Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

Peter Tahourdin:
Heloise and Abelard

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 93


Confronting the Storyteller (in the persona of William of Champeaux), Abelard defends his disagreement with traditional teachings of the Church, branding them as "empty dogma and false philosophy" used to prevent discussion and speculation. Addressing the audience, he calls on it to join him in the search for truth.

Fulbert tells his niece Heloise, to her delight, that he has engaged the eminent scholar Peter Abelard to be her teacher. The Storyteller prefigures the events of the story, "a story that is as true now as indeed it was more than eight hundred years ago in medieval France."

Amazed at the freedom of access to his pupil granted by Fulbert, Abelard questions her about her previous studies. The Storyteller notes the change in their relationship as an attraction develops between them. They express their love in the words of the Song of Songs. As they embrace they are surprised by Fulbert, who faints.

Heloise, who has borne Abelard's child, has taken shelter with his sister Denise in Brittany. As she sings a lullaby, she grieves for her separation from Abelard, despite the kindness of his sister. Abelard arrives. Telling her that Fulbert had become ill in his distress at their relationship, he says that he has told Fulbert that he will marry Heloise. She is unwilling because this would compromise his advancement in the church.

She also feels that it would oblige him to sacrifice what she loves most in him, his quest for truth, and she fears that Fulbert, although apparently delighted at the marriage, will never accept it, as he is jealous of her. But she yields and they are married in secret. But Heloise continues to live with her uncle and Abelard to live apart. To escape Fulbert's persecution Abelard takes her to a convent near Paris where she had been happy as a child, but Fulbert is now eager for revenge.

Abelard visits Heloise in the convent and they are unable to restrain their passion. Fulbert, apparently crazed with jealousy, has Abelard castrated.


Abelard is brought before a court, presided over by Ralph, Archbishop of Rheims, and accused of having written heresy. He is ordered to burn his book and retire to an abbey to do penance under the guidance of the abbot.

Heloise has become a nun at the instigation of Abelard, who has become a monk. After a separation of 10 years they begin a correspondence. Abelard regards his affliction as a sign from God, but Heloise is unable to accept her fate so readily, or to follow his advice to turn to God, as it was only to please him, whom she still desires, and not for love of God that she has entered the church.

Abelard has built an oratory in a secluded spot and called it the Paraclete - the Comforter - but even there he is unable to escape controversy. He is made abbot of a monastery on the coast of Brittany, where it was thought he could do no harm, but he finds the monks idle and dissolute. Heloise becomes abbess of the convent of the Paraclete. Abelard is again accused of heresy, this time by Bernard of Clairvaux and when he defends himself, Bernard complains that he has learnt nothing, least of all humility.

He is excommunicated and dies at the Abbey of Cluny on his way to Rome to appeal to the Pope. Heloise and the Venerable Peter, Abbot of Cluny, pray for his soul.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky:
Eugene Onegin

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Sep 94


Scene 1. A garden outside the house of Larina, deep in the country

Tatyana and Olga can be heard singing inside the house while Larina and Filipyevna are working outside and reminiscing about the past, remembering how Larina changed from a foolish romantic girl to a sedate and contented wife.

The peasants of the estate sing as they return from harvesting, and Tatyana and Olga come out to listen. Tatyana's imagination is stirred by the song but Olga laughs at her, contrasting her own simple, light-hearted view of life with her sister's moody day-dreaming. The peasants go and Tatyana starts reading. Her mother is anxious because she is so pale but Tatyana answers that she is not ill, only deeply moved by the sufferings of the characters in her book.

The appearance on the scene of Lensky, Olga's fiancee, causes a flutter, particularly when it is discovered that he has brought a stranger. Lensky presents Onegin, a neighbor in the country. Tatyana falls in love with him on the spot and he, in an aside to Lensky, expresses surprise that his friend, as a poet, should have preferred the prosaic Olga to the more striking Tatyana.

The couples separate. Lensky and Olga leave Tatyana and Onegin to make polite conversation in which she explains that she does not find the country boring, as he supposes, because of her fondness for reading and day-dreaming. Then they wander off and Olga and Lensky return, the latter expressing his devotion to Olga, whom he has loved since childhood. As night falls they go inside.

As Tatyana and Onegin return, Onegin complains about the tedium of sitting by his dying uncle's bedside. Filipyevna notices Tatyana's emotion and wonders whether she might be falling in love with Onegin.

Scene 2. Tatyana's bedroom that night

Tatyana is restless and asks Filipyevna about her youth and marriage, but does not really listen to the nurse's story of her arranged marriage. Crying out that she is in love, she asks to be left alone. She writes a letter to Onegin in which she expresses her love, her fears and her doubts.

When Filipyevna returns in the morning, Tatyana asks her to have her grandson take the letter to their neighbor. She is unwilling to speak Onegin's name but angry when the nurse does not immediately realise which neighbor.

Scene 3. Another part of the garden, the next morning

The servant girls are singing as they pick berries. Tatyana waits fearfully for Onegin.

Politely he tells her that love is not for him. If he had been meant to have a wife he would have had none other than her, but as he is he would make her miserable. He offers her the love of a brother - perhaps even more - but warns her to be more cautious in future, as not everyone will be so forbearing as he.


Scene 1. The reception room of Larina's house some months later

A party is taking place in honor of Tatyana's name day. As the guests dance and express their approval of the arrangements Onegin overhears some women criticising his character. Angrily he determines to be revenged on Lensky, whom he blames for dragging him to the party, by flirting with Olga. Lensky is at first bewildered and then angry, and reproaches both Olga and Onegin; and Olga refuses to dance with him as a punishment. An elderly guest, Monsieur Triquet, reads out some couplets to the embarrassed Tatyana.

Lensky resumes his attack on Onegin who tries to calm him, claiming that he has done nothing to upset anyone and pointing out that people are beginning to take notice of them. Larina begs them not to quarrel in her house and Lensky sadly recalls the happy times he has spent there while Onegin regrets the length to which the affair has gone and Tatyana gives vent to the jealousy which his attentions to Olga has aroused in her.

Eventually Lensky flings out a definite challenge which Onegin is unable to refuse. As they leave the room Olga falls in a faint.

Scene 2. Near a water-mill early the next morning

Lensky and his second, Zaretsky, are waiting for Onegin. Lensky reflects with gentle melancholy on the passing of his youth, his possible impending death and his love for Olga.

When Onegin appears (with only his manservant Guillot as his second, to the disapproval of Zaretsky, a stickler for correct duelling procedure), he and Lensky muse separately on the possibility of making up their quarrel, but decide they have gone too far to retreat. Onegin fires first and Lensky falls dead. Onegin is appalled.


Scene 1. The ballroom of a nobleman's house in St Petersburg some years later

A ball has just begun and Onegin, who is standing apart, muses on his life since the duel. He had fled his country estate and travelled but now, bored, he has returned, only to find himself at a ball. Among the guests is an elegant lady whom he recognises with astonishment as Tatyana. She notices him and tries to control her emotion. When he asks an old friend, Prince Gremin, who she is, he finds that she is Gremin's wife. Gremin bursts into a eulogy on Tatyana and his love for her.

Onegin and Tatyana meet, both apparently calm, and they exchange a few civilities before she tells her husband she is tired and they leave. Onegin realises with astonishment that he is in love with her.

Scene 2. A drawing room in Prince Gremin's house

Tatyana holds a letter which Onegin has written to her declaring his love. She is upset that he has returned to disturb her peace of mind. Onegin enters to find her in tears and falls at her feet. She collects herself and reminds him of his rejection of her in the garden. When he exclaims that he now realises his mistake she asks if he finds the society woman a more suitable prize to add to his conquests than the simple country girl and he tries to convince her that his feelings are genuine. They both reflect on the happiness that has passed them by, and Tatyana tells Onegin that fate has decided otherwise: she is married and he must leave her.

Passionately he tries to persuade her, but she reminds him that he is an honorable man. She admits that she does still love him but tells him that now she is married she will remain faithful to her husband. In vain he protests. She bids him farewell forever, and leaves him overcome by despair.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky:
The Queen of Spades

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jul 79


Scene 1. The Summer Garden in St Petersburg in the time of Catherine II (late 18th century)

It is a fine spring day and everyone is promenading in the park: nannies, governesses, children, soldiers. Among these are Surin and Chekalinsky, who discuss the strange behavior of their colleague Hermann, who spent the previous night watching the play at the gaming tables without joining in.

