When the Flame Dies


When The Flame Dies is a new opera by Ed Hughes with a libretto by Roger Morris.

Presented by Sounds New, it will be performed as part of the Canterbury Festival on October 17 at 8.00pm. Details and tickets available here.



The Poet receives a phone call offering a commission to write a new play to be performed at a prestigious theatre. He is quick to decline the commission because he is in mourning for his recently dead lover. He cannot even think of working, he says. But it’s clear that he is flattered by the honour. By the end of the call, he promises to think about it, and makes a note of the details. Strangely, the caller doesn’t give a name.


Despite his earlier protestations, the Poet begins trying to work. However, he cannot get past simply stating the fact of his love’s death. He screws up the paper and throws it away.


The Poet confronts himself in the mirror and agonises, self-accusingly, over his lover’s death.


The door bell rings. The Poet is visited by a beautiful woman, dressed in black – The Princess. Mysteriously, she seems to know all about the Poet, particularly about the details of his father’s suicide. She asks the Poet what he wants and he says to be re-united with his dead love. She says there is a way to achieve this – through death. She gleefully encourages him to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger – the same gun that his father used to kill himself, which the poet has kept all these years. However, just as he is about to shoot himself, she stops him and says that there is something she wants to show him.


The Princess gives the Poet a vision of all the books he has yet to write – the creative work he has ahead of him.


She then lights a candle, saying that they will “play a game”. Before the candle burns out, the Poet must choose between Love and Art. The Poet chooses Love, but the Princess says the candle hasn’t burnt out yet. There is still time for him to change his mind.


As part of the game, the Princess encourages the Poet to invoke Orpheus.  Orpheus appears. The Princess offers the Poet a magical poppy petal. The Poet takes the poppy petal, falls asleep, and begins to dream.


The legend of Orpheus is retold.  The Poet wakes and blames Orpheus for causing Eurydice’s death. They argue violently. In despair the Poet summons the Princess again. He demands more poppy petals. The underworld invades the apartment. The Princess claims the Poet as her own. The Dead call to the Poet. The Poet emerges from a trance as the figure of his Dead Love appears to him.


The Princess reminds the Poet of the books he still has to write. The future books are displayed, but gradually start to vanish. The candle is burning out. The moment when the Poet must make his final decision is approaching. His Dead Love has appeared in front of him, all he has to do is say the word – choose Love – and they will be reunited. But at the final moment, the Poet, in agony, rejects his love. Orpheus and Eurydice drag the Dead Love back into the Underworld.


The apartment is restored to the everyday. The Poet rails against the Princess. She calmly feeds paper into his typewriter. The Poet begins writing.

When the Flame Dies imaginatively explores the life of French poet, novelist, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau and characters from his film Orphée in a fast-paced human drama. Five outstanding young singers join the New Music Players ensemble of twelve top musicians. Live electronics and stunning video projection enhance this exciting collaboration with Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival.

View the trailer by Will Reynolds here.