Richard Lambert Music

The Yellow Dress (Op.42)

A one act multimedia opera, for three female characters and chamber ensemble (with a two piano version available: Op.42a)

This short opera takes an uncompromising look at one of the great challenges of our society: our treatment of older people, and particularly those whose mental fragility makes them both vulnerable and burdensome.

The story starkly explores the choices we are forced to make and how the ties of duty and devotion are tested by a chance of love.

Using a multi-media approach, the story travels across time and space to a deliberately equivocal conclusion.

The cast has two female singers (SS), and the role of Mother is primarily a spoken, acted role (except for a single, poignant, sung line), and a chamber orchestra of seven players: flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, keyboard and three percussionists who command a considerable battery of colourful instruments, both tuned and untuned.

The musical style of The Yellow Dress is still largely lyrical, with a musical language more demanding than that used for the Shakespeare songs, complementing the tone and subject-matter of the opera.

The Tessitura partnership is a collaborative relationship between composer Richard Lambert and writer Hilary Spiers.


A young woman returns reluctantly from her holiday romance in the sun, to the stifling atmosphere of her elderly mother’s home. She arrives at the dark, airless house with the week’s shopping, and tries to slot back into her claustrophobic existence, but we can already feel her overwhelming desire for freedom. Her sense of duty keeps her there; but we find that her mother, with a declining mental capacity, has never loved her - making the situation even more difficult.

Mother and daughter experienced a traumatic event in the past, which has been pivotal for both of them. They both apportion blame to each other for the tragedy, and this unrest is expressed throughout the opera in the ever-present image of the sea.

Now that the daughter has returned, she is torn between the thankless task of caring for her mother and following her heart – she had a passionate holiday romance. The tension comes to a head when her lover starts demanding attention, and she cannot reconcile these two major threads of her life.

The opera’s conclusion is deliberately open-ended, leaving the listener with the unanswered question of how best to balance the duty of care with the promise of romantic love.


Watch a recording of the first performance on the Tête à Tête website.


  1. 18 August 2012: performed at the Tête à Tête opera festival at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, by Opera at Home. Director: Jose Gandia, Producer/Designer: Alexia Mankovskaya. Janna Sutherland (Daughter), Rosalind Stern (Mother), Alexia Mankovskaya (Lady), Karolina Kormiltseva (Girl). Andrea Kmecova (piano), Helen Manente (flute), Naomi Bristow (clarinet), Andrew Watson (bassoon), Julian Poole, James Turner, Tim Gunnell (percussion), conducted by the composer
  2. 19 August 2012: as 18 August 2012


I Ioved the opera … you have a particular gift for melody, and for me, I could have done with more of that … I found the whole theme of loss and the passage of time very powerful and moving. It worked especially well for me when the mother, daughter and the ‘portrait’ were on stage together, with the younger daughter frozen in time – perpetually young – and the others being ‘drowned’ by time and their sense of loss; I think her question (Hilary Finch, Times review 21 August 2012) about whether it was cutting edge or melodrama was trying to get at something about the mix of styles. For me, the mix of styles worked and felt organic. I guess I come back to: what story do you want to tell and how can you tell it most authentically?

Christina Muller Rees

I thought the whole thing fitted together so well and seamlessly. Some lovely harmonies, effective imagery and word-painting … the orchestra played well, some lovely writing.

Rachel Hilser Smith

Emotionally, I was more absorbed with the clash/dementia rather than the lesbian element … I think the mix of styles worked well to convey the mixed feelings of a carer/daughter … I think this production had a lot of depth and the harmony you chose helped to intensify emotions.

Krystyna Palamarchuk

I enjoyed the production and feel privileged to have been there at the performance. I disagree with Hilary Finch (Times review 21 August 2012), personally I didn’t need the projection to point up the sense of the sea, the music conveyed that perfectly, but I did feel that it greatly added to the sense of the tragedy. I think the opera has real potential and I hope that other groups give it an airing, preferably in modern dress!

Jonquil Yapp

The contrasting musical styles complement the lyrics at the time … Hilary Finch (Times review 21 August 2012) seems to suggest that the tonal nature of the music was something of a drawback. Very little music written these days is not tonal, and with the video sea backcloth, the sea connection in the music was pretty hard to miss! I think you should be very pleased with the way it turned out, good cast and very competent band.

Malcolm Crane

Congratulate Richard on his opera – it was quite a tour-de-force! I thought it was an excellent story – very simple but with plenty of powerful emotional content and ideal for opera. The running time fitted it nicely. I liked the instrumentation. At the start there was a suggestion of confusion which might have been that of the old lady. I enjoyed the rhythmic drive of the opening although I was ready for a change of tempo/mood. The vocal writing was very good and Janna Sutherland had a massive part which she carried off with sincerity and commitment. There was a recitative section between mother and daughter with just piano accompaniment which was particularly effective (waves on the backdrop).

Nigel Hayward, pianist, Shetland

I concur with Nigel on much of what he’s said about Richard’s opera, and the thing that came across loud and clear was the sincerity of both creative context and presentation. Personally, I wasn’t as keen on the orchestration as Nigel, it’s not my preferred sort of sound – I wouldn’t go to a concert of Stravinsky’s wind music, for example (and Richard’s music has a hint of flavour and colour of this style) – but that says nothing about the skill of composition, or the suitability of the music for the subject matter, which I found absolutely convincing. Lots of things were explored, and I noted such features of musical repetitiveness, anxiety, frustration, tenderness, confusion, which matched the theme; the opera for me worked.

Deirdre Hayward, vocal teacher, Shetland

"unexpected, moving, engaging"...audience comments after 'The Yellow Dress' at Riverside Studios

@OperaHome tweet 21 August 2012



This recording of The Yellow Dress was produced using computer software called Sibelius: it is not a live recording.

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