Hermann himself and his friend Count Tomsky appear and Hermann reveals the reason for his recent strange gloomy mood: he is in love - passionately and hopelessly, since he is poor and the object of his love is noble and consequently out of his reach. He rejects Tomsky's cheerful suggestion that another will do just as well. They are interrupted by a group of promenaders - the young rejoicing in the spring weather, the old lamenting the passing of the good old days. Hermann reveals that he has some hope that his love is returned, but if he is wrong his only refuge is death.

Prince Yeletsky appears. He has just become engaged and is congratulated by the others, except for Hermann, who is sunk in gloom. The Countess and her granddaughter Lisa appear and Yeletsky reveals that Lisa is his betrothed. Both Lisa and the Countess are disturbed by the intensity of Hermann's eyes and he in turn is disturbed by the sight of the Countess.

Yeletsky, who has noticed Lisa's agitation, joins her and the Countess. They stroll away while Yeletsky tells his friends the story of the Countess, who had gained the nickname of the Queen of Spades in her youth because of her passion for gambling. Once, when she was desperate and had lost all her money, an admirer gave her a secret by which she was able to recoup all her losses - by playing three special cards. She later told her secret to her husband and a handsome young man, but then received a warning from an apparition that she would receive her death blow from the third man who "impelled by burning passion," tried to wrench the secret from her.

Surin and Chekalinsky tease Hermann, suggesting that this might be the way for him to win without risking any money. A storm has blown up and the promenaders disperse, except for Hermann who broods over Tomsky's story and the sinister figure of the old woman, though he is still more preoccupied by his passion for Lisa. He swears that she will be his, despite the prince.

Scene 2. Lisa's room

Lisa and her friends are playing the harpsichord and singing. Her best friend Pauline sings a melancholy song; then, reproaching herself for being so inappropriate on a happy day, leads the others in a jolly Russian country dance and song, to the disapproval of the governess - such behavior is not suitable for well brought-up young ladies.

The girls go, leaving Lisa to brood over the fact the although Yeletsky has all the qualities desirable in a husband, she is not happy. She cannot forget Hermann's fiery gaze, "like a fallen angel."

He suddenly appears at the door to her balcony and declares his passion, asking only to gaze at her for the last time before leaving forever. She is moved, but begs him to go. He has to hide when the Countess, disturbed by the noise, comes up to see what is happening. Lisa tells her she is restless and unable to sleep. The Countess leaves and Lisa admits to Hermann that she loves him.


Scene 1. A fancy-dress ball

Hermann's friends suspect that he is obsessed by the story of the three cards and resolve to tease him. They do this throughout the scene by appearing behind him and whispering, so that he is not sure whether he is awake or dreaming.

Lisa tries to avoid Yeletsky, but he assures her of his unselfish devotion. She has written a note to Hermann, promising to meet him at the ball. A pastoral masque takes place to entertain the guests. Lisa gives Hermann an assignation for the next night, explaining how he can reach the room by going through that of the Countess. He says it must be tonight and she agress. The empress arrives at the ball.

Scene 2. The Countess' bedroom, later that night

Hermann feels that fate has intervened by allowing him into the old woman's bedroom. He feels that a strange destiny links his life with hers and determines to try and get the secret from her. His obsession about the three cards is beginning to overpower his love for Lisa and he gazes at the portrait of the once-famous beauty with passionate intensity.

He hides as the Countess and Lisa come in. Lisa goes to her room while the Countess prepares for bed. She reclines on a couch, remembering her youth. She dozes and wakes to find Hermann standing beside her. He begins by asking her calmly for the secret, trying not to frighten her, but as she gazes at him in terrified silence he becomes violent, and finally threatens her with a revolver.

She dies of fright and Lisa, hearing the noise, comes in to find Hermann lamenting that the old lady had died without revealing her secret. Accusing him of having come for this reason and not for love of her she sends him away.


Scene 1. Hermann's room in the barracks

Hermann reads a letter from Lisa in which she absolves him for the death of the Countess and begs him to meet her on the embankment of the river.

He broods over the old woman's funeral and his illusion that the body had winked at him. The ghost of the Countess appears, against her will, and tells him the three cards: three, seven and ace.

