Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Evelyn Sharp

Letter No.: 
Dec 17 [1929]

The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

Dear Miss Sharp

I have managed to get to work on the opera again.1 I only propose to do anything extensive to Act II viz -
(1) between Tor’s song “There was a time” and the duet “Wearily I go” (libretto p.17)  I suggest reverting to our original plan of dialogue
I enclose the sort of thing I suggest - chiefly from your original libretto. (see separate sheet). Of course you will translate it into English or alter it or put in something else first as you like. But as it is spoken through music it ought to be about the same length as what I have written.
(2) I have shortened Tor’s entrance after Am’s Serenade (libretto p.17) by almost half - This will mean cutting some of your words and spoiling your rhyme scheme, but it goes very well with the music. (see separate sheet)
(3) I propose that everything between “Tell me the meaning of that” and “Win her, woo her” (libretto pp 18 & 19) should be dialogue - the same idea as at present but perhaps rather lighter in style (all my fault that it is too heavy at present) - I enclose the sort of thing I mean, but of course you will do what you like with it. There will be no music except just at the end so it can be as long or short as you like - Can we get in the idea of Tor alternatively yielding and repelling until finally the soft music and hidden voices do the trick?
This alteration will mean cutting the duet “Dear lover” of which I like both words and music, but I think it holds up the action - To avoid losing it altogether I propose putting it in to an appendix as an optional number.
These alterations will (a) save a lot of time (b) prevent such long stretches of music (c) prevent the thing from becoming to high-falutin’.
Have you got a copy of the Libretto? If so could you send me down the alterations and I will paste them into my copy. The only other alteration I propose is the 1st number of Act I where we might optionally cut one verse.  When we have done this I think the thing will be ready to take its luck.
Yours sincerely

R Vaughan Williams

Proposed alterations in Act II

(1) Libretto p. 13
Tor “a mist of fears and sadness
Ang  There, there don’t cry, have another chocolate
Tor Poisoned chocolates like my poisoned life
Ang Well don’t take on so (aside) Amaryllus isn’t the only young man in the world
Tor What’s that you’re saying?
Ang Er - only, isn’t it time you went to bed? (aside)
And for me to summon Gallanthus to my arms.
Tor Very well then, but I’m much too unhappy to sleep.
(Singing) Ah such a night were born in heaven above
Could I but wed the lover whom I love.
(then follows the duet “Wearily I go” as before)
(2) Libretto p. 17
Tor My lover haunts me I cannot sleep - I heard him calling as ’twere in a dream
A heavenly dream
O my beloved since you are not here
My love for you and all my deep distress
I may confess
This friendly night will cover up my shame
And banish blame
Am My longing and desire I must forbear
that heavenly voice to hear
Tor Sleeping or waking etc
(3) Libretto p.18.
Am tell me the meaning of that
 (Tor: perceives Am:)
Tor Amaryllus
Am Tormentilla at last - I come to you I fly
Tor If you do I go for ever
Am For ever?
 (here follows optional number No 10A see appendix)
Am At least explain your cruelty
Tor O I can’t explain - please go away
Am Yet you love me - I have it from your own lips
Tor Love you?  You are the whole world to me.
When you are there I see neither sun nor moon nor stars - All that you are to me, all that. (approaching him as if fascinated)
Am Then in the wonder why? -
Tor No, no, do not kiss me, my lips are cursed.
Am Is that all?  Press them to mine and the curse is fled.
Tor (hesitating) but it would poison you
Am What could be sweeter than poison from your lips?
Tor (retreating again) No, no, if you kiss me you will die
Am (passionately) Then let me die (soft music heard)
Tor (fascinated) Ah what dream is this that weakens my will? (wildly)
Amaryllus fly from me lest fate be too strong
Hidden chorus Win her, woo her etc.

1. Evelyn Sharp had written the libretto for VW's opera The Poisoned Kiss.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 161, ff.108-113
General notes: 

In the hand of AVW signed by VW.

Original database number: