Letter from Ursula Wood to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
[mid April 1951]

Suitable reading

My Dear

I do want you to know before, & above all, that I was more than ever moved and excited by the music. I feel that there is so much new-to-opera in this opera1; that the stage has not fulfilled its partnership. Never that the music is too long, or too anything - but often that the staging lags.
Appolyon: I don’t think blackouts work if App. is represented by lights & starts by winning. I believe the answer might be this - as the Pilgrim dashes in to fight him the lights (set low of course, not coming, as now, from above) start to flicker (flicker machine) they dim at the first words, flicker furiously again, & get brilliant for “surely I have thee now” - and flicker again, & dim to almost nothing, & then fade as the Pilgrim wins, & the doleful creatures slink away. Sword clashing would go with this - & P. Could, if you like, also sing off - at least one of his lines.
I said all along I should like to keep the direction the same. It seems to be diagonal, except for Act 2. sc.2 & Act 3. sc.1. Its not a big alteration, but I think it would be a good one (see diagram enclosed).

Other points

House beautiful. Lighting awful. They left the colonades transparent on one side so the chorus off could be seen. They also introduced a horrid purple at one point.
I’m not happy about the chorus. They do stand about so. I think as you are not using the sepulchre it could go and would give more room.
Abolish candles.
Watchful Lights bad.
Appolyon Lighting rehearsal with creatures and Pilgrim essential.

Vanity Fair

Chorus movements untidy. It wasn’t a real surge round as it used to be, & that must be replaced - or else, & better - what you really wanted - their only coming to life when something happens. However this will all have to be re-produced with new music, & can wait.


Gils contribution. The Key has to unlock both handcuffs, & door - key-holes

           and      [image]     in size.

It must therefore be a magic key, & he should not use it to unlock in a practical way, but to touch the locks, so that they fly open, and make this apparent to the audience.
Lighting here could be much more imaginative with a little work.
Act IV

River of Death lighting started too soon, before backcloth of Delectable Mts flew away. It also went on much longer, but as this gave the effect of the waters of death washing round the foot of the heavenly city I thought it rather good. But its tricky timing, & could easily damage Heaven if not under control.
The fade out was not absolute - they left the angel in full right at the end. Not so good as before I thought.

1. The Pilgrim's Progress. This letter seems to have been written after a lighting rehearsal at which VW was not present.

Location of copy:

Cobbe 552
Original database number: