As you know, it's a Sir Michael Tippett year. The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden revived a 1996 production of Tippett's opera The Midsummer Marriage, which premiered on October 31 and ends on November 18. The first review I found was by Edward Seckerson (No winners in the mating game, November 2) for The Independent:
Fifty years is a long time in the life of some operas. In the case of The Midsummer Marriage, it's an eternity. Since its premiere at the Royal Opera half a century ago, the perception of what an opera is or should be has shifted. In the past decade, it's been a seismic shift. So we really have to ask ourselves why, in the centenary year of Tippett's birth, his most celebrated opera should be far from full on its opening night and - more significantly - even less full at the start of its final act. Far from embracing it, people are walking away from it. Why? Because, as opera, The Midsummer Marriage has insurmountable problems. It might even be unstageable. It's hard - no, impossible - to reconcile Tippett's verdant, effusive and often ravishing score to the proto-new age tosh of his libretto. It really is a stinker: dense, obtuse, unsingable nonsense. There's even a line saying: "Now is this nonsense at its noon." Too right.Second, there is Andrew Clark (The Midsummer Marriage, Royal Opera House, November 3), who was not as negative for the London Financial Times:
Never has the meaning of The Midsummer Marriage, so woefully misunderstood at its premiere 50 years ago, been more obvious. Here is Tippett’s Jungian inspiration writ large. We all have to discover and confront our shadow side before we can make the true marriage of innocence and experience that leads to spiritual maturity. The production’s symbolic clarity pays further dividends in Paul Brown’s set, in which a giant scroll enclosing the “marvellous” side of life is pierced by the “everyday”. It underlines the inspiration Tippett drew from Greek drama, religion and theatre, pointing up Wagnerian parallels and the orgiastic fervour of his music.Anthony Holden added to the chorus of nays (A marriage hits the rocks, November 6) for The Observer:
For its revival, to mark the centenary of Tippett's birth, Covent Garden has brought back Graham Vick to revise and develop his 1996 staging, alongside designer Paul Brown and choreographer Ron Howell. It is the latter who makes the most memorable contribution, with The Ritual Dances that constitute most of the second act suiting the manic mood of Tippett's scoring to, well, yes, to a fortissimo. The rest is as much of a muddle as the work itself. A chorus of superannuated hippies keeps pouring on and off the stage, eventually indulging in a cringe-making, middle-aged orgy, while the central characters go through a series of trials all too clearly echoing Mozart's Magic Flute. Mix Eliot and Auden, Yeats and Fry, Shaw and Shakespeare into Frazer's Golden Bough, leaven with a dash of Verdi and Wagner, and allow four hours to stew without ever coming to the boil.Didn't anyone like it? The answer is no, at least not Anna Picard (Post-war marriage. It went like this?, November 6), who piled on in The Independent:
But for some radiant writing in the Ritual Dances, during which the male dancers hang themselves by their ties, this fitful filibustering continues for four hours. Few of Monday night's sparse audience remained to see the sphere that dominates Paul Brown's designs unfold into a lotus flower. But short of bolting the doors, I don't see how they could have been made to stay. Diluted Magritte sits ill with imagery commonly seen on packets of incense sticks. And despite some highly disciplined playing from the orchestra under Richard Hickox, The Midsummer Marriage is not musically successful enough to distract from its theatrical incoherence.Lyric Opera of Chicago will premiere its new production of Tippett's nutty opera this weekend, as previewed by Wynne Delacoma for the Chicago Sun-Times. The Lyric has already replaced the tenor lead, and director Peter Hall has had to withdraw for health reasons. I think Chicago readers should prepare for their own bloodletting.
As I predicted, it ain't pretty in Chicago either.