Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Evelyn Sharp

Letter No.: 
Dec 24 [1935]

From R. Vaughan Williams,
The White Gates,
Westcott Road,


Dear Mrs Nevinson2

I am afraid this is a very un Xmasy letter - but in spite of that you know that you both have my best Xmas wishes.
I need hardly say that I am writing about the opera which by this time you must be heartily tired of.
The Cambridge people sent an ultimatum that the evenings entertainment must not start before 8.30 so that the dons may digest their dinner and must finish by 11 in order that the undergraduates may be in bed by 11.30 - That is to say 2 hours and 25 minutes including intervals - This will mean cutting to the bone. Are you prepared to do so?  I have scientifically worked out the length of the actual music as 1 hour 44 minutes 4 seconds - Call this 1 hr 50 m - The dialogue I calculate more roughly as 50 minutes and the intervals between the acts as 20 minutes - This gives a total of 3 hours which I think is anyway too long and at all events 35 minutes too long for Cambridge.3
I am prepared to cut 20 minutes of music - Could you see your way to cut 20 minutes of dialogue.  I had better tell you my proposed music cuts as you may have something to say to them on dramatic grounds -
Cut 2 minutes 21 seconds. (The full overture plays 6 minutes 19 seconds)

     Act I
Cut No 2. Gallanthus’ entry.
This seems to me unnecessary dramatically and not interesting musically, tho’ the words are amusing - Gallanthus’ first entry would then be as we originally planned at the end of Anglica’s scena ‘day is dawning’ this will save 1 minute 50 seconds

No 3 Scena  ‘Day is dawning’
Cut the middle of this saving 55 seconds

No 5 ‘Here we come’
Cut the last part of this - Dipsacus to say his opening lines ‘hither hobgoblins’ and go straight on to his dialogue. This saves 35 seconds.

No 7 Duet ‘She is my darling daughter’
Cut this and the few lines of dialogue (get this dialogue in earlier) that go before it saving 50 seconds

No 9 Ensemble
Start at the lullaby and substitute a few lines of dialogue for the opening.  This will save 1 minute.

No 11 Song ‘I thought I loved’
Cut this - saving 1 min 50 seconds.

Total cuts on Act I   7 minutes 45 seconds.

North wind, South wind

Act II
No 20 Waltz Song
Make a cut in this which will save 30 sec

No 21 Trio ‘Ho there’
Cut this - saving 2 mins 5 secs

No 24 Trio ‘Today’
Make a cut in this saving 30 sec.

No 25 Entrance of Tormentilla’s lovers
Make the cut indicated in the score saving 53 sec

No 26 Song ‘Let my
Cut 2nd verse - or rather join 1st half of 1st to 2nd half of 2nd verse - saving 17 secs.

No 27 Song ‘There was a time’
Cut middle verse saving 40 secs

No 30. Duet ‘My lover haunts me’
Cut this - saving 40 secs (the transition from Amaryllus’ serenade direct to the song ‘sleeping or waking’ is quite good musically)

Total cuts in Act 2 6 min 15 secs

     Act III

No 33 Introduction - cut 30 secs

No 34 Trio ‘Behold’ cut 2nd verse saving 1 min 15 sec.

No 37 Ballad ‘When I was young’
Cut 3rd verse - saving 30 sec (As a matter of fact it would be better to sing verse 2 to the music of verse 3 thus saving all the music - It fits quite well) -

No 38 Ensemble - ‘You can leave us’
Cut this - saving 45 secs (or it could be played softly during exit & ensuing dialogue

No 40 A  Chorus ‘Out of the’
Cut this - saving 52 sec

No 44 Quartet ‘Life in a hut’4
Cut this - saving 1 min 10 sec

Total cuts in Act III 5 min 2 sec

Total cuts 21 min 23 sec

Now as regards cutting the dialogue would it save you trouble if I were to prepare a cut version of the dialogue and submit it to you for your approval?  The chief places where it seems that cuts could be made are:-

(1) Gallanthus and Angelica  If I remember right this is chiefly William Foss5 & some of the humour seems to be rather mechanical. Also are all the explanations in their opening dialogue and also in Act II necessary?  In a fantastic work like this can we not take a good deal for granted?

(2) In the dialogue preceding Dipsacus’ ballad in Act I are we not saying the same
 thing over twice - first in prose and then in verse?
(3) In Act II I think the hobgoblins opening dialogue might be cut down.

(4) Is the mediums dialogue after their song necessary?  I have a feeling that in opera an exit is made better on a song than on dialogue6

1.  In the hand of AVW.
2.  Evelyn Sharp had married Henry Nevinson in 1933.
3.  The Poisoned Kiss was to be given at the Arts Theatre Cambridge the following March.
4.  sic. Should be ‘Love in a hut’. See VWL29021.
5.  William Foss had revised part of the libretto in 1932.
6.  The remainder of the letter is missing.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 161, ff.99-102
General notes: 

In the hand of AVW.

Original database number: