Twice A Kiss

Twice A Kiss, an operetta in one act for seven soloists, piano and electronic organ, with libretto by Maurice Holt, was written for Peter le Huray and St Catherine’s College to perform in May Week in June 1955.

In a letter to his parents dated 24 June 55, Peter wrote:

We have just finished the most gruelling term. In addition to the usual examining & teaching, I’ve been engaged on two ventures. The St Catharine’s College Music Society asked me to write an operetta for their Mayweek Concert. I did. A young Cat’s man called Maurice Holt wrote a very good libretto. At least, it was good after all the tinkering & improvement I demanded of him. He was very goodnatured, & made all the adjustments goodhumouredly. (A change from the previous oaf I was obliged to work with.) The thing was called “Twice a Kiss” & lasted about 45 minutes, – the accompaniment for a piano & electronic organ. This combination was excellent – played by the two organ scholars of the college, one present, one past but still resident. ... The audience enjoyed it, & many people said nice things about it. [...] Ovations at the end for librettist and composer. The panelled hall made the Restoration costumes stand out with a dream-like brilliance.

The title-page of the new work read

Twice a Kiss


An Entertainment in one act


Maurice Holt and Peter Tranchell

The libretto was by Maurice Holt, an undergraduate from St Catherine’s, who recalled that he offered to write a book possibly set in the Restoration – “I'd been reading Wycherley and thought the period deserved a re-run. I wrote it during the vacation, inventing the story, and Peter chose the title.” 

The cast consists of:

Knipp (house-boy to Sir Robert) (baritone)
Susan (a servant) (mezzo-soprano)
Sarah (Sir Robert’s ward) (contralto)
Sir Robert Asymptote (a pompous knight and a would-be playwright; although a jealous husband, he is secretly given to amours) (baritone)
Lady Asymptote (Sir Robert’s wife) (soprano)
Sir Peter Parallel (a gallant in debt to Sir Robert) (tenor)
Mr Honeywood (an actor and the proprietor of a playhouse) (bass)

For a revival by the Amateur Dramatic Club in the Lent Term of 1982, when the role of Honeywood was sung by Christopher Purves (who went on to enjoy a distinguished operatic career after a spell in Harvey and the Wallbangers) the word “Entertainment” in the title was changed to “Charade” and Peter provided an introduction:

The scene is the principal chamber in the London house of Sir Robert Asymptote during the late 18th century.

Sir Robert fancies himself as a philanderer and a playwright, but his wife is watchful and his play is pitiful. If he had money to hand, he could induce someone to perform the play, but he has lent a large sum to Sir Peter Parallel and cannot get it back. His ward, Sarah, is an heiress, but her inheritance is out of reach until she comes of age or gets married. Should she marry Sir Peter, Sir Peter’s debt could be paid and Sir Robert’s play could be promoted.

Sir Robert therefore gives a party in the hope that Sir Peter will offer for Sarah, and Mr Honeywood will offer for the play. But things turn out differently. Sir Robert puts his foot down, only to relent when he is assured that his objectives may be gained in another way.

In the Prologue, Knipp, the house-boy, refers to the old rhyme: Once a miss, twice a kiss, three times a letter, four times something better; upon which the plot is loosely hung. Susan, the housemaid, finds an anonymous letter of assignation. Is it for her? Is it from Sir Robert? She hides it in a bowl of flowers – where Sarah promptly finds it.

The wit and the tone of the piece is set by the Prologue, spoken by Knipp:

Whereas the art of opera can create
A work that’s fit for any gourmet’s plate.
The author and the composer humbly wish
To offer you a much more trivial dish.
Theirs is a tale occasioned by a letter,
Proceeding, through a kiss, to something better.
The composer begs that you forgive it if
The music sounds a little bit derivative.
The author craves your pardon for a plot so thin
And both now bid me leave you, that we may begin.

The music proceeds in a lightly accompanied rhythmic recitative interspersed with solos, duets and ensembles. For the revival, it was suggested that the organ part might be orchestrated. However, Peter felt that the entire accompaniment would have to be recast in order to do that, something he did not have time for when it was being discussed.

As well as Christopher Purves, the 1982 ADC cast included Simon Crookall (until recently CEO of Hawaii Opera Theatre), Jo Maggs (who sadly died in her 20s), John Glover (who continued to sing for a number of years), Richard Craddock (now an architect in Scandinavia, having eschewed a musical career), Nicola-Jane Kemp (who went on to a career as a coloratura soprano, having been a contralto at Cambridge) and Fiona Stuart-Wilson (soprano and member of The Archduke's Consort).  The conductor was Michael Law, who runs the Piccadilly Dance Orchestra as well as having his cabaret show.  Mark Warman was one of the two pianists, now a conductor and Musical Director in the West End.

Following the 1982 performance PAT sent this letter to Fiona Stuart-Wilson, published here with permission.

Letter from Peter Tranchell to Fiona Stuart-Wilson following the performance of Twice A Kiss at the Cambridge ADC in 1982