Sir Michael Tippett Composer
The Midsummer Marriage (opera)
Musicology:In 1976, Michael Tippett described The Midsummer Marriage as "A work written at a time of life when a creative artist is at his peak." By the late 1940s, Tippett had developed an original language, which he applied illustratively in his first full-length opera. Both the libretto and music, composed over a seven-year period, are by Tippett. As Shakespeare does in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tippett contrasts the "real" and "dream" worlds. Also, Jungian concepts of contrast surely inform Tippett's libretto. First performed at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London, on January 27, 1955, The Midsummer Marriage was not initially well received and was criticized for its blatantly beautiful passages, considered a throwback to earlier times.
The Midsummer Marriage (opera)Year: 1946-52
Pr. Instrument: Voice
- 1.This way! This way!
- 2.Stop! Stop! Stop!
- 3.Oh Mark, who are they?
- 4.Jenifer, Jenifer, my darling
- 5.Ha, ha, ha, ha
- 6.So you, so you - are Mark's fine brood of friends
- 7.Here I am, Sir, what can I do?
- 8.Jenifer!... Jenifer!... My daughter, Jenifer!
- 9.Is it so strange if I resent
- 10.You, you who were with me when she left me
- 11.See by a heavenly magic in this glass
- 1.In the summer season on the longest day of all
- 2.Jack, don't let's go with all the others
- 3.Dance 1: The Earth in Autumn
- 4.Dance 2: The Waters in Winter
- 5.Dance 3: The Air in Spring
- 6.Ah! They'll kill him!
- 1.O-Hay! O-Hay!
- 2.No! King Fisher summons you for Victory!
- 3.Now, Bella, call the Ancients
- 4.Do you accept my challenge?
- 5.I needn't tell Madame Sosostris
- 6.Sosostris's Aria: Who hopes to conjure with the world of dreams
- 7.I see a meadow, fragrant with flowers
- 8.Pride is virtue in a man of power
- 9.King Fisher's dead
- 10.Dance 4: Fire in Summer
- 11.Was it a vision?
For Tippett, the "marriage" component of The Midsummer Marriage is the comic element. In his book, Moving into Aquarius, Tippett points out that the amusing hindrances to marriage in earlier operas usually center on class: an aristocratic or upper-class woman wants to marry a commoner against her father's wishes. The seriousness of such a paternal proscription is unfamiliar to modern Westerners, so a new hindrance to marriage plans had to be devised. Mark and Jenifer quarrel over things that stem from their lack of self-awareness. They must experience each other's sphere of desire and understanding before they can know themselves and come together, against the wishes of Jenifer's father, King Fisher. Tippett derived the basic idea for this dramatic element from Bernard Shaw's Getting Married.
Tippett also uses the traditional juxtaposition of social classes by incorporating a "plebian" couple, Bella and Jack, as a contrast to the "marvelous" couple, Jenifer and Mark. While Jenifer and Mark carry on in the supernatural realm, Bella and Jack are clearly tied to the solid Earth, with names more akin to those of buffa characters than the aristocratic names of the supernatural couple.
Musically, Tippett distinguishes between the two realms by application of mostly traditional techniques. Scenes concerning the "marriage" topic, especially that of Bella and Jack, employ recitatives, arias, and ensembles typical of opera buffa. Other aspects of the score, such as the depiction of a sunrise or a supernatural event, derive from music drama and its use of descriptive orchestral passages. What is most remarkable about The Midsummer Marriage is Tippett's deft use of transitions between these "realms" of musical expression, ranging from the earthy, pastoral Ritual Dances of the second act to the music accompanying Jenifer and Mark's envelopment in the flower near the end of Act III.
Unlike the operas of Wagner or Verdi, ballet is an important dramatic element in The Midsummer Marriage. Strephon and his company's four dances—Earth in Autumn, Waters in Winter, Air in Spring and Fire in Summer—advance the plot and reinforce the meaning of the opera.
Throughout the opera, Tippett's mastery of tonal elements creates a highly expressive score driven by his typically energetic and complex rhythms. Polytonal passages abound, supporting a sustained lyricism unmatched by his contemporaries.
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