beautifully.

John Rawnley was a wonderful Sir Thomas but my highest praise goes to Sarah Helsby Hughes as the fascinating Miss Crawford. She was a real seductress- poor Edmund hardly stood a chance once she decided she  was going to make him her target. But eventually he- played admirably by Thomas Eaglem- came to his senses. Without needing to be shaken rather hard, which is always the temptation I have with this particular character….;)

The supporting cast were rather wonderful too- Darren Clarke made a very sympathetic and amusing Mr Rushworth in his pink satin cloak. Eloise Routledge was a rather aptly vicious Maria Bertrram and Paloma Bruce a more sympathetic Julia( just as it should be). Sadly, Mrs Norris was not very prominent, and Fanny’s childhood was rather glossed over, so we had no opportunity for her evil ways to manifest themselves. But then in a performance of just over 2 hours, something had to give….

On the whole I adored this lively and bravura performance. It is on tour in the north of England for the next few weeks and if you have the chance to go- do. For you will not regret it. I hope a recoding or a DVD will be available for us all to enjoy it.

Oh, and for fans of “Pug”, rest assured he made his appearance. Almost constantly in the arms of Lady Bertram during Act One…in the shape of a stuffed plush toy!

If you go here you can listen to some extracts from the opera in an interview with the composer, Jonathon Dove, as given to BBC Radio 4’s Front Rowprogramme. The Mansfield Park piece begins about 6 minutes in, and so …enjoy!

The Bodleian Library has published this article on its website which gives some details about the purchasing of The Watsons manuscript.

The article reveals that financial arrangements in place to purchase the manuscript were rather more complex than has previously been realised, with many other organisations, including the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, helping towards the total purchase price ( which is now confusingly reported to be over £1 million):

The acquisition which cost in excess of £1 million was made possible with a substantial grant (£894,700) from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). Other generous funders are the Friends of the National Libraries, the Friends of the Bodleian, Jane Austen’s House Museum (Jane Austen Memorial Trust) as well as other supporters.

Sotheby’s report on the selling of Lot 51 in its sale last Thursday can be accessed here.

It is good to report that the Bodleian Library has plans to put the manuscript on show:

We will make the manuscript available to the general public who can come and see it as early as this autumn when The Watsons will indeed be a star item in our forthcoming exhibition Treasures of the Bodleian. Our thanks go to all our supporters for their enormous generosity in supporting this purchase and in recognising the importance of keeping this priceless manuscript in a British institution…

And for the moment that ends the news on this rather interesting Janian episode. Its been an interesting few days….

Will Gompertz of BBC News has just filed  this report on the BBC News website. Click here to read all about it.

The Oxford Library was assisted in its purchase by monies from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Frankly, I’m so very glad it is staying in this country.

The manuscript of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons  which we discussed a while ago here ,was sold by Sotheby’s in London this morning for the amazing sum of £850,000

The original sale estimate was between £200,000 to £300,000. The final sale price certainly exceeded that estimate, and with the buyers premium to pay, exceeded £900,000, the final price to pay being  £993,250.  

As I predicted, the buyer was an institution and not a private individual. The burning question of the hour is, which institution? Anyone like to hazard a guess?

Here are three pages from the manuscript taken from the Sotheby’s Lot Description. You can find all the details of the manuscript in Sothebys E-Catalogue here

The evidence would confirm that Jane’s fame and appeal is certainly not on the wane…

If anyone was in doubt of Jane Austen’s continuing appeal, they only have to look at the proliferation, this year, of costume exhibits that try to recreate the clothes of her era. Here at Austenonly we have seen part of Dress for Excess exhibit at the Brighton Pavilion, and Fairfax House in York  is also to hold an exhibition of “Revolutionary” clothing in the autumn.

Now visitors to Liverpool’s Sudley House Museum are in for a treat- they are staging a costume exhibit which will feature men and women’s  fashion from 1790- 1850. The exhibit,  which is free to all visitors, will be held  from  8th July  2011 to the 7th  May 2012. IThe Museum hopes the exhibit will appeal to readers of Jane Austen and Mrs Gaskell…..from the photographic evidence, I don’t doubt it.

The Curator of the exhibit,  Pauline Rushton,  seen above with two dresses from the 1840 and 1850s, and below with a dress dating from 1810, said of the exhibit:

“We cover the period from 1790 to 1850 so it’s about a 60 year span and during that time there were a lot of changes in costume in terms of the style, as you would expect. There were political changes going on, economic changes and many social changes where people were rising through the social levels and fashion was filtering down for the first time.”

Liverpool was of course one of the great West Coast ports associated with the triangular Slave Trade, and the city amassed much wealth from the profits of that trade. The costumes on show reflect that wealth, proudly displayed by its citizens.  I often wonder if the heiress that got away ,Mary King in Pride and Prejudice, had any associations with the trade, her  uncle hailing from Liverpool as he did…..

If you go here you can see six more examples of the dresses on display : I adore the black evening dress made of net….I do hope some of you are able to visit this exhibit which looks lovely. And is free!

