Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013) – a distant relative of Charles, aka Lewis Carroll – left a notable body of work that, under the auspices of The Stephen Dodgson Charitable Trust, is edging towards the recognition it deserves. Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart (1979) is one of Dodgson’s three operas – this is its first recording.
Ronald Fletcher’s unfussy libretto is based on Richard Cobbold’s novel, a fictionalised retelling of the true story of a Suffolk woman who was sent to the newly established penal colony in Australia for stealing a horse, after becoming entwined in a love triangle with a smuggler and a childhood friend. It would be a lazy cliché to seek comparisons with Suffolk’s more famous operatic counterpart, Peter Grimes, except that there are genuine flashes of Britten throughout the score. Dodgson’s use of timbre, particularly woodwind (such as the gorgeous clarinet solos in Acts III and IV), recalls the Sea Interludes, and his landscapes (the mists over the River Orwell; sunny Sydney) have an evocative, representational quality also present in Grimes.
The recording is of a concert performance, given at Snape Maltings in 2019 to mark the bicentenary of Catchpole’s death, with a largely Suffolk-born cast. Australian mezzo-soprano Kate Howden provides Antipodean representation – and much more besides – as Catchpole. William Wallace beguiles as bad boy Will Laud and Alistair Ollerenshaw is strong as the reliable, eventual ‘public benefactor’ John Barry. Unusually for an opera with an eponymous heroine, there’s even a happy ending.
BBC Music Magazine