Stage Works

The Selfish Giant: A Youth Opera - Music: John Barber
Libretto: Jessica Duchen (after Oscar Wilde)

“The composer John Barber and librettist Jessica Duchen have written an opera to last, balancing clarity and lyricism, avoiding cliché.” – The Times, ****

“I can’t remember when I last hear a new opera – for any age-group – which gave me such unalloyed pleasure.” – Michael Church

No trespassing! The tale of one giant, his garden and an equal share of paradise, this beloved story by Oscar Wilde is the basis for a youth opera co-commissioned by Garsington Opera and Opera North from John Barber and Jessica Duchen. The world premiere was postponed by a year due to COVID-19, but took place triumphantly, to enthusiastic reviews, at Garsington Opera on 29 July 2021, with Matthew Stiff (baritone) as The Giant, Barbara Cole Watson (soprano) as The Linnet and Barnaby Scholes as The Child, with an ensemble from the Philharmonia conducted by Jack Ridley. Opera North is scheduled to perform the opera in summer 2022.


THE HAPPY PRINCESS: A Youth Opera (after Oscar Wilde)

Youth opera libretto for Paul Fincham, commissioned by Garsington Opera’s Learning and Participation Department. Premiere: 2 August 2019

The Happy Princess is a brand-new, contemporary updating of Oscar Wilde’s popular short story The Happy Prince. Designed especially for the youth companies of Garsington Opera, the score by Paul Fincham features roles for a professional mezzo-soprano (The Princess) and a child soloist (The Swallow). Please watch for further details. Details Here.


A Concert Play

“A beautifully crafted retelling of the ‘Bach’ story, with a lot of heart” – Limelight Magazine, Australia ****

Destitute on the streets of Leipzig in 1760, the ailing Anna Magdalena Bach looks back at her life with her husband Johann Sebastian, from the ecstasy of musical creation to the agony of intense personal tragedy. Jessica as Anna Magdalena is joined on stage by a star baritone and baroque ensemble. Music includes extracts from Bach’s cantatas and passion, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the solo cello suites and, of course, the Anna Magdalena Notebook.

Commissioned by Kathryn Stott, artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Townsville, and premiered there in August 2018 with Roderick Williams, Siobhan Stagg, the Goldner String Quartet, Daniel de Borah and Guy Johnston among others.

Read the review from Limelight Magazine here.

UK premiere: Kings Place, 13 April 2019


SILVER BIRCH: A People’s Opera

Opera libretto for Roxanna Panufnik, commissioned by Garsington Opera. Premiere: 28 July 2017

“Jessica Duchen’s libretto is powerful and poetic and Roxanna Panufnik’s music busy and imaginative.” – The Times ****

“Panufnik and Duchen’s achievement is to synthesise personal and poetic experiences, often harrowing and disturbing, into a work of beauty and hope.” – Classical Source, *****

Silver Birch is a ‘People’s Opera’, premiered at Garsington by 180 participants including six professional singers, two child soloists, adult community chorus, youth dance company, youth singing companies aged 9-21, Foley artists, a baby and a dog (who belonged to our lead tenor). Haunted by the spirit of Siegfried Sassoon and dotted with his poetry, the present-day story is about the impact of war on a modern family when its two eldest sons join up and are sent to Iraq.


GHOST VARIATIONS: The Concert of the Novel

“Highly moving” – Birmingham Post ****

Jessica’s novel Ghost Variations is based on the true story behind the rediscovery in the 1930s of Schumann’s long-suppressed Violin Concerto – an extraordinary saga involving the great violinists Jelly d’Arányi and Yehudi Menuhin, the Third Reich and supposedly messages from the spirit world…

The concert, featuring violinist David Le Page and pianist Viv McLean, with Jessica narrating, has been performed at venues including the Leicester International Music Festival, the Artrex Arts Centre Bromsgrove, the Kensington and Chelsea Music Society, Burgh House Hampstead and Live at Zédel. It has been featured on London Live TV and BBC Radio 3’s In Tune. Repertoire – all of it connected with Jelly d’Arányi and her associates – includes works by Brahms, Bartók, Ravel, Hubay and, of course, Schumann.



What would you say if you met Richard Wagner?

Vicky, a postgraduate student researching Cosima Wagner, is visiting Wagner’s house at Tribschen, Lucerne, with her much-older boyfriend – a famous and volatile pianist who has left his wife for her. The insecure Vicky plays sidekick to the demands of Frank and his high-profile career. When he leaves his concert shoes behind in the Tribschen cloakroom and closing time is past, Vicky must retrieve them. She is trapped inside - until a mysterious resident arrives to assist her...

SINS OF THE FATHERS is a comedy with a dark side, an off-the-wall take on the relationships between Wagner, Liszt and Cosima. It should appeal to those who enjoy the plays of Ronald Harwood and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It is a three-hander in two parts. The first half is approximately 1hr long and the second about 45 mins. Extracts of music by Wagner and Liszt can be played at key moments.

The premiere was given as a rehearsed reading at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, on 24 November 2013 as part of the International Wimbledon Music Festival, starring John Sessions (Wagner), Jeremy Child (Frank/Liszt) and Sarah Gabriel (Vicky/Cosima).

“Intriguing and complex in structure...a fascinating subject”
(Planet Hugill)

VICKY/COSIMA: playing age 20s-30s;
WAGNER: playing age 50 +
FRANK/LISZT: playing age 50 +

For further information and bookings, please email: Edition Peters Artist Mangement


ALICIA'S GIFT: The Concert of the Novel

"A highly engaging presentation and marvellous concept, offering an entirely different experience to the more traditional concert format.”  – Melanie Spanswick, The Classical Piano and Education Blog

A narrated concert based on Jessica Duchen’s novel Alicia’s Gift. Repertoire includes works by Chopin, Debussy, Granados, Ravel and Gershwin. Jessica as narrator joins forces with the award-winning pianist Viv McLean.  