In this fifth part of our journey around the Royal Pavilion , Brighton, George IVs pleasure palace, which would no doubt have been an object of scorn for Jane Austen , as averse to him as she most decidedly was……we are now nearing the end of the tour of the rooms on the Steyne Front on the ground floor. (You can see the ground-plan of the Pavilion, above).  After leaving the Banqueting Gallery, we move into the Saloon, which is the central room on the facade, numbered “1” in red on the ground-plan above.

This room was being restored when I visited, and so to see the interior we shall take a look at another of the watercolours by John Nash, the Prince Regent’s favoured architect. This is his  view of the room as it appeared in the 1820s.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This room was originally decorated in the Chinoiserie style but from the 1820s it took on a different character, and was re-decorated in the Indian style.  The gilded canopies above the wall panels, the overmantle mirrors and above the curtains are all derived from Mogul architecture. The scheme was designed by Robert Jones.

This room leads directly into the Music Room Gallery, seen below. Again this room has undergone many changes in style: it was first divided into two rooms-aneating room and a library. This was when the Pavilion took the form of the Marine Pavilion, designed by Henry Holland in the 1780s. The room was then made into its current large size and the dividing wall was removed. It was decorated in the Chinoiserie style in 1803. It was then used as a billiards room. It then underwent another change and  was decorated in the Egyptian Style. Accordingly  it was known as the Egyptian Gallery. But in 1815 the Prince reverted to type and Chinoiserie again was designated as the theme for the room, and in 1821 it was eventually decorated in the style we see today and in Nash’s watercolour, below.

The elegant columns are made of cast iron and support the floor above. Some of the furniture from the Chinese Drawing Room in Carlton House in London, the place Jane Austen visited in 1815, made its way here before that building was demolished. .This room was often used for small musical gatherings.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

It is in this room that some of the Dress for Excess costumes are on display.  A lady’s pelisse circa 1825…

And here is a better picture of it, remember you can enlarge all these photographs simply by clicking on them…..

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Here is a close-up of the front detail of the pelisse

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

and here is a close-up photograph of the shoulder detail. I love the covered button detail……

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Also on display was a very elaborate spencer made of fine silk

and a uniform worn at the Battle of Waterloo……which is quite ironic as the Prince Regent was so impressed by the Allies victory at Waterloo in 1815 that by the end of  his life he had convinced himself that he was actually there taking part. Which he decidedly was not.

.

Next in this series, the magnificent Music Room.

We have investigated the links between Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen before on this site, and so when I heard today’s Woman’s Hour programme, which contained a discussion of the two, I though you might like the opportunity to share it.

The programme was a discussion of the merits of the two authors, and included a comparison of their respective fame during their own lifetimes

In the early 19th century Jane Austen was certainly less famous,and less well-connected to the Romantic literary world  than The Great Maria, but now that position has changed totally , with Maria Edgeworth being relatively unknown.

A new edition of Maris Edgeworth’s book Patronage, edited by Professor John Mullan was published on the 4th July and the discussion marked that event. John Mullan is a Professor of English at University College London,and we have heard him take part in Amanda Vickery’s Voices from the Old Bailey programmes last year. He hosts the Guardian Book Club, and contributes regularly to the Newsnight Review, LRB and the New Statesman. Patronage is a novel that is of interest to Janeites as it is considered that it may have influenced Jane Austen when she was writing Persuasion.

If you go here you can listen again to the programme -the piece on Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth began approximately 30 minutes into the  broadcast. Scroll almost to the bottom of the page to see the details. You can download a podcast of the programme, or simply “listen again” to it if you go here; it will be available from tomorrow for seven days, I think, and will of course be dated the 7th July.

Do enjoy it, as I think you will find it interesting.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Sarah Siddons birth in 1755. She is  shown below in a portrait by Opie, and so it is an appropriate opportunity to give you advance notice of an exhibition that would surely appeal to Jane Austen. The National Portrait Gallery in London  will be staging The First Actresses: from Nell Gwynn to Sarah Siddons  from the 230th October 2011 till the 8th January 2012.

The exhibition will examine the portraits and careers of actresses from the Restoration, when they were first legally allowed to appear on the professional stage to the early part of the 19th century. So, the exhibition will present information on and portraits of actresses such as Nell Gwynn, the Covent Garden orange seller, comedian and royal mistress of Charles II, through to Sarah Siddons, the most famous actress of the Georgian era, whose performances were said to be so intense that a co-star was once said to have been rendered speechless, while members of the audience fainted in awe. Jane Austen would have loved to have had the opportunity to do so: she was desperate to see Mrs Siddons perform but never quite managed it…though she was close on a few occasions.

