The Late Works: 83
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Title graphic: Frank Bridge: A Life in Brief
The Late Works: 84

Finally, the very choice of having two children as the main characters created a potential casting problem. No doubt Bridge drew some comfort from the similar case in Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel (which he had conducted, see Earning a Living: 14), yet he must have been aware that significant children's roles in opera were rarely performed satisfactorily, in particular when the singer was manifestly not a child, as often happens with the casting of female child-roles. In addition, some of Bridge's vocal writing was daunting, for adults let alone for children. Thus it was unlikely that The Christmas Rose would receive many convincing performances, if any.

It comes as no surprise therefore that Bridge decided to abandon The Christmas Rose. Its stylistic inconsistency, weak libretto and potential casting difficulties were problems that justifiably tipped the scales in its disfavour. Admittedly one important redeeming feature was, as Bridge explained, the 'good things in it', yet was saving these really a sufficiently trenchant reason for resuming work on a piece begun a decade earlier, especially considering the stylistic development that Bridge had pursued in the interim? Could there be an even more important reason?

Two points seem relevant here. Firstly, it is the children rather than the adults who inspire the miracle in the plot. They demonstrate great resilience, battling against considerable odds. It is they rather than their parents who achieve the impossible and give meaning to the plot. They are the agents of the miracle.

Secondly, by 1929, Bridge was becoming aware just how important the young Britten was to both himself and Ethel. Following their initial meeting in 1927, Britten revealed an extraordinary capacity for assimilation in his lessons with Bridge, as exemplified in the Quatre Chansons Françaises of 1928; in itself the composition of these songs could almost be described as miraculous. But it was also their deepening, 'very touching'18 relationship as Bridge came to regard Britten as a part of his own family that must have appeared like a miracle. His own childlessness and the heartache this caused19 was transformed by Britten's appearance, and, as in the plot of The Christmas Rose, the child was the agent of the miracle. Was this therefore the reason why Bridge returned to The Christmas Rose in 1929? Had the opera become a symbol for the appearance of Britten, 'my quasi-adopted son', and, as such needed to be completed, a form of thanksgiving for the 'miraculous' event?

18 Britten's description in 'Britten Looking Back', Sunday Telegraph, 17 November 1963, p 9.
19 Ethel's off-the-cuff remark to Mrs Coolidge, 'I'm the very proud possessor of a baby - not a real one unfortunately - but a small car!', speaks volumes. (Letter, 6 September 1932.)