Making Veritable Michael
This project began when composer Tom Floyd and producer Sophie Goldrick visited the Tate Britain's exhibition on Queer art in 2017. Nestled amongst Henry Scott Tuke's dazzling cornish scenes and David Hockney's arresting masterpieces was an intricate but easy to miss piece of jewelry. This little locket with a depiction of pegasus on the front and celtic patterns on the back contained inside a miniature inside of woman, her hair tied up, painted over a royal blue background. The curator's notes explained the locket was made by a pair of queer Victorian artists, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon and that they made it for friends of theirs, another queer couple, Edith Cooper (whose portrait the locket contained) and Katherine Bradley.
The rest of the exhibition notes about these extraordinary women and their fascinating lives inspired Tom and Sophie to research and tell their story through a podcast opera project, bringing together interviews with academics and setting Katherine's and Edith's journals, letters and poetry to music. The opera you are watching today is the final collection of vignettes from the podcast, brought to life. We would like audiences to be aware this story deals with issues around incest, an aspect of the story we explored in some detail in our podcast. We recommend audiences listen to the podcast to our Michael Field scholars giving historical context to Katherine and Edith's relationship.
Shadow Opera would like to thank the Countess of Munster Musical Trust for awarding Veritable Michael the Stephen Oliver Award for new opera, as well as the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust, our wonderful crowdfunders, our guest speakers (Professor Marion Thain, Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo, Dr Sarah Parker and Professor Carolyn Dever) who have all made the podcast and this live production possible.
Michael enters, confused and half-remembering events as they unfold. He reads from a book and recognises his life story, and yet doesn't. A female chorus is heard singing of how women gathered in the moonlight of ancient Greece to worship at Sappho's word.
Scene 1— Opening Night
Michael reads from his journal a glowing review of his early work. Michael is a poet, and by the sounds of things, a talented one. Flicking through his journal time moves on and Michael finds himself in a London theatre with two women, Katherine and Edith, watching a play of theirs being rehearsed. Katherine sings of how there is no place on earth as exciting to her as in a theatre, and Edith gives an account of the dress rehearsal of their first stage play, A Question of Memory. With great anticipation, the play begins.
Scene 2 — Before Michael
Time flows backwards and Michael reads in the journal of Katherine and Edith's early lives. Katherine, a smart, determined and talented poet leaves her home town of Birmingham to travel but when her sister falls ill she returns to look after her nieces Amy and Edith. Edith and Katherine form a special bond over their shared love of poetry and when Katherine travels Europe the two remain in constant dialogue with each other through their letters. They coin endless nicknames for one another (Katherine's bird inspired and Edith's relate to all things cat) and their love for one another grows into something more.
Scene 3 — Michael's Debut
Time moves forward to 1884, the year of Michael Field's debut. Michael debates what form his poetry should take and settles on the verse drama. We hear an excerpt from Callirrhoë followed by newspaper clippings of its glowing reviews. The mysterious Michael Field is the toast of the town and journalists and literary types scramble to discover more about him. Robert Browning, the leading of poet of the day, manages to track down an address. He writes to Michael Field to congratulate him. Browning is surprised when a Miss Edith Cooper replies, sharing the true identity of Michael Field. When the papers find out, Katherine writes a fierce letter to Browning instructing him to better keep their secret as the world won't hear what they have to say from women's lips.
Scene 4 — Michael's Men
Since their public revelation the critics are starting to turn against Michael Field, but Katherine and Edith remain popular in the literary world. We see Katherine meeting Oscar Wilde at a party, and shortly after they meet the art critic Bernhard Berenson. Katherine and Edith follow Bernhard to Paris where Edith's infatuation with him tests the bonds of Michael Field.
Scene 5 — Michael's Vow
Bernhard is out of Katherine's and Edith's lives and now it is sickness which troubles Edith. After a serious illness the two make their way back to England, where Katherine writes It was Deep April on the train, a kind of marriage vow pledging to be lovers and poets together evermore.
Scene 6 — Closing Night
Time moves on and to Katherine's and Edith's dismay they sense they are being forgotten. The books aren't selling and the reviews, when they get them, are increasingly severe. But Michael catches a glimmer of hope. He finds himself back on the page in the journal where he began, the opening of Katherine's and Edith's first staged play. Perhaps a second debut, this time as a playwright, can help turn things around. It is not to be. The critics mainly hate the play and their response is crushing.
Scene 7 — The Forest
Obscurity continues to descend when Edith receives a telegram. Her father has gone missing on a hiking trip in the Alps. His body is eventually found at the bottom of a ravine, his head on his arm as though sleeping. To offer Edith comfort, Katherine writes the poem, The Forest.
Scene 8 — Ancient Things
Michael watches Katherine and Edith in their final home, No. 1 The Paragon, Richmond. They continue to write their journal, their life's greatest work, hoping one day they will find the audience they feel they deserve. Edith has been diagnosed with cancer. Katherine captures in the journal a tender moment where she watches Edith reading one of their sonnets, A Window Full of Ancient Things out loud. It tells of how aging adds to the beauty of things. Both women die of breast cancer less than a year apart.
