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Perhaps it is the lack of a 19th century English operatic tradition which has made English audiences so sensitive about English libretti. If our forefathers had had to accustom themselves to libretti in English similar to some of those set by major 19th century Italian composers then we'd probably be a little less squeamish. Also, Tippett still suffers from implicit comparison with the more literary Britten; Tippett's operatic intentions were far different from Britten's and he uses different means to achieve them. My greatest surprise at the 8 November 2005 performance of The Midsummer Marriage at the Royal Opera House was how few embarrassing moments seemed to stand out.

A scene from Act I of 'The Midsummer Marriage'. Photo © 2005 Bill Cooper
A scene from Act I of 'The Midsummer Marriage'. Photo © 2005 Bill Cooper

Tippett's mixture of marvellous and everyday gives the producer and designer something of a conundrum. In the libretto Tippett describes the scene in purely everyday terms and I have often wondered about setting the opera in an 18th century landscape park, like Stowe or Stourhead, with its temples, grand stairways, grottoes underground etc. Director Graham Vick and designer Ron Brown chose to emphasise the marvellous, but without going too over the top. The setting reminded me of paintings by Magritte and De Chirico. In the distance could be glimpsed hills, sky and trees but close at hand things were strikingly different, the temple was a sphere covered in sky and clouds, the sacred grove appeared to be within another such sphere and the staircase (up which Jenifer must go) a spiral staircase going nowhere and dislocated from any building.

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Copyright © 13 November 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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