The Lady of Satis House | ALBUM REVIEW

Lady of Satis

Soprano Marie Vassiliou | PHOTO: Claire Shovelton

By Jonty Watt

An exciting upcoming release features the Tippett Quartet and soprano Marie Vassiliou with works by composer Jacques Cohen. The album’s core is the operatic monodrama The Lady of Satis House, which relays the story of Miss Havisham, the jilted spinster from Dickens’s Great Expectations. Engaging in something of a vogue, the classic story is retold entirely from Miss Havisham’s perspective. The text, however, is lifted with minimal alteration from the novel – although this ensures sparkling prose, it does tie Miss Havisham closely to her source material and prevent an extensive reimagining of her character.

The intimate instrumental forces emphasise Miss Havisham’s monomaniacal self-mythologisation, and Cohen’s sense of drama is evident despite the limitations of scale. The Tippett Quartet excitingly navigates the rich chromatic harmonies and shifting textures, particularly shining in the exquisite interlude before the final scene (here Cohen reaches Adèsian heights).

Read: 5 pieces of classical music inspired by novels

While the opera features only one singer, other characters are represented through spoken dialogue and distinct musical characterisations (though these toe the line of parody). Perhaps Cohen could have achieved a more convincing and ambitious humanisation of Miss Havisham by eschewing dialogue entirely. As it is, the opera feels stuck in a compromise despite the admirably versatile performance of Vassiliou.

The album also features When the Bough Breaks, a collection of three lullabies for string quartet with a childlike simplicity that becomes poignancy when heard after The Lady of Satis House. Closing the album is From Behind Glass, a tone poem imagining the confinement and liberation of a quartet of Stradivarius instruments held behind glass in Madrid’s Palacio Real, which offers a joyful contrast to Miss Havisham’s self-imposed isolation. The entire album showcases Cohen’s top-notch string writing – here is a composer at home in his chosen medium. 

‘The Lady of Satis House’ is set for release by Meridian on February 23 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.