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The Midsummer Marriage is an opera in three acts, with music and libretto by Michael Tippett. The work's first performance was at Covent Gardenmarker, January 27, 1955, conducted by John Pritchard. The reception of the opera was controversial, over perceived confusion as to the libretto and Tippett's use of symbols and psychological references.

Tippett extracted the Four Ritual Dances from the opera as a separate concert work. The premiere performance was recorded, and has been issued on compact disc. Covent Garden revived the work firstly in 1968 conducted by Colin Davis with the Ritual dances choreographed by Gillian Lynne and in 1970, where the production formed the basis of the first commercial recording.

Story background

The story of The Midsummer Marriage was consciously modeled after Mozart's The Magic Flute. Both trace the path to marriage of one "royal" and one "common" couple: Jenifer and Mark correspond to Pamina and Tamino, the earthy Jack and Bella to Papageno and Papagena. King Fisher stands in for the Queen of the Night, the Ancients for Sarastro and his priests, and so on.

But the composer's first inspiration for the work was visual: Tippett recalled imagining "a wooded hill-top with a temple, where a warm and soft young man was being rebuffed by a cold and hard young woman to such a degree that the collective, magical archetypes take charge - Jung's anima and animus."

The character Sosostris is named after "Madame Sosostris, the famous clairvoyante," in T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, and King Fisher's name is inspired by the Fisher King character mentioned in the same poem. Tippett was first given the idea of attempting a verse drama by reading Eliot's plays, and he corresponded with the poet with an eye to collaborating on the libretto for his opera, tackling the job himself when Eliot declined.

Scoring

2 flutes (both doubling on piccolos), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and two percussionists playing: snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, gong, tubular bells, harp, celesta and strings.

Roles

Character
Mark, a young man of unknown parentage
Jenifer, his betrothed
King Fisher, Jenifer's father, a businessman
Bella, King Fisher's secretary
Jack, Bella's boyfriend, a mechanic
Sosostris, a clairvoyante
The She-Ancient, priestess of the temple
The He-Ancient, priest of the temple
Strephon, a dancer
Voice part
tenor
soprano
baritone
soprano
tenor
contralto
mezzo-soprano
bass
Original cast
Richard Lewis
Joan Sutherland
Otokar Kraus
Adele Leigh
John Lanigan
Oralia Dominguez
Edith Coates
Michael Langdon


Synopsis

Recording

  • Gala GL100.524 (1997): Richard Lewis; Joan Sutherland; Adele Leigh; Edith Coates; John Lanigan; Monica Sinclair; Otakar Kraus; Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra; John Pritchard, conductor. Live recording of the 1955 premiere.
  • Philips 6703.027 (1971, 3 LP set, recorded Wembley Town Hall, July 1970). Reissued on CD by Lyrita: SRCD.2217, 1995: Alberto Remedios; Joan Carlyle; Raimund Herincx; Elizabeth Harwood; Stuart Burrows; Helen Watts; Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra; Colin Davis, conductor


References




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