A two day workshop about a savage episode in Rye’s history involving mistaken identity and murder, and organised by the Rye Arts Festival on Monday and Tuesday December 7-8, will climax in a performance at the Town Hall on Tuesday December 8 at 3:30pm
The Butcher of Rye is a new music drama telling the story of the murder of Allen Grebell by butcher John Breads in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Rye in 1742.
The legendary story is well-known in Rye and has been the subject of several books, a play and now a full-scale opera composed by Simon Morecroft from a libretto by Martha Littlehailes.
One night in March 1742, John Breads, local butcher and inn-keeper, waited to kill the Mayor of Rye, James Lamb in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church. In a bizarre twist of mistaken identity, he stabbed to death Allen Grebell, the Mayor’s brother-in-law.
Breads was found guilty of the murder and was sentenced to death by James Lamb – the intended victim. Breads’ body was hung in chains in a gibbet cage (pictured, right) for 30 years.
The creative team are working with Rye Arts Festival towards a world premiere of The Butcher of Rye next year, so on December 7 and 8 this year there is a two-day workshop culminating in a short performance of excerpts by three accompanied singers at 3.30pm in the Town Hall’s Buttermarket.
The workshop and performance will be directed by Alisdair Kitchen (shown above), founder of Euphonia Opera. The singers, are also from Euphonia Opera, a London company comprising British and international artistes.
Euphonia has brought four fully-staged operas to the Rye Arts Festival in recent years, under the musical direction of Alisdair Kitchen, including this summer’s triumphant Don Giovanni. On the back of this long-standing and successful working relationship, Rye Arts Festival has commissioned this workshop.
The Town Hall is just a few yards from the scene of the murder and the workshop takes place only feet from the still imprisoned remains of Breads – as they are locked in the attic.
In a curious twist, the workshop will be taking place the day after the nomination of the new Mayor of Rye. Traditionally the deputy Mayor is nominated and this year it will be Jonathan Breeds, who may well be the descendant of the eponymous anti-hero of The Butcher of Rye
Photos: Rye News library and Castle Museum