Scene 2. The embankment at midnight

Lisa waits, full of anguish. Although she tries to believe Herman innocent, she fears the worst and feels that she too is marked by the curse on a murderer. If he does not come by midnight, she will know that all is over.

He appears on the last stroke of the bell and she greets him joyfully. He responds in the same vein. She promises to follow him to the ends of the earth, but he insists on going to the gaming tables to win a fortune. She is horrified and as his obsession with gambling takes over he reveals callously that he had been responsible for the old woman's death while trying to get her secret from her and that he now knows the secret. He spurns Lisa and she throws herself into the river.

Scene 3. The gambling rooms

The officers are gambling and making merry. Yeletsky joins them, hoping to find Hermann and be revenged for his broken engagement. Hermann appears and begins to play, waging large sums on the turn of one card. He wins with the promised three and seven, but when Yeletsky takes the last hand against him, instead of the expected ace he turns up the Queen of Spades, the ghost of the Countess.

Driven to madness, he stabs himself. He lives just long enough to regain some sanity and beg Yeletsky's pardon - and to remember his love for Lisa, hoping that she too will forgive him.

Ambroise Thomas:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

May 82


Scene 1. A hall in the castle of Elsinore

Claudius is acclaimed King of Denmark and he and his Queen Gertrude receive the good wishes of the court. Hamlet broods that although it is only two months since the death of his father, his mother has already married her husband's brother, Claudius.

Ophelia is grieved at his melancholy and reproaches him for neglecting her. He swears that he does truly love her, and for her sake renounces his plan of leaving the court. Laertes, about to leave for Norway on a mission from the king, comes to bid his sister Ophelia and Hamlet farewell. He commits Ophelia to Hamlet's care.

To the derision of the carousing courtiers, Marcellus and Horatio announce that they have seen the ghost of the late king. They are looking for Hamlet to inform him.

Scene 2. The battlements of the castle

Hamlet joins Horatio and Marcellus. The ghost appears and reveals to Hamlet that he was poisoned while sleeping by his brother. Hamlet swears revenge.


Scene 1. A room in the castle

Ophelia is disturbed by Hamlet's strange coldness. He appears but does not speak to her, confirming her worst fears. She begs the queen to let her retire to a convent, but the queen wishes her to stay, hoping that she may discover the cause of Hamlet's distracted state and cure him.

The king tells the queen that Hamlet is mad, but she fears that his strange conduct may indicate that he has discovered their guilty secret. The king assures her that Hamlet knows nothing and tries to calm her as she becomes hysterical, having a vision of their murdered victim rising to accuse them.

Hamlet appears, rejects the king's request to call him father, feigns madness briefly, then announces the arrival of a troupe of actors. Hamlet intends to have them perform a play which will recreate the circumstances of his father's murder. He welcomes them with a drinking song.

Scene 2. A hall in the castle

The court gathers to see the play. Hamlet tells Horatio to observe the king. As the play is performed Hamlet describes the action. As the murder is committed the king orders the play stopped. Hamlet pretends madness, accusing the king wildly, to the horror of the court, including even Horatio and Marcellus.


A room in the castle

Hamlet, angry at himself for his failure to kill the king, watches him at prayer and holds back again, as he wishes to catch him with his sins unabsolved. The king, weighed down by his guilt, calls Polonius and Hamlet realises that Ophelia's father was an accomplice in the crime.

The queen brings Ophelia to Hamlet, intending to have their wedding performed; but Hamlet, distressed by his awareness of her father's treachery, spurns Ophelia. The queen reproaches Hamlet, only to be accused by him of complicity in the murder. Unseen by the queen, the ghost appears again. Hamlet, now calmer, bids his mother goodnight.


Open country, near a lake

Ophelia, driven mad by her despair, joins merrymaking peasants. She tells them she is married to Hamlet, distributes flowers and sings a song to the wili who, according to her, resides in the lake. She is accidently drowned.


A graveyard

Hamlet watches two gravediggers at work singing about the transience of earthly pleasures - except drinking. He has fled the court to escape being murdered, leaving Horatio to attend to his plans, and is aware of Ophelia's madness, but not of her death.

He is joined by Laertes, who is aware of her death and blames Hamlet for his lack of care for her. He succeeds in provoking Hamlet to a duel but they are interrupted by Ophelia's funeral cortege. Hamlet wishes to kill himself but the appearance of the ghost reminds him of his vow. He kills Claudius and then joins Ophelia in death.