What does a family do to a talented child? What does the presence of a prodigy do to the family? The topics of Jessica Duchen’s acclaimed novel Alicia’s Gift hold perennial fascination for countless music-lovers.   

Its story follows the piano prodigy Alicia Bradley and her embattled parents from the revelation of her talent, aged three, through to her adulthood and her participation in the Leeds International Piano Competition. The process leaves none of them unchanged and ultimately forces Alicia to face harsh truths about herself, her guidance and her gift.  

The Alicia’s Gift concert explores its heroine’s progress with the help of some of the piano pieces in her life; words and music fuse in a closely integrated narrative, telling the story together. Performances in 2014 include the Holburne Museum, Bath; the Buxton Festival; Chetham’s International Summer School for Pianists (with Murray McLachlan, piano); and the Chopin Society, Westminster Cathedral Hall, London.

For further information and bookings, please email: Edition Peters Artist Mangement



“A very affecting combination… a performance which will long be remembered by a very appreciative audience.” – Darlington & Stockton Times  

“…an impassioned, mellifluous and emotional voyage; a snapshot of human life and in a sense, of humanity too. The audience loved every minute and were totally absorbed by the enduring, compelling partnership of words and music.” – Melanie Spanswick, The Classical Piano and Education Blog

The Hungarian Dances concert is a unique experience that unites author and passionate soloist in an enthralling mix of words and music. Jessica reads extracts from the novel, which tells of a Gypsy girl who becomes a famous classical violinist, but at a terrible personal price. The narrative is richly illustrated in stunning violin music including works by Bartók, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Dohnányi, Monti, Hubay and Kreisler.

The Hungarian Dances full-length concert lasts 100 minutes with interval; the coffee-concert version takes 75 minutes. It features Jessica Duchen as narrator and a piano and violin duo: regular performers include David Le Page (violin) with Viv McLean or Anthony Hewitt (piano); Bradley Creswick (violin) with Margaret Fingerhut (piano); Jack Maguire (violin) and Barbara Henvest (piano); Philippe Graffin (violin) and Claire Désert (piano), who made a CD inspired by the novel, available on Onyx Classics.

The performance is perfectly suited to intimate and atmospheric venues, and the intense drama of the tale is further enhanced by creative lighting. The event started life in 2008 and was revised in 2009 for the ‘Fiddles on Fire Festival’ in Gateshead and London. Since then it has been received with great enthusiasm at venues including the Buxton and Ulverston international music festivals, Teesside Music Society and in a special performance at London’s Hungarian Cultural Centre for International Holocaust Memorial Day 2014. Hungarian Dances is published by Hodder.

For further information and bookings, please email: Edition Peters Artist Mangement

Hungarian Dances by Jessica Duchen is published by Hodder & Stoughton

‘A saga whose passion for music, Hungary and history sings out on every page.’ – The Independent
‘A rare talent’ – Gavin Esler, Glasgow Herald

‘Give Hungarian Dances a whirl’ – South China Morning Post

Hungarian Dances, starring Philippe Graffin and friends, is on Onyx Classics

“Nothing fictional about this thrillingly evocative, novel-inspired enthralling, exceptional recital, to be thoroughly recommended.” – Gramophone

“A startlingly beautiful collection played with skill, wit and seductive tone... Philippe Graffin is one of the most gifted and well-rounded players you’ll ever hear...” – Strings, Editor’s Pick



Commissioned by Philippe Graffin

This one-act play about Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time' was specially commissioned by the French violinist Philippe Graffin, artistic director of the Consonances Festival, St Nazaire, to open the 2007 festival. The play explores the issues surrounding the Quartet and the aesthetic atmosphere of the 1940s, in the context of a contemporary story. A man and a woman, formerly married but long divorced, meet for the first time in many years to hear the Messiaen Quartet and, through exploring its extraordinary history and the emotional world within the music, seek to resolve their differences.

The premiere opened the 2007 festival in St Nazaire's significant new venue Alveole 14: a creative space for exploratory performing arts carved into the shell of the German submarine base that has dominated the town's coastline since the Second World War. The stars were the great French actress Marie-Christine Barrault and the magnetic actor Charles Gonzales, and the evening concluded with a performance of the Quartet by violinist Philippe Graffin, clarinettist Charles Neidich, cellist Raphael Wallfisch and pianist Claire Desert.

‘La musique, langage universel qui rapproche les hommes au-delà des croyances et des idéologies; la liberté comme lumière de l’existence, irradient cette fiction vibrante, décalquée sur la réalité historique…’ - /Ouest-France/

('Music, a universal language which brings people together beyond their faiths and ideologies, and liberty as the light of existence, irradiates this vibrant story, drawn from historical reality' - /Ouest-France)/

Read review in French

Commissioned by Philippe Graffin
Premiered at the Consonances Festival, St Nazaire, France, 21 September 2006 as Le chant de l’amour triumphant, with actress Marie-Christine Barrault and numerous festival artists including Philippe Graffin (violin), Francois Le Roux (baritone) and Ruth Peel (mezzo-soprano)

The ‘story behind the story behind the Chausson Poème’ explores the life and loves of the great mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot, especially her relationship with the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, on whose story ‘The Song of Triumphant Love’ Ernest Chausson later based his Poème. Pauline’s history draws in a wide range of music by those who knew her, including Chopin, Brahms, Saint-Saëns and Fauré, as well as her own beautiful songs; building up a picture of the autobiographical elements that influenced Turgenev’s writing, the evening culminates with the Poème itself in its rarely heard chamber version.

Link to photos of last year's performance at the Consonances Festival, St Nazaire, France.