Home and Building, Volume 18 Number 1 (June 1955)
"Hugh the Drover" is the most frequently performed and consequently the most well known of Vaughan Williams' five operas and has, in England, won the affections of a larger number of opera-goers. Although composed as far back as 1911 -1914 it was not performed until 1924 when it was produced at the Royal College of Music (the work is inpage 49
fact dedicated to Sir Hugh Allan, for many years Principal of the College) and later added to the repertoire of the British National Opera Company. In more recent years it has become a stock piece at the Sadler's Wells theatre in London.
The composer calls the work "a romantic ballad opera"; the libretto by Harold Child deals with English country life in the time of the Napoleonic wars. The music is pervaded with the spirit of old English traditional melodies and though none is actually used complete, they give the work a distinctive freshness and gaiety.
The popular attraction of the opera is a very realistic prize fight in the course of the finale to the first act. Here as well as throughout the work there is a great deal of excellent music for the chorus. The two main solo parts are characterized by great beauty and nobility of line with some climaxes of sheer vocal splendour.
"Hugh the Drover" is a modern revival of the Eighteenth Century 'village opera', but without its affectations and artificialities; it has a good deal of humour but it is in the main a serious work, with a completely modern outlook on music—and sometimes on life as well.