A Voice of One Delight

A Voice of One Delight was the first McCaldin Arts project, a collaboration with opera director Joe Austin, transforming a concert work into a version for the dramatic stage.

In the original concert version, sung settings of lyric poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley are interleaved with a spoken text narrating the circumstances of his death, taken from the writings of a friend, Edward John Trelawny.

The version for the stage makes a number of changes: solo piano accompaniment is supported by a soundtrack (designed by Steve Mayo). The sung sections remain as originally written, but the spoken text has also been revised to tell the story from a wider range of viewpoints. The writings of Shelley himself, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Trelawny, Leigh Hunt and Edward Williams all provided material for the final version.

Production design is by Simon Kenny, with audio-visual design by Adam Young and movement by Petra Söör.

  • Media from the first performance of A Voice of One Delight from Tête à Tête: the Opera Festival website, including a video of the complete performance and a set of photos.
  • The original A Voice of One Delight is a 25-minute scena by Stephen McNeff, written for mezzo-soprano with flute, harp and viola. Clare recorded this version with the Nova Music Ensemble on Madrigali dell’Estate, a CD of Stephen’s music for Champs Hill Records, in October 2012.

Performance history

A Voice of One Delight was originally commissioned for me by the Presteigne Festival and was premiered there as a concert piece on 29 August 2010. A second performance was given in the Royal Opera House Crush Room on 20 December 2010.

The first performances of the staged version took place on 16 and 17 August 2012 as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival. I am grateful to the Arts Council of England for funding the transformation to into a staged work.

The Background to A Voice of One Delight

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a social and political radical who despite being philosophically opposed to marriage, twice found himself at the altar. His second wife was Mary Godwin (who later wrote Frankenstein) and they remained together until his death, but he had many emotional entanglements with other women, inspiring some of his most powerful love-poetry. Censured by mainstream English society because of their politics and his atheism, the Shelleys set up home in Italy as one of a loose group of exiles, frequently moving house to escape ex-patriate opprobrium, disagreements, creditors or simply to seek new experiences.

A Voice of One Delight retells the events surrounding Shelley’s death in the bay of La Spezia on 8 July 1822, along with his friend Williams. As a result of quarantine laws the mens’ bodies couldn’t be repatriated to England and arrangements were made to cremate them on the beach where they had been washed ashore. Louis Edouard Fournier’s highly romanticised painting The Burial of Shelley (shown above) provided the original inspiration for A Voice of One Delight.

The narrative is told in the words of what came to be known as the ‘Pisan Circle’: Shelley and Mary; Edward Williams, the husband of his last muse Jane; Lord Byron; Leigh Hunt, with whom Shelley and Byron had hoped to found a new literary journal called ‘The Liberal’; Edward John Trelawny, the adventurer who attached himself to their group and wrote profitable memoirs in his later years chronicling the events in Italy. The primary sources for the project included letters, journals, poems and critical essays. The settings of verses from Shelley’s final lyric poems addressed to Jane provide an emotional and musical thread through the piece and remain unchanged from the original version.