Opera in 2 acts. Libretto by Alasdair Middleton.

  • str. quintet of 3 vn., va + vc/str/audio file
  • Off stage choir
  • Bass, Counter tenor, Alto, Tenor, Folk Singer, Actors
  • 1 hr 48 min

Programme Note

The Picture of Dorian Gray, synopsis

Act 1
Basil Hallward paints a portrait of his friend, the young and divinely handsome Dorian Gray. The picture is the best he has ever painted; not only does the painter himself think so, his friend Lord Henry Wotton thinks so too. However, to the great dismay of the painter, the innocent Dorian is drawn to the amoral Henry’s cult of beauty, and when Dorian sees his portrait, he fervently wishes to avoid being marked by life. He wishes he could always remain just as young and beautiful as in the portrait, and that the picture instead will age and be marked by the ravages of life. It soon turns out that Dorian’s wish is in some magical way granted.

One day Dorian tells his friends Henry and Basil that he has become engaged to the young actress Sibyl Vane. What Dorian does not know is that her brother, the sailor James Vane, is suspicious. The day before he sails for Australia James swears that he will kill this “Prince Charming” if he harms Sibyl.

Dorian invites Basil and Henry to the theatre. But Dorian’s betrothed, the infatuated Sibyl, is no longer able to pretend, so her performance on the stage is a disaster. Dorian is disappointed and ashamed. He breaks up with Sibyl brutally, and when he has gone, she takes her own life, crushed by the rejection. Dorian comes home, unaware of Sybil’s fate, and discovers that the portrait has magically taken on a demonic look.

Act 2
When Lord Henry brings him the news of Sibyl’s death, he bitterly repents what he has done. Lord Henry’s comforting but also cynical words help Dorian to see Sybil’s suicide as a beautiful Greek tragedy. Dorian realizes that thanks to the magic of the portrait he can live out all his instincts and desires without destroying his pure, youthful beauty. He accepts his pact with the portrait and puts it in a secret chamber.

Over the next few years Dorian enjoys all sorts of narcotics and sensual stimulants, and learns how to use and abuse women, who thus perish all around him. He gets a companion, Alan Campbell, to kill a prostitute during a staged rape. One day Basil comes on an unannounced visit. He refuses to believe the rumours about Dorian, but Dorian shows the painter the now extremely ugly portrait. The horrified Basil begs Dorian to turn away from sin. In a fury Dorian kills Basil and orders Alan Campbell to get rid of the body.

James, who wants to avenge the death of his sister, finds Dorian in an opium den, but because it is many years since Sibyl died, and because Dorian’s face is still young, James cannot at first believe that Dorian was Sibyl’s cruel lover. Dorian escapes, but is tormented by fearful images of all the people he has killed or betrayed. At a party an armed James manages to get close to Dorian again, but James’ pistol goes off mysteriously, he himself is shot and he falls dead among the guests. Dorian seems invulnerable, no matter what happens – no one can harm him. But Dorian is shaken and wants to put an end to his evil course of life. He rejects Henry and decides to destroy his portrait. Alone in the chamber he thrusts a knife into his alter ego, the real Dorian Gray, who collapses on the floor, dead and ugly. He himself has to climb into the frame and becomes the picture of Dorian Gray again.

The opera has been conceived as choreographed and staged with dancers on the stage and singers backed up in the orchestral pit.