The exhibition will feature portraits of 52 actresses, including Dorothea Jordan, renowned for her sweet nature, fabulous legs (she was famed for her “breeches ” roles, that is playing boys and young men) and for bearing 10 children by the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV. She is shown below,

and she was a favourite of both Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra:

I think you judge very wisely in putting off your London visit, and I am mistaken if it be not put off for some time. You speak with such noble resignation of Mrs. Jordan and the Opera House, that it would be an insult to suppose consolation required…
(Letter to  Cassandra Austen dated January 8, 1801)

It will also feature Mary Robinson, the actress and poet and yet another royal mistress, this time of the Prince of Wales, shown below in a portrait by John Hoppner, which is now owned by Chawton House Library;

© Chawton House Library, Hampshire

and Elizabeth Inchbald, who retired from acting and became a successful playwright, and whose version of Kotzebue’s Lovers Vows was used  spectacularly by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park to highlight the essential nature and ambitions of the main characters in her novel.

The portraits will include works by  Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hogarth and the caricaturist Gillray, so it will be a visual feast. I cannot wait to see it, for I am, as you are only too well aware, as enamoured of the 18th century theatre as was our Miss Austen.

This exhibition will have many resonances for readers of Jane Austen’s novels and letters, so once I have visited it I will be reporting back, of that you can be assured.

With some trepidation and lots of  help and support ( and by this I mean real support! The Holding-Hand type) from the ever patient Chris from WordPress, the comments box has now been returned to its normal position under the main body of the posts!

Hurrah and Huzzah!

So now please….do comment! For you know I love comments, and now you have no excuse!

 

 

 

George Stubbs’ magnificent painting, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey , shown below, will go to auction tomorrow evening, the 5th July, at Christie’s auction house in London.

The Press Release by Christie’s relates that the painting

…was executed in 1765 having been commissioned by the horse’s owner, Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who led an extravagant lifestyle pursuing his main interests of racing and gambling. Gimcrack was one of the most popular and admired of all 18th century racehorses. Although he was small, he had great stamina and won an impressive 28 of his 36 races, finishing unplaced only once.

The painting shows Gimcrack twice: in the background he is seen winning a ‘trial’ by some distance, and in the foreground he is depicted with his trainer and jockey, a stable-lad rubbing him down. Gimcrack is portrayed with the full magnificence of the artist’s talent; anatomical perfection with even his veins shown pulsing through his skin. A secondary, autograph version of the painting was owned by Lord Grosvenor (a subsequent owner of Gimcrack) and is now in the collection of the Jockey Club, Newmarket.

Newmarket, of course, was and is still, the home of English horseracing and the Jockey Club, the organisation which regulates the sport , has its headquarters there. In the late 18th and early  19th centuries it was patronised by the Prince of Wales, who had horses in training there. Reading between the lines of Mansfield Park it is not hard to discern that Jane Austen did not appear to approve of this rich man’s pastime, though Tom Bertram was fond of attending these expensive outings:

Tom Bertram must have been thought pleasant, indeed, at any rate; he was the sort of young man to be generally liked, his agreeableness was of the kind to be oftener found agreeable than some endowments of a higher stamp, for he had easy manners, excellent spirits, a large acquaintance, and a great deal to say; and the reversion of Mansfield Park, and a baronetcy, did no harm to all this. Miss Crawford soon felt that he and his situation might do…It might do very well; she believed she should accept him; and she began accordingly to interest herself a little about the horse which he had to run at the    B———– races.

These races were to call him away not long after their acquaintance began; and as it appeared that the family did not, from his usual goings on, expect him back again for many weeks, it would bring his passion to an early proof. Much was said on his side to induce her to attend the races, and schemes were made for a large party to them, with all the eagerness of inclination, but it would only do to be talked of.

Mansfield Park, Chapter 5

Newmarket’s association  with horse racing  was the reason that  Tom Bertram went there, and it would have looked much like the Stubbs painting above. Newmarket was almost the site of  Tom’s untimely demise. Falling ill at Newmarket and being abandoned by his fair weather friends put his life at risk;

Tom had gone from London with a party of young men to Newmarket, where a neglected fall and a good deal of drinking had brought on a fever; and when the party broke up, being unable to move, had been left by himself at the house of one of these young men to the comforts of sickness and solitude, and the attendance only of servants. Instead of being soon well enough to follow his friends, as he had then hoped, his disorder increased considerably, and it was not long before he thought so ill of himself as to be as ready as his physician to have a letter despatched to Mansfield.

Mansfield Park, Chapter 44.

I doubt Jane Austen approved of Newmarket or the sport  it was associated with, for she made certain it was almost the case of Tom’s death.

The Stubbs painting is being sold by the Trustees of the collection of the late Lord Woolavington, a whiskey magnate, who bought it in 1951 for £12,600 – a huge sum at the time.

 

 

The Woolavington Collection, which is a magnificent collection of English sporting pictures including other works by Stubbs, that is currently housed at Cottesbrooke Hall, in Northamptonshire. This helps keep the Mansfield Park  connection alive, for it is often thought that Cottesbrooke was the model Jane Austen used for Mansfield.

Cottesbrooke is now owned by Lord Woolavington’s descendant, Captain Macdonald-Buchanan, and the painting is being sold apparently because the because the cost of insuring it is prohibitively  high and disproportionate to the value of the other works in the collection.

The painting which will go on sale tomorrow at Christie’s in London, is estimated to fetch over £20 million. What a relief it is that Tom Bertram cannot bid for it…..

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