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18 November 2022

'The poet hiding a secret' – King's Chapel hosts Veritable Michael

The College Chapel hosted a showing of Veritable Michael, an opera based on the true story of Michael Field - a Victorian poet who was hiding a secret.

Veritable Michael

Shadow Opera held an operatic telling of Veritable Michael, winner of the Stephen Oliver Award for new opera, based on the story of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper — two Victorian poets who lived, loved and wrote under the pseudonym, Michael Field.

This presentation of the opera took place in King’s Chapel in collaboration with the Department of Liberal Arts and was followed by a short discussion with Marion Thain, Professor of Literature and Culture, and Sophie Goldrick and Tom Floyd from Shadow Opera. Guests had an opportunity to gain further insight into the creation of the opera.

Professor Thain is one of a group of scholars who have worked to reconsider the literary legacy of Michael Field; she has two published books on the subject (Michael Field': Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siècle and Michael Field, The Poet (1880-1914)) and was delighted to see the Michael Field story brought to life:

The music in this opera is so powerful it gives me goosebumps; even more so within the beautiful setting of the Chapel at King’s. The tale of these two women, whose work was acclaimed, then forgotten, and then brought back into the literary landscape through the efforts of a group of scholars, is now gathering broader general interest with the brilliant work of Shadow Opera and our Department of Liberal Arts and King’s Culture.

Professor Marion Thain, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, King's College London

The true story starts in May 1884, as London awoke to the news of an exciting new playwright and poet bursting onto the scene to rave reviews. Michael Field not only won the praise of the papers, but also piqued the interest of literary giants Robert Browning and Oscar Wilde. However, Michael was hiding a secret: he was in fact two women, deeply in love, disguised, writing as one. The opera combines Katherine's and Edith's journals, poetry and letters with an original score by Tom Floyd.

The opera’s origins came from a trip to the Queer British Art exhibition at the Tate Britain in 2017 by Sophie Goldrick and Tom Floyd – the show’s co-creators – and the discovery of a locket.

It belonged to a queer writer couple, Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley, who together wrote under the name 'Michael Field'. That was enough to inspire us and we set about researching further, captivated by these two extraordinary women and their fascinating lives.

Sophie Goldrick, Co-creator, Shadow Opera

They began work in earnest in lockdown and recorded their progress in a documentary podcast before performing the opera at the University of Birmingham and The Brunel Museum before the performance at King’s – an experience Shadow Opera were excited to share:

‘We were thrilled to perform the opera in such lush, Victorian surrounds and share our research with the keen audience members who stayed to hear the Q&A. Our sincere thanks to Marion, Professor Sally Marlow and the incredible Culture team, particularly Jocelyn Cheek who oversaw the whole event. It was a great privilege for us to present our work at King's College London.’

You can listen to Professor Marion Thain, Tom Floyd and Sophie Goldrick, discuss the opera on BBC Radio 3 Music Matters here. 

The Shadow Opera Veritable Michael podcast is available here.

In this story

Marion Thain

Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts & Humanities

Sally  Marlow

Professor of Practice in Public Understanding of Mental Health Research