Opera & Large

Opera and large-scale works for chorus and orchestra by Malcolm Hill

Firstly a List of Works

Secondly some Notes and Details


Chauvin (3-act opera) mj 253 : 13 soloists, chorus, full orchestra; for full details please see Chauvin below. Vocal Score now available on Petrucci (http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Hill,_Malcolm)

Women on Top based on Aristophanes’ The Assembly Women (1-act comedy-opera) mj 335 : sop, mezzo, character tenor, bar, bass, piano.   NOTES

How the Viking got his Horns (1-act comedy-opera) mj 340 : sop, mezzo, character tenor, bar, bass, sop narrator, chorus of Sopranos and Altos, piano.  NOTES

Lofta (1-act opera) mj 212 : sop, mezzo, tenor, bass; 1-1-1-BCl-0,1000,perc,21121; 2(SATB) chorus, 1 mime.  For notes, please see below.

The Bear (1-act comedy-opera) mj 260 : soprano, baritone, bass, piano. NOTES

The Marraige Proposal (1-act comedy-opera) mj 262 : mezzo, high baritone, bass, piano (or ensemble)

Olympias (1 or 2-act chamber opera) mj 272 : (sop, tenor, other soloists from SATB chorus of 4+ singers, string quartet.) For notes, please see below.

Completion of Szymanowski’s cantata Agawe (Agave) for Polish radio/tv mj 277 (4 horn version)

[Szymanowski’s Agawe : 6 horn version  mj 277.2; Early textless version  mj 277.3]

[The Brute (1-act comedy-opera) mj 260.2 : contralto, tenor, bass, small instrumental ensemble (or piano)]
Gammer Gurton’s Needle    (school opera) mj 61
Psaume 40 vv 2-6, 14-17    (Contralto solo, SATB, 2111,3000,strings;  in French) mj 55
Siþen þe sege    (Soprano, chorus, orchestra) mj 27

Bath : The Graveyard of Ambition (1-act comedy-opera) mj 358 : 3 sop, mezzo, tenor, bass-baritone, bass, small chorus SATB. For details please click here.


The librettist for Chauvin and Olympias was John Deethardt II; for The Brute and The Marraige Proposal was Gene Tyburn, both based on Chekhov; for The Bear was Gene Tyburn and Katharine Tylko (based on Tyburn’s earlier version of The Brute); for Lofta, Women on Top and How the Viking got his Horns was the composer.


Each of the three acts is a single scene, requiring three sets in all.
ACT ONE A wounded soldier, Nicolas Chauvin of “chauvinism” notoriety, returns to Paris from Waterloo to receive honours from Napoleon, whose charisma engenders a personified alter-ego in Chauvin. A rogue soldier, Dibroc, is pardoned by Napoleon so that he can assist Chauvin in his return home. From the solicitude of Napoleon towards Chauvin is born, like Athena from the brain of Zeus, fully grown and fully armed, a new Chauvin, IChauvin, representing the thoughtful Chauvin, the incipient ideology of “Chauvinism”.

ACT TWO  Chauvin, with Dibroc, arrives home with two comrades, Picot and Souvan. Chauvin’s wife, Adele, and the two children by Nicolas, Henri and Jeanette, welcome him, but he cannot escape his experience of war in the Napoleonic army, nor his alter ego in IChauvin. Napoleon, fleeing from the advancing Allied armies and those who will restore the monarchy, comes through Rochefort, Chauvin’s hometown and birthplace, and happens to stop for a brief respite outside Chauvin’s house where Chauvin’s wife has a bakery. Chauvin recognizes the furtive Napoleon, but he is not accustomed to seeing this divine emperor in his deposed state. He acts brashly and almost gets the emperor captured by some royalist-terrorists before Napoleon makes his escape. Chauvin concludes he must abandon his wife and children and pursue his transcendental view of reality elsewhere.

ACT THREE  He will travel around France carrying his ideology to every corner. Chauvin, a true believer, has a natural affinity for a theatrical setting to exhibit his sentiments. At a theatre in Paris he interrupts a play in progress with his ranting. One patron, Mme Germaine de Staël, a prominent literary figure of the time, opposes him. He equivocates, suffering from doubt and irresolution. Finally, Chauvin is subsumed by his ideological alter-ego, IChauvin. In his new incarnation, he alienates Adele. IChauvin goes into the world with his followers, leaving a heartsick Adele behind.

Single-scene chamber opera requiring little scenery other than old computer workstations for the chorus (and paper-covererd screens ad lib.).