[In the original version of the opera, Hamlet is acclaimed king at the end.]

Ambroise Thomas:

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 87


The courtyard of a German inn

Deranged by the loss of his daughter Sperata many years ago, the old harper Lothario enters the courtyard in search of her. The gipsy Jarno and his troupe arrive. Philine, an actress, calls her companion Laertes to a window to look.

After a gipsy dance, Jarno promises the egg dance, but when he rouses a young girl sleeping in a cart, she refuses to perform. Jarno beats her and Lothario comes to her aid, supported by a young man, Wilhlem Meister, who has just appeared. Philine throws the indignant Jarno a purse to compensate for his lost revenue and Mignon gives flowers to her deliverers.

Laertes approaches Wilhelm on behalf of Philine, who is interested in him and explains that the two of them are the all that is left of a troupe of actors, now out of work. Wilhelm explains that he is of bourgeois origin, just out of university and about to explore the world, and open to the charms of love. Laertes, a misogynist, warns him against falling in love with the vain and capricious Philine, but when she appears Wilhelm is smitten.

Amused, Laertes continues to advise him to escape, but Wilhelm is already trapped. The rescued girl thanks him, tells him her name is Mignon, but she knows little else about herself, not even her age. She has faint memories of a childhood in a springlike climate, among orange trees and a noble house, and remembers being seized by gipsies when walking by a lake. Wilhelm goes off to settle with Jarno, who is ready to let her go altogether for a suitable payment.

Lothario bids Mignon farewell, intending to follow the swallows which have already left for the south, and Mignon takes his lute and sings of the swallows. Upset by the sound of Philine's laugh, she pulls him away. Philine appears with Frederick, a long-time admirer, whom she mischievously introduces to Wilhelm.

Laertes appears with a letter from Frederick's noble uncle, inviting the actors to his castle to help celebrate the arrival of a prince. Interested in Wilhelm and wanting to put Frederick in his place, she invites Wilhelm to join them, and he accepts, despite another warning from Laertes. Mignon begs to be allowed to accompany Wilhelm and when he answers that he is not ready for the responsibilities of a father, she offers to dress as a boy, in his livery. It is only when she prepares to join Lothario in his precarious wandering life if refused, that Wilhelm consents.

The rest of the actors appear, Philine takes from Wilhelm the bouquet Mignon had given him - to the distress of Mignon - and all, including Lothario, set off for the castle.


Scene 1. An elegant boudoir in the castle

Philine, to the amusement of Laertes, is settled in very comfortable quarters, and is expecting a train of admirers. When Wilhelm appears, with Mignon dressed as a page, she is amused and Mignon listens jealously as she flirts with the infatuated Wilhelm. Left alone, Mignon paints her face at the dressing table and goes into the wardrobe to find a dress, tempted by the thought of appearing as a lady, like Philine.

Frederick appears, in search of Philine, and when Wilhelm enters, in search of Mignon, they quarrel, recognising one another as rivals, and are about to fight, when Mignon, now in a dress of Philine's, rushes out to separate them.

Frederick, amused at the transformation, declines to risk hurting her, and leaves, while Wilhelm, reminded of Mignon's age and sex by her change of clothes, realises it is unfitting for him to keep her as a companion. She is distressed, but agrees to leave him.

Philine, summoned by Frederick to see Mignon in her dress, is also amused, but Mignon tears off the dress in a rage, and Philine tells the surprised Wilhelm that Mignon is jealous of her. Laertes calls them to the play, and Philine leaves on Wilhelm's arm, to the rage of Mignon and Frederick.

Scene 2. The park of the castle

Mignon, suffering from pangs of jealousy, thinks of drowning herself in the lake, but overcomes the impulse. She is found by Lothario, and they commiserate with one another on their sufferings.

The sound of applause for Philine's performance in the play sends Mignon away in a burst of fury, wishing that the castle and all in it could be swallowed up in flames. Philine, with a crowd of admirers in train, sings of her impersonation of Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Lothario tells Mignon that he has carried out her wish and set fire to the castle, but when Philine asks her to fetch the bouquet she left behind, she agrees. Wilhelm rescues Mignon from the castle as it is engulfed in flames.


A gallery in the Cipriani palace in Italy

Wilhelm has taken Mignon to Italy, where he and Lothario watch over her in her illness. Lothario prays for her recovery and Wilhelm discusses with Antonio, retainer of the former Count Cipriani, the story of the count's child who had been drowned in the lake many years ago. The child's mother had died shortly afterwards and the father had left Italy forever, so the palace of the Cipriani is available for Wilhelm to buy, as he intends. The the name strikes Lothario, who goes off, trying to open long-closed doors.

Now aware of Mignon's love for him, which he has come to return, Wilhelm anxiously awaits her recovery. Antonio brings him a note from Laertes, warning that Philine has followed him.

Mignon appears, calling for Wilhlem and Lothario and puzzled by the familiarity of the palace. Now that she has recovered, Wilhelm speaks of his love, but Mignon. about to believe him, hears Philine's voice and refuses to be convinced, becoming feverish again and calling for Lothario, who is the only one, she says, who loves her.

He appears through a door left unopened for 15 years, dressed in fine clothes and in his right mind, welcoming Mignon and Wilhelm to his home. He gives Mignon a box containing a few souvenirs of his lost Sperata, including a prayer book.

Mignon starts to read a prayer but finishes it from memory, to be greeted by Lothario as his daughter; and she too remembers the past and recognises him. The joy of finding her homeland and her father are almost too much for her, and she collapses, but is revived by the assurance of Wilhelm's love. The two are blessed by Lothario.

Michael Tippett:
The Knot Garden

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Sep 89

As much of the action is unacompanied by words, many of Tippett's stage directions are quoted.

Preface to the score:

" ... Simply the thing I am shall make me live."

"The scene, whether labyrinth or rose garden, changes with the inner situations. If the garden were ever finally visible, it might be a high-walled house-garden shutting out an industrial city. The labyrinth on the other hand can never be actual. It appears, if at all, as a maze which continually and possibly (in Act II) spins.

"Time is the present. Although the duration is obviously within one day, from getting up to bedtime, the dramatic action is discontinuous, more like the cutting of a film. The term used for these cuts is Dissolve, implying some deliberate break-up and re-formation of the stage picture."



"Mangus appears to be lying on a couch as a still point in a whirling storm. When the storm subsides he rises from the couch and looks out over the audience." He sees himself as Prospero and prepares to set about righting the problems of the household. His offer to help Thea in the garden is rebuffed: she does not think him qualified and the garden is her private domain where she finds solace.

Flora runs in screaming, followed by Faber, and throws herself into Thea's arms. Thea sends Flora away with Mangus and confronts Faber, accusing him of making sexual advances to Flora.

She follows Flora and Mangus, and Faber muses on the adverse effect Thea's attitude is having on him. He wonders what has gone wrong with their marriage, feeling that Thea has drawn away from him, turning to her garden instead; but he defends himself against any thought that he may have behaved badly to Flora who, he complains, screams before he comes near her. He asks Mangus to tell Thea he has gone to work. Mangus sees that both are retreating into the self and away from the marriage - Thea to her garden, Faber to his work.

Flora gives Thea a message that her sister Denise is coming home. Flora is choosing flowers when Dov and Mel appear, in fancy dress, Dov as Ariel and Mel as Caliban. They put on accents to introduce themselves, and Flora answers them in the same style, until she breaks the mood and insists on a return to reality. They identify themselves but then take up their roles as Ariel and Caliban.

Thea, appearing with cocktails as they dance around Flora, calls them "children at play." Mangus declares that the adults will also play, taking roles from The Tempest. He takes Flora with him to look for costumes.

"The triangle-trio that is left survey each other as in a ritual dance. Each man takes a glass from Thea's tray and she takes one herself. They lift the glasses to drink. As they do so Mel is drawn away to Thea so that Dov is isolated. Thea like Circe draws Mel hypnotically, by implication sexually, into the garden. Dov smashes his glass to smithereens."

He gets down on all fours and howls like a dog, and is found by Faber. Dov explains his dual identity and that of the absent Mel/Caliban.

"By implication sexually provocative, Faber whistles jauntily. Dov moves across the stage as though fascinated. But before they meet ... Thea and Mel are there on the opposite side of the stage. ... Flora runs on and the potentialities for development into a scene are exploded."

Flora, who is followed by Mangus bearing costumes, has been upset by the sight of Denise, whose face and body bear the signs of tortures she has undergone as a freedom-fighter. Denise tells her story, but says she wants no pity - she has been "contaminated" by those who tortured her, and is unable to forgive.

"Mel reaches for some kind of alleviation by going over into a discharge of emotion in the blues," and the others follow suit in an ensemble.



"Here the garden is in total disarray and the maze in operation. That is, it appears as if the centre of the stage had the power to 'suck in' a character at the back of the stage, say, and 'eject' him at the front. During their passage through the maze, characters meet and play out their scenes. But always one of the characters in these scenes is about to be ejected, while a fresh character has been sucked in and is whirled to the meeting-point."

Thea and Denise are first, and simultaneously, but without communicating, they reflect on their fears and their relationship to one another, in which envy and jealousy play a part.

Faber tries to sound Denise about Thea, and then to seek her as an ally, but she rejects him. Faber speaks roughly to Flora and is castigated and whipped by Thea. Faber tries to probe Dov's unhappiness in his relationship with Mel, and makes a tentative sexual advance to him. Mel points out that Dov's attraction to Faber is superficial, but when Dov replies that it is Mel he loves, Mel stresses the color bar which separates them and tells Dov to find his true self - through his music. Denise is drawn to Mel because he represents one of the oppressed races for whom she fights. Having parted from Dov, Mel is ready to think of taking on Denise.

At this point the maze goes into reverse and the characters who have left return. Dov, seeing Mel and Denise together, quotes bitterly back at him Mel's words about the lack of community between black and white.

Flora flees from Faber, but avoids Thea's outstretched arms. Dov comforts her by telling her of his own youth and he seems to conjure up the vision of a rose garden, which fades when Mel appears saying "Come, I taught you that."



Thea and Denise remain themselves while the others take on roles from The Tempest: Mangus-Prospero, Dov-Ariel, Mel-Caliban, Flora-Miranda, Faber-Ferdinand. "These roles are never absolute; they are dropped at need."

Mangus makes a magic circle, declaring the garden to be his island. Mangus-Prospero and Flora-Miranda, exploring the island, come across first Mel-Caliban and then, imprisoned in a tree, Dov-Ariel. Mangus-Prospero makes the beast-like Caliban stand up and frees Ariel. Miranda is impressed by his power and kindness. When Dov-Ariel beats Mel-Caliban, he is accused of going beyond his script.

Denise repudiates confusion and hopes that Mel will reinforce her consciousness of herself. She rejects Thea's attempt to explain that love is more complicated than she thinks. Mel-Caliban tries to rape Flora-Miranda and is in his turn accused of going beyond the script. Denise leaves in tears. Dov urges Mel to follow her and he does. Thea accuses Mangus of being a pimp and voyeur and he offers to show her a scene of reconciliation. Flora-Miranda and Faber-Ferdinand are playing chess and she overturns the board and declares that she is now free. Faber complains that the scene went wrong, but Mangus assures him that it went right. He sets Faber and Thea to collecting the chess pieces.

Thea, left alone, realises that she no longer needs the sanctuary of her garden, but can turn back to her marriage.

Flora-Miranda rejoices in her freedom from the island and from Ariel and Caliban. She asks her "father," Mangus-Prospero, what is to become of them and he prepares to release them.

Dov-Ariel, set free, prepares to turn to his muse, music, but Mel-Caliban confronts Mangus-Prospero, claiming the island as his own inheritance from his mother Sycorax. Dov-Ariel dances provocatively around Mel-Caliban and Mangus-Prospero suddenly brings the charade to an end, declaring "Prospero's a fake, we all know that."

An ensemble expressing the characters' realisation of their mutual interdependence is followed by the departure of all except Faber and Thea: Mel and Denise together, Flora alone; Dov, who is about to follow her, is stopped by a look from Mel and follows Mel and Denise instead. Mangus disappears.

Thea and Faber in the garden turn from their previous preoccupations back to one another and the opera ends with the line from both: "The curtain rises."

Michael Tippett:
The Midsummer Marriage

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 78


A temple and sanctuary in a clearing. Twilight before dawn on Midsummer Morning.

