That Man Stephen Ward [Resonus Classics]

5 of 5 stars

Thomas Hyde
That Man Stephen Ward, Op.8 – a one-man opera in six scenes to a libretto by David Norris [sung in English]

Damian Thantrey (baritone)

Nova Music Opera Ensemble
George Vass

Recorded 16 &17 June 2016 at St John the Evangelist Church, Oxford, England

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: September 2017
Duration: 63 minutes



No matter who you are reading this, I cannot urge you strongly enough to acquire this release and play it immediately you get home.

That Man Stephen Ward is an opera with just one character, accompanied by a small ensemble (six players) and centred upon the osteopath and artist whose trial and conviction – not to say his suicide before the verdict was given – in 1963 led directly to the fall, the following year, of the Conservative government after being in power for thirteen years – aka “the Profumo affair”.

The trial brought down a number of other people. Ward was convicted of living off immoral earnings – a trumped-up charge if ever there was one, for he was independently wealthy – and numerous people, political and otherwise, in the public eye were caught up in the events leading to the trial. There was no doubt in my mind that he was set up, during a period of much consternation over security leaks at the height of the Cold War, a few months after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

It’s a fascinating story, which has already given rise to musical treatment – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical in particular – but this by the twenty-nine-year-old Londoner wipes the floor with all of them.

This is the most impressive and genuinely exciting work by a young British composer I have heard in years. It is, I have no hesitation in declaring, a genuinely original masterpiece – an utterly compelling piece of serious art-music that demonstrates, for those with ears to hear, that Thomas Hyde is a very gifted composer.

Music-lovers have no excuse not to acquire this superbly-engineered recording and hear for themselves. The story is brilliantly told through David Norris’s libretto – of such dramatic compulsion as to place all of those ‘contemporary’ librettists, with their over-wordy texts, in the shade, and Hyde has grasped this golden opportunity with both hands. Norris’s words go to the heart of each of the six scenes; sympathetic – as it should be in any theatrical situation – and brilliantly written with a master’s sure touch.

The result is a fantastic opera which absolutely gripped me and held my attention throughout. Not only is Hyde’s music – and word-setting (which, in any opera, must literally take centre-stage) – of demonstrable quality, but also his pacing, his surety of judgement in terms of dramatic appositeness, and – not least – his understanding of the proper use of the human voice, declare him to be a complete composer, one who knows exactly what he wants to do, how to do it, and how to convey to an audience what the piece is about.

Hyde is honoured by a performance of breathtaking compulsion from Damian Thantrey and played superbly under George Vass. The complete libretto is included (not wholly necessary, as with Thantrey’s wonderful characterisation you can hear every word). Just buy it.

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