Following the sound of a car-crash, the Chorus welcome the mezzo-soprano Lofta to what turns out to be pre-Hell, where the bad dead are judged. Lofta’s extreme self-righteousness is praised. Eventually she realises that she might not be with her ex-friends (if she ever had any), but is piqued not to be seeing “God the Mother”. At that, the Devil appears. The Devil complains that if God is female then so is the Devil – this is blasphemy against Hell, so Lofta must be given the opportunity to suffer. As the Devil moves towards Lofta, he is seen to be joined to his female counterpart – these two aspects seldom have the same text (although often the same rhythm) – the essence is that while they question Lofta, they do not always make sense: the logic of which Lofta had lived is of no use. Eventually, the female part of the devil summons up a female seductress (non-singing mime) to assault Lofta. Lofta and the Seductress grow to like each other; so the combined Devil turn on the gas and the fire burns for Lofta as she is carried into the flames.


316 B.C. Act One: An ancient Greek amphitheater. (Orchestra, a dancing circle. Skene. Periaktoi. Scaena ductile.)
Act Two : A Castle at Pydna (Modern: Kitros). The ramparts of a castle, upper level, with a throne room below. The orchestra is below the throne-room setting.

The opera is written with the travelling opera-group very much in mind. At its very smallest, the chamber opera could use just two soloists (Olympias, soprano, and Cassander, tenor) with four singers in the Chorus, taking other parts when needed. The “orchestra” is at minimum a string quartet, which might not have to travel with the company, but utilize a competent quartet in residence at the site of production. Non-vocal roles could be cast from the local population. The music is constructed in such a way that the four singers in the chorus could expand into eight or twelve; the string quartet could expand into a string ensemble, with additional doubling-lines for string basses, etc.

The primary forces of revenge, regret and redemption move Olympias through the drama. The opera has five scenes and an Epilogos, covering events in 316 B.C.E., during the wars of Alexander’s successors. The action takes place in the composite setting of an ancient Greek amphitheater. The story embellishes upon the sparse historical record.

The fate of Olympias, the facts and circumstances beyond her control, is being born a woman, a queen, daughter of kings, wife of a king, mother of kings, the legend of being a descendant of gods, in a patriarchal society with the social customs and practices of male monarchs. That is her heritage and her upbringing. But the Fates spin a thread for this royal person with knots of circumstance from capricious male monarchical behaviors of the day, and that proves to be the source of Ate’s intrusion into the course of her life. She finds it natural to commit murder to avenge murder, implemented by reckless impulse, and hubris. She ignores the justice of “all things considered”. She ignores the spirit and voice of the ancient mother, Gaia. Themis – that which is Right and Correct – is disregarded, the gods are dishonored. Boundaries and limits are overstepped. Disregarding Themis and taking moira into her own hands, the Furies, dread deities of divine vengeance, descend on her.

Years after her son, Alexander III (the Great) died in Babylon, Olympias, Queen of Epirus, nursed her antipathy toward Alexander’s appointed regent, Antipater, and vicariously satiated her lust for retribution against the clan that she believed had poisoned her son. She brooded on the past through Dionysiac revels that approached the level of Satyr plays.

Antipater  appointed Polyperchon to be the guardian of the two kings, a situation caused by Alexander’s dying without an heir. Antipater’s son, Cassander, was insulted by being passed over for the appointment to be Antipater’s successor at Antipater’s death. Thus are sown the seeds of many years of wars and treachery by Alexander’s successors, who covet the power he had.

Polyperchon, the new regent, asked Olympias to become the guardian of the kings and again take the throne of Macedonia for he must go off to defend the realm from Cassander’s assaults. The upstart, Eurydice, who married one of the kings (the half-wit half-brother of Alexander, Philip Arrhidaeus), joined with Cassander. She invaded Macedon. Olympias confronted and defeated her.

When Olympias returned from her triumph, she had an appetite for more, having regained the arbitrary power of a monarch. She reveled in murderous impulses. A string of atrocities followed, and many deserted her.

She retreated to the castle at Pydna where she came under siege by Cassander. Her situation becomes hopeless. Her bargaining with Cassander fails. Cassander breaks the siege. Olympias surrenders. But she realizes she has been betrayed when his soldiers burst in to slay her, but she has the charisma to face them down. As they withdraw, she savors a triumph, but in the next instant she suffers a catastrophe of her own making and some measure of remorse.
Alone, grief-stricken, she achieves something beyond her regret, perhaps a small measure of redemption. Her fate descends on her, again through the agency of Cassander. Her bloody acts overtake her. She faces her death calmly.

The Epilogos completes the destruction of the line of Alexander. Cassander murders young Alexander IV and his mother, Roxanê.