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Elizabeth Maconchy

Publisher: Chester Music

The Sofa (1957)
Text Writer
Ursula Vaughan Williams
Chester Music Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
40 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
3 sopranos, mezzo soprano, contralto, 2 tenors, baritone
Programme Note
Elizabeth Maconchy The Sofa (1957)

This opera is set in Paris during the nineteeth century and is – in the composer’s own words – ‘light-hearted, light-headed and entirely improbable’. Set in a ballroom, the story is of a man who turns into a sofa. The opera may be presented as one part of a triple bill with The Three Strangers and The Departure or may be presented separately.


The libretto to The Sofa is by Ursula Vaughan Williams, adapted very freely from the famous French novel ‘Le sofa’ by Crebillon, and is in light verse. Set in Paris at some time in the nineteenth century, it is light-hearted, light-headed and entirely improbable.

Dominic is cosily ensconced with Monique in the ante-room to his ballroom where a ball is going on. They are interrupted by his Grandmother an aristocratic witch, who storms and scolds and finally, fitting the punishment to his crimes, turns him into a sofa, only when the act of love is consummated thereon.

Dance music and dancers drift in from the ballroom - but no one can find Dominic.

Eventually his frickle Monique returns with a handsome Englishman, and, when they make love on the Sofa, Dominic is released. After an ensemble, expressing simultaneously incredulity, indignation, and unashamed enjoyment, the opera ends as it began with Dominic and Monique ensconced again on the Sofa.

Elizabeth Maconchy

  • Ensemble
    Orchestra of Independent Opera
    Louise Poole (mezzo-soprano), Hakan Vramsmo (baritone), Patrick Ashcroft (tenor), Samuel Boden (tenor), Michelle Daly ( mezzo-soprano), Jassy Husk (soprano), Anna Leese (soprano), Simon Lobelson (baritone), Tom Oldham (bass-baritone), Kate Symonds-Joy (mezzo-soprano)
    Dominic Wheeler
  • 13 NOV 2007
    Maconchy Centenary 2007
    Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London
    Independent Opera
    Alessandro Talevi, director; Dominic Wheeler, conductor

    Other Dates:
    15,17 November - Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London

'Both pieces [The Sofa and The Departure]...are very much the work of a musician who was clearly at ease with small-scale, detailed forms. Maconchy's vocal writing-declamatory, yet lyrical and wide-ranging- is attractive and very much her own. Phrases deascending from one vocal extreme to another take us into the emotional depths. One prominent effect, often ravishing, is her deployment of an arch-like soprano line, rising to a high trill over a fermata, before sinking down as onward momentuum resumes....The finist section [of The Sofa] is a trio, during which three girls, thinking that no on else is in earshot, meditate on impending sexual adventures and disappointments to music that recalls the nymphs of Ariadne auf Naxos....
Tim Ashley, Opera,01/01/2008
The Lilian Baylis Theatre is a small place for Maconchy's playful blends of sprung strings and seductive woodwind. But the casting was strong, with superb performances...
Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday,25/11/2007
..deftly delineating the comedy in music that draws widely on her talent for lyrical melody, lively pastiche and contrapuntal cunning.
Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph,19/11/2007
The voluptuous, droll score, full of sharp pastiche, shows Maconchy with her hair down.
Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard,16/11/2007
Maconchy's music is genuinely melodic, tumbling over with infectious rhythms and parody.
Geoff Brown, The Times,15/11/2007
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