The Mad Duchess
"A sparkling new opera..." Alexander Chancellor, The Guardian
The Mad Duchess is a short opera composed by Peter Cowdrey with libretto by Hamish Robinson based on a story about the Duchess of Albemarle, wife of the Earl of Montagu who sought to model Boughton House in Northamptonshire on Versailles. Opera Unlimited first presented the opera in November 2011 at Boughton House, with Joan Rodgers CBE and rising stars from London's top music colleges. The performance was in aid of Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres, and raised over £30,000.
A more recent production was directed by Rosie Johnston at Claxton Opera in September 2012 and featured Gillian Webster as the Duchess, Elaine Tate as the Maid, and Christopher Jacklin as the Earl with The Conference of Birds (Jennifer Raven - flute, Liz Cowdrey - violin, Robyn Austin - cello, Peter Cowdrey - harpsichord) who also gave a recital from their repertoire of music inspired by birdsong. This programme was repeated at Bob and Elisabeth Boas' house, 22 Mansfield St, London W1G 9NR, on 29 November 2012. A CD of this production is now available.
In 1690, the widowed Duchess of Albermarle was the wealthiest woman in England. Ralph Montagu, then ambassador to Versailles, had launched an ambitious project to build his own version of the French palace outside Kettering. He ran out of money and looked around for a rich wife. The Duchess of Albermarle was the perfect choice, except she had sworn she would never marry again unless to the Emperor of China. Montagu dressed in chinese silks, built a chinese pagoda and pretended to be the Emperor. After wooing her successfully, he finished building Boughton House with his wife's money.
Even in her lifetime, the Duchess of Albermarle was labelled mad, and was the subject of a play entitled 'The Mad Duchess'. But her father wrote that she was 'not mad, but consumed by the folly of her own ambition'. And was it not equally mad to try to recreate Versailles in Kettering?
The Mad Duchess at Boughton
The Mad Duchess at Claxton