All You Who Sleep Tonight (1996)

For Mezzo-Soprano and Piano   21 minutes

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I wrote these songs for Nuala Willis. Since our first meeting (when I accompanied Nuala singing Naughty Songs from the Twenties in a charity gala at the London Palladium) our collaborations were mainly operatic: she created a series of roles for me, in the community operas I wrote for Glyndebourne (Dreamdragons and In Search of Angels), then later in Flight, When She Died, and two operas for Batignano (La dama ed il pulitore di Damasco and Le Porte di Bagdad).  We also collaborated on Jonathan Kent’s production of Medea.  But from time to time we would perform in cabaret together (including a couple of gigs at Pizza on the Park), and I wanted to write some songs that would hint at that side of this unique performer – songs she might sing somewhere between a night-club and the Wigmore Hall.

Vikram Seth’s collection All You Who Sleep Tonight includes a section of quatrains, in which situations by turns touching and humorous are gracefully conjured up in four elegant lines.  I set eight of these aphoristic ‘dramatic moments’, alongside five other poems from the same collection.  I was attracted by the accuracy of his rhymes, the precision of his rhythm, and his ability to convey so deftly the subtle workings of the human heart.

We first performed the complete cycle at the Almeida Theatre in 1996.  It is dedicated with love and gratitude to Jonathan Kent

Text: Poems by Vikram Seth

First performance: 18th July 1996, Nuala Willis and Jonathan Dove, Almeida Theatre.