The Village Coquettes – 1836 – a comic opera in two acts
John Pyke Hullah, a young composer and music teacher, met with Charles Dickens< He was at the Royal Academy with Fanny Dickens, Charles’s older sister.
They decided to cooperate, with Hullah its composer and Charles provided the libretto. Hullah had proposed it be based on The Gondolier, but Charles wanted to work with more familiar subjects, he found a short story that would fit.
It ran for twenty-seven performances, the last on 17 May 1837. During that run Charles asked for Boz to be removed from the credits. Asked, the year before he died, whether he possessed a copy of the Village Coquettes, he replied: ‘No; and if I knew it was in my house, and if I could not get rid of it in any other way, I would burn the wing of the house where it was!’
The Sun of 7 Dec 1836 was rather more positive, ‘It is a light and elegant comedy, in which a great deal of gaiety and humour are blended with scenes of great interest, and many sweet and natural touches of tenderness and feeling. The music is admirably in accordance with the subject; simple, unaffected, and full of beautiful, expressive, English melody.’ It was mostly remarkable for being all English.
The orchestral score for the show was lost. There were attempts to reproduce it in the 1920s and 1930s, and the comic opera had several performances of this rewritten score. One as recently as 2012 at Southampton.
In a rustic setting Lucy Benson, flattered by the attention of Squire Norton, has jilted her intended, George Edmonds.
Her cousin, Rose, has done the same to John Maddox in favour the squire’s friend Mr Sparkins Flam.
The squire plans to elope with Lucy but her father finds out, he argues with the squire, who threatens toterminate his lease.
The next day Lucy and Rose visit the squire to get him to change his mind, to end to his interest in Lucy.
Flan has a need to return money he won by cheating at dice, and decides to abduct Lucy during the squire’s party, hoping this will gain favour with the squire and have his debts settled.
The squire realises the problems he has caused and remedies matters. Flam is thus thwarted and arrested.
Order is restored and the two young couples are married.
· Benson, Lucy
· Benson, Old
· Benson, Young
· Edmunds, George
· Flam, Hon Sparkins
· Maddox, John
· Norton, Squire
· Stokes, Martin