Daniel Steven Crafts


An Opera in Two Acts

Libretto by Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold

Based on the poetry and letters of John Keats and his Circle

Time: 1816-1821

Place: London, Hampstead Heath, and Rome

Cast of Characters

John Keats, poet


Fanny Brawne


Mrs. Brawne, Fanny’s widowed mother


Joseph Severn, Keats friend, a painter / Leigh Hunt, radical publisher and writer


Charles Brown, Keats’ friend & roommate / Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet


Lord Byron, poet


William Wordsworth, poet


Mrs. Isabella Jones, socialite / Nightingale (Offstage Voice)


Chorus (SATB)



John Keats' brief and tragic life seems a natural operatic subject. He aspired to be a poet and despite difficult financial circumstances and poor health, gave up his studies as a surgeon to pursue his Muse. Recognized early on by influential men of letters like Leigh Hunt, who championed his initial works, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who generously praised Keats' genius and offered him personal assistance in his last illness, Keats struggled for literary recognition among the London establishment from the publication of his first verse in 1816 until he laid down his pen in 1820. Battling savage critics and impoverished circumstances as well as the death of his brother from tuberculosis, Keats nonetheless experienced his annus mirabilis in 1819, turning out his great odes, epics, and narrative poems. Already displaying symptoms of consumption himself, the poet, nevertheless, found that the idyllic Hampstead stirred his imagination, awakened his sensitivity to nature, and, opened his heart to the passionate romance with Fanny Brawne, to whom he became secretly engaged in 1819.

In 1820, however, Keats suffered a severe hemorrhage and at the advice of his doctors and with friends' financial help, he sailed for Italy. Parting from Fanny was agonizingly painful. She had begged to marry him and accompany him, but neither her mother nor Keats, himself, would allow her to make that sacrifice. Instead, the young painter Joseph Severn became the companion of Keats' last days in Rome. Keats wrote no more, declined steadily, and died on February 23, 1821. Severn and the English community arranged for his burial in Rome.

The libretto takes its basic structure from these events, though, it employs dramatic license in a number of scenes to heighten the arc of the piece. The texts are drawn from Keats' own majestic poetry and from his very eloquent letters, because it would have been a sacrilege to try to speak for him.

I weep for Adonais is the choral opening from Shelley's monumental elegy, Adonais, intoned by offstage voices as the poet lies dying in a small room at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome, attended by Severn. The voices blend with the sound of the splashing Bernini Fountain outside the window, as the poet utters that his epitaph shall be "Here lies one whose name is writ in water."

Bright Star sets Keats' immortal sonnet to Fanny Brawne. The aria first appears at the libretto's dramatic climax as Keats reads to Fanny his poem before declaring his passion and becoming secretly engaged. Fanny reprises the music in the last scene as she walks alone on Hampstead Heath.

Also included are settings of La belle dame merci and When I Have Fears by Keats, and She Walks In Beauty by Byron.

The opera closes as the offstage voices antiphonally reprise I weep for Adonais and finally culminates into a beautiful declaration of faith in the eternal spirit.

Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold