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The Lyrita Catalogue

Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
The Midsummer Marriage (1955)
Joan Carlyle (soprano) Jenifer; Elizabeth Harwood (soprano) Bella; Elizabeth Bainbridge (mezzo) She-Ancient; Helen Watts (contralto) Sosostris; Alberto Remedios (tenor) Mark; Stuart Burrows (tenor) Jack; Raimund Herincx (baritone) King Fisher; Stafford Dean (bass) He-Ancient; David Whelan (baritone) Half-Tipsy Man; Andrew Daniels (tenor) Dancing Man
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Colin Davis.
From Philips 6703027 No rec. info. ADD

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I have always had a slight love-hate relationship with opera on recordings. Lucky to have been introduced early to opera with regular season-tickets to the Welsh National Opera in the 1980s, I retain a colourful and vivid set of memories which make me ashamed to say that I can count my visits to the ‘Stopera’ in Amsterdam on the fingers of one hand. These impressions reinforce my idea that the full impact of good opera has to be experienced in the flesh. I am sure that many would agree on this, but there is no denying that there are a number of operas whose content transcends the visual, and whose music would stand in almost any medium or context.

Knowing Tippett’s musical language, and being armed with prior knowledge of the ‘Ritual Dances’ as recognisable milestones make listening to The Midsummer Marriage an attractive prospect. Lyrita’s excellent recording and the superb quality of the performance on offer complete this picture to provide an irresistible combination for opera lovers and Tippett fans alike. First issued in 1971 the recording needs no defending, with singers, chorus and orchestra in full and lively presence, the soloists in excellent balance with the accompaniment. Detailed booklet notes by David Cairns are supplemented by insightful extracts from Tippett’s own writing on ‘The Birth of an Opera’, and the composer’s own libretto is of course given in full, with those ever-essential track markings printed as well.

Part of the charm of this work was also perceived to be part of its weakness in the past. Even after the ‘difficulties’ which dogged Tippett’s technically demanding compositional techniques had become better understood, the problems in staging The Midsummer Marriage into some kind of coherent theatrical production – translating all of that rich fantasy and symbolism into effectively staged action and reaction, remained an issue for both producers and critics. Recorded here only fifteen years after its genesis, this opera works superbly well on record for many reasons. The music is powerful and almost overwhelmingly energetic in its own right, the sometimes deceptively and movingly simple, sometimes highly complex melodic invention make for incredible concert music: you can listen to it as a kind of oratorio, close your eyes and bathe in the sheer wonder of it all, unencumbered by a sense that you are missing some kind of visual feast.

So, what’s it all about? You can accuse me of being a lazy reviewer, but the story to me has a secondary role. You can deepen your knowledge of the piece by following the libretto, but even then there are great swathes of text which may leave you none the wiser. I have to admit that this piece, as a whole opera, was new to me. As I mentioned before I’m not usually a pushover when it comes to opera on recordings – left stranded with all that wobbly singing and stamping about, but this issue is a life-enhancing creation which no serious music lover should be without. Once I’d started I was hooked, and played the whole thing through, relishing every moment. If you are in any doubt, try and persuade someone to let you hear the last two tracks on CD2. I know you’re not supposed to peek at the last pages of a novel before starting, but if you can even begin to imagine the build-up to such a beautiful and triumphant ending then you’ll want to hear the whole thing anyway, and that more than once.

Dominy Clements

see also review by Colin Clarke



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