To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s birth in 2022, we were pleased to release an exclusive performance of the song cycle The House of Life by leading British tenor David Butt Philip and acclaimed pianist James Baillieu.
The House of Life is an uninhibited and intimate celebration of mutual love, drawing together six of the most delicate, devoted and delirious sonnets by poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Leighton House Museum formed the backdrop to the recital. As well as being long associated with Opera Holland Park, the building was also familiar to Rossetti through his friendship with Frederic Leighton.
With thanks to The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust for making this project possible.
The House of Life
Contemporaneous with Vaughan Williams’s bracing Robert Louis Stevenson cycle, Songs of Travel, the song cycle The House of Life is an uninhibited and intimate celebration of mutual love. It draws together six of the most delicate, devoted and delirious sonnets by poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Love Sight, Silent Noon, Love’s Minstrels, Heart’s Haven, Death in Love and Love’s Last Gift.
When Rossetti’s first wife and muse, the Pre-Raphaelite poet, painter and model Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Siddal, died in 1862 at the age of 32, Rossetti buried his poems with her. When he later retrieved and published them in 1870, he was subject to an excoriating attack by the literary critic Robert Buchanan and was accused of celebrating ‘merely animal sensations’ in his sonnets.
The motifs of sunlight, twilight and moonlight are skillfully wrought in music from the period between the composer’s studies in Germany and London, and his studies in France with Maurice Ravel. The love described is ecstatic with no hint of impending tragedy.
Long associated with Opera Holland Park, and a building with which the poet and artist Rossetti was familiar through his friendship with Frederic Leighton, Leighton House Museum forms the backdrop of the filmed recital. David Butt Philip had learned The House of Life as a young baritone and was determined to revisit the song cycle as a tenor in this transposition.
About the Artists
David Butt Phillip, most recently cast as Florestan in the Royal Opera’s 2020 production of Fidelio, began his professional career as a baritone in the Opera Holland Park Chorus before changing voice-range and returning as the tenor lead in Mascagni’s Isabeau (2018) and Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta (2019) to unanimous acclaim. His accompanist in this project, James Baillieu, is a sensitive and highly-skilled proponent of song recitals, and trained together with David. Their full biographies can be found below.
David Butt Philip, tenor – Born and brought up in Somerset, David was a chorister at Peterborough Cathedral before going on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. He continued his studies as a baritone on the postgraduate opera course at the Royal Academy of Music. As a member of the Glyndebourne chorus he was encouraged to change to singing tenor. He won Glyndebourne’s John Christie Award in 2011 and went on to study as a tenor at the National Opera Studio, London.
An alumnus of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House, David has attracted major acclaim with recent debuts such as the title role Der Zwerg at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Florestan in a new production of Fidelio at Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the title role of Brett Dean’s Hamlet at Glyndebourne, Essex Gloriana at Teatro Real, Erik Der fliegende Hollander at Opéra de Lille, Laca Jenufa at Opera North and Grigoriy Boris Godunov at Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the BBC Proms. He has performed regularly at ENO as well as singing with Opera North, English Touring Opera and major European opera houses.
His future engagements include debuts with Wiener Staatsoper, Berlin and The Metropolitan Opera, New York.
James Baillieu, piano – Described by The Daily Telegraph as ‘in a class of his own’ James Baillieu is one of the leading song and chamber music pianists of his generation. He has given solo and chamber recitals throughout the world and collaborates with a wide range of singers and instrumentalists. As a soloist, he has appeared with the Ulster Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, and the Wiener Kammersymphonie. James is a frequent guest at many of the world’s most distinguished music centers including Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Vancouver Playhouse, Berlin Konzerthaus, Vienna Musikverein, Barbican Centre, Wiener Konzerthaus, Bozar Brussels, Pierre Boulez Saal, Cologne Philharmonie, and the Laeiszhalle Hamburg. Festivals include Aix-en-Provence, Verbier, Schleswig-Holstein, Edinburgh, Aldeburgh and Brighton Festivals.
An innovative programmer, he has curated many song and chamber music festivals including series for the Wigmore Hall, BBC Radio 3, Verbier Festival and Perth Concert Hall. During the 2020-21 season he was engaged by the Metropolitan Opera, Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Park Avenue Armory in New York, Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Cleveland Institute of Music, Hamarikyu Asahi Hall in Tokyo, Aldeburgh Festival for the Britten-Pears Young Artists Program, as well as by the Samling Foundation, Heidelberger Frühling, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, and Konzerthaus Dortmund.
James Baillieu is a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, International Tutor at the RNCM, a coach for the Jette Parker Young Artist Program at the Royal Opera House, a course leader for the Samling Foundation, and is head of the Song Program at the Atelier Lyrique of the Verbier Festival Academy. Sought after for masterclasses worldwide, recent sessions have been at the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, Cleveland Institute of Music, Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Friends of Chamber Music, Portland, Oregon, Vancouver Academy of Music, Canada, and to the University of Waikato, New Zealand.