Edward Elgar’s Unfinished Opera ‘The Spanish Lady’

By David Salazar

We know the Enigma Variations. We know the Cello and Violin Concertos. We know his symphonic works.

But we never got to hear a full opera from Edward Elgar, born on June 2, 1857—though this wasn’t due to lack of effort. The legendary English composer did actually get close to his one and only opera, but death took him too soon.

Elgar’s opera was supposed to be “The Spanish Woman,” based on “The Devil Is an Ass,” a play by Ben Jonson.

Ultimately, Elgar’s work on the opera included just a few sketches that were little more than reworkings of earlier pieces such as unused material from oratorios and The Crown of India Suite. He did, however, manage to get very close to completing the libretto, which would be quite useful later on when Dr. Percy Young took over the work, arranged it, and orchestrated it. The result was a 45-minute work.

Fortunately, there are opportunities to get a look at Elgar’s intentions for what would have been his one and only opera. Dr. Young’s arrangement was eventually recorded and issued with the Oct. 1995 issue of BBC Music Magazine.

You can check out a recording of the suite for strings based on the composer’s work for the opera below:


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