A pastoral opera devised by James Harris of the Close and first performed here in Salisbury in 1761 has been rediscovered and brought to life in a recent performance by Opera at Chilmark following work by local musician and researcher Nigel Wyatt. What at first appears to be simple story of nymphs and shepherds gains deeper meaning when considered against the backdrop of the times. There would seem to be little that could be controversial about a pastoral opera about nymphs and shepherds, in which two lovers lament their separation due to a call to serve in the army - only for them to be joyfully reunited when peace is declared. Yet the first London performances of James Harris’s pastoral The Spring in 1762 were interrupted by hissing and heckling from a section of the audience. Clearly, for a contemporary audience the plot was more than just a vehicle for some lovely songs. To fully understand the importance of the opera we need to place it in the political and historical context of the times, in order to fully appreciate its popularity at the time.
Local musician Nigel Wyatt came across a manuscript copy of the score for the missing opera in the Cambridge University Library during his researches into the cultural life of Salisbury. He will talk about the process of bringing the opera back to life after 200 years, and the historical context in which it was written.