Tate’s opera The Lodger performed by the BBC Northern Singers

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Lyrita
WORKS: The Lodger
PERFORMER: Owen Brannigan, Johanna Peters, Marion Studholme, Joseph Ward, Alexander Young; BBC Northern Singers; BBC Northern Orchestra/Charles Groves Lyrita REAM.2119   118:38 mins (2 discs)


The most successful opera debut by a British composer since the war, barring Peter Grimes? That was the view of Harold Rosenthal, reviewing the modest student premiere of Phyllis Tate’s The Lodger in 1960. Elements in Tate’s treatment of Marie Belloc Lowndes’s novel, inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders, certainly deserve approval. There’s the music’s ease of expression and clarity, typical Tate virtues; the ironic counterpoint of a Cockney chorus; and the strong ensemble numbers climaxing the two acts. But other elements, chiefly David Franklin’s libretto, might explain why the opera has received scant attention since a further staging in 1965, one year after this invaluable mono BBC radio broadcast, resurrected from the private collection of Lyrita’s founder Richard Itter.

At its best, Tate’s music succeeds in sustaining a claustrophobic, foreboding atmosphere – just the thing for a lodging house where the sole guest, so nice and well-spoken, returns from a nocturnal ‘business appointment’ dripping blood. If only Franklin’s penny-plain words and sketchy characterisations didn’t keep puncturing the mood with bathos, repetitions, and empty spaces. 

The cast work hard making amends, with piercing contributions from mezzo Johanna Peters, popular bass Owen Brannigan, and the distinctive soprano timbres of Marion Studholme. Joseph Ward, the lodger himself, veers toward the stolid, but the BBC Northern Orchestra and Singers pitch in with great zest under Charles Groves. Radio presentation, with narration, is generally effective, though you need to forgive some uneven balancing and the bizarre sound effect of a door being opened and shut.


Geoff Brown