Michael has reached the end of the journal and muses on how the women's live on through their work, which lies there waiting to be discovered. The female chorus are heard singing again to Sappho.
Cast & Creatives
Sophie Goldrick — Katherine Bradley
London-born Sophie grew up in Sydney, Australia. She trained in acting at Theatre Nepean, in Sydney, and at the Royal Northern College of Music where roles included Nancy Albert Herring and Arsamenes Serse. Sophie is a full time member of English National Opera and has sung a number of roles and covers there including: Moppett Paul Bunyan, Handmaid in The Handmaid’s Tale, Girl in The Midsummer Marriage and cover Hen/Mrs Pasek in The Cunning Little Vixen.
Elsewhere, roles include; Ericlea/Pisandro Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria and Diana La Calisto for Longborough Festival, Dinah Trouble in Tahiti for Stage Left Project, Ruth The Pirates of Penzance for Merry Opera Co., Flora La Traviata and Kate Pinkerton Madama Butterfly for West Green House, Alcina Orlando Paladino for Opera Purpur, Pitti-Sing (cover) The Mikado for Scottish Opera, Emilia Otello for the Al Bustan Festival, Therese Intermezzo, Ramiro(cover) La Finta Giardiniera and Kascheyevna (cover) Kaschey the Immortal all for Buxton International Festival, Carmen Carmen for Opera on Location and Focus Opera. Sophie has also sung with Opera Australia, Wexford Festival Opera, King's Head Theatre, The Monteverdi Choir, Grange Park Opera, Co-Opera Co., Clonter Opera, Benslow Baroque Opera & the Gabrieli Consort and Players. www.sophiegoldrick.com
Lizzie Holmes — Edith Cooper
Lizzie’s operatic highlights include Despina/Così fan tutte (Longborough Festival Opera), Laurette/Doctor Miracle (Wexford Festival); Dew Fairy/Hänsel und Gretel (Grange Park Opera); Musetta/La bohème (Olivier Awards nominee ‘Best New Opera’, Trafalgar Studios), Cunegonde/Candide (Minack Theatre) and the title roles in The Coronation of Poppea (Ryedale Festival) and Orfeo ed Euridice (Arcola Theatre). Lizzie made her West End debut in Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre) and also toured nationally with award-winning devised theatre ensemble Curious Directive.
Concert highlights include Royal Opera House’s Crush Room, Barbican Hall’s Viennese NYE Gala, Cadogan Hall with the Bands of the Household Division and appearances across the UK’s top concert halls as headline soloist for Raymond Gubbay’s Johann Strauss Gala. Lizzie is Artistic Director of DEBUT and returns to the Royal College of Music (where she trained) as a Guest Lecturer on Creative Enterprise, she is also a Create & Sing Practitioner for Royal Opera House. Recent highlights include Woglinde Götterdämmerung (Hackney Empire), launching a new regular concert series at Brunel with DEBUT and a role debut with Grange Park Opera in 2023. | @LizzieJHolmes
Tom Floyd — Composer & Musical Director
Tom Floyd is a composer and conductor who writes mainly for the stage. He has been commissioned by the Royal Opera House Youth Opera Company, Opera Story, the English Heritage Lottery (an Organ Concerto written for James O’Donnell), Shadow Opera, Outland Opera and Tete a Tete Opera Festival and others.
As a conductor Tom has led projects with the Britten Sinfonia Academy, ROH Youth Opera Company, and was the musical director for the world premiere of Patrick Hawes's children opera, A King's Ransom (Into Opera and the Britten Sinfonia) Other engagements include Assistant Conductor for Neville Holt Opera (Magic Flute, 2013).
Born and bred in Devon, Tom attended the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama studying composition where he won the Principal’s Award for Music before going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music (prizes include Charles Lucas Memorial Prize and Evans Senior Scholarship Prize). Tom was awarded the Worshipful Company of Musicians Silver Medal in 2011.
Patrick Neyman — Michael Field
Patrick trained at the Drama Centre. Theatre Includes: Trinculo in The Tempest (The Lord Chamberlain's Men), Mycruft Holmes/the Hooded Lance in ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Hooded Lance’ (Common Ground Theatre Company), Greg in Relatively Speaking (Tabard Theatre), Patrick Simmons in A Murder is Announced (UK no.1 tour), John the Alchemist in Stoat Hall (Eastern Angles), Guasto in Edith in the Dark, (Harrogate Theatre), Paul Baptiste in Se7en (Secret Theatre), Rich/Mr.Dill/Alex in Fall Girl (Canal Cafe Theatre/The Gilded Balloon), Benny Lucas in Ace of Clubs (The Union Theatre), Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream, (Fort Lovrijenac, Dubronvik, Croatia), Brackenbury / King Edward in Richard III (Cambridge Shakespeare Festival), Pisanio/Caius Lucius in Cymbeline, (Cambridge Shakespeare Festival), Sebastian in Hunter, (The Tabernacle Theatre) Eadric in Silence (Large Print Theatre Company), Ivan Vasilievich in The Proposal (Platform Theatre). Film Includes: Jamie in The New 22 (Manuka Road Productions).
Ruth Knight — Co-Director
James Long — Artwork