• Giles Swayne
  • Goodnight sweet ladies (1995)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Lord Harewood

  • Sopranopf
  • 20 min
  • Giles Swayne
  • Shakespeare
  • English

Programme Note

Giles Swayne: Goodnight Sweet Ladies

Goodnight Sweet Ladies was begun in June 1994 and completed in July 1995. It was commissioned by Lord Harewood. The cycle lasts about twenty minutes.

Since 1990, I have been working towards an opera based on Shakespeare's Hamlet; this has now been commissioned by Opera North, and the first performances are scheduled for 1999. For me the most interesting question in the play is that of mental stability. What is sanity and why? To be, in fact, or not to be? In an age where depression and teenage suicide are rife, these are more relevant questions than they ever have been. The song cycle is, in one sense, a sketch for Ophelia's role in the opera. It is also, in Laertes' words, "a document in madness" - a case-study of mental collapse. In Ophelia's case there are ample reasons for her breakdown: she knows Hamlet loves her, yet he has turned viciously against her and cast her aside. She has no idea why he has done this. To make matters worse, she has just discovered that she is pregnant; she was plucking up the courage to break this to Hamlet when he shattered her world in the nunnery scene. As the icing on the traumatic cake, her lover has proceeded to murder her father. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances more conducive to mental collapse and suicide.

The fourth song, Voce mea, is not a setting of Shakespeare. The text and the melodic line are taken from a Latin motet by Cipriano de Rore. In this cycle Ophelia's death (or rather her final snapping plunge towards death) takes place at the end of the third song, which is not so much a song as a collection of disjointed ballad-fragments. In the fourth song she is already dead, and at peace with herself.

© Giles Swayne