Mark and Jenifer are to be married and a group of their friends arrives early. They hide when dancers come out of the temple, followed by the Ancients. Mark (a young man of unknown parentage) arrives during the dance and demands a new dance for his wedding day. The Ancients are unwilling and, when he insists, the He-Ancient trips the leading dancer to demonstrate to Mark that the new may be dangerous and ugly. When the dancers and the Ancients disappear Mark explains to his friends that he does not know who the Ancients are though he has seen them since his childhood.

Jenifer arrives, not dressed for a wedding but for a journey. She tells Mark she has left her father for good , but not to marry: "It isn't love I want, but truth." Taking no notice of his attempts to get her to change her mind, she goes to a broken stone spiral staircase, climbs it and disappears. The distressed Mark, seeing that she has chosen the light, chooses the shadow for himself and vanishes through a dark doorway into the hillside.

King Fisher, Jenifer's father, rushes in just in time to see Mark disappear. Assuming that Jenifer is with him, he orders Bella, his scretary, to knock and ask for his daughter. The Ancients appear and explain briefly that the gates are only for the proper people and that there are no proper people there. King Fisher wants the gates forced, so Bella runs off to fetch her boyfriend Jack, who is a mechanic. King Fisher tries to talk to Mark and Jenifer's friends, to impress them with his importance and even to bribe them to help him. Jack is quite ready to carry out King Fisher's orders, but Bella and the girls try to dissuade him, particularly when a voice from the temple cries "beware."

The problem is resolved by the appearance of Jenifer, dressed in white, at the top of the staircase. Exalted by the vision of light and peace she has had she takes no notice of her father, but waits to confront Mark who emerges from the cave, dresed in red and dazed by the light. They face each other, Jenifer proclaiming "I am a child of the starry heavens," and Mark answering "I am a child of the fruitful earth." Jenifer holds up a mirror to show Mark that his vision is false but he causes it to fall and shatter. Jenifer then goes into the hillside to try and see Mark's vision, while he ascends the staircase.


The same place, seen from a different angle. The afternoon of Midsummer Day.

Bella and Jack leave the other young people, wishing to be alone. Bella tells Jack she now feels it is time they were married and they look forward to a simple but contented married life.

As they stroll off together, the dancers come out of the temple and perform three ritual dances: The Earth in Autumn, a hare pursued by a hound; The Waters in Winter, a fish chased by an otter; and The Air in Spring, a bird pursued by a hawk. As the chase goes on the victim becomes weaker. Jack and Bella see the last dance and Bella is terrified that the dancer representing the bird will be killed. Jack manages to calm her fears and she returns to her normal, carefree self, playfully tidying her hair and fixing her face in her mirror. They run off happily together.


As in Act I, Evening and Night of Midsummer Day.

The young men and women are dancing and singing, waiting for King Fisher who has summoned them. He brings his private clairvoyant, Madame Sosostris, to help him outwit the Ancients, who, he thinks, have bewitched his daughter. They assure him that "she is in bondage to her fate, not us," but he still goes on with his challenge. Madame Sosostris, heavily veiled, looks into a bowl and sees a vision of Jenifer in a meadow, approached by a winged lion which turns into the figure of a young man.

Realising that it is Mark, King Fisher angrily accuses her of lying and breaks the bowl. She then falls silent. Enraged at this King Fisher arms Jack with a gun and orders him to unveil her. He refuses and throws down the gun. He leaves with Bella and King Fisher prepares to unveil Sosostris himself, despite the forebodings of the Ancients and the young men and women.

When the last veil is removed what is revealed is not Sosostris but an incandescent bud which opens to reveal mark and Jenifer "posed in mutual contemplation," clothed in red and gold. King Fisher prepares to "free" his daughter by shooting Mark, but when Mark and Jenifer look at him"in a gesture of power," he collapses on the ground dead. The body is carried into the temple and the fourth ritual dance is begun, The Fire in Summer. A fire is lit and the flower, which has closed again, seems to be consumed in flame. The dancers, the Ancients and Mark and Jenifer disappear, leaving their friends wondering whether what they have seen is reality or a vision.

The light gradually changes to the same light (at the same time on the same Midsummer Morning) as at the beginning of the opera, but the buildings are now hidden in mist. Mark and Jenifer enter from different directions, this time both dressed for their wedding, and greet each other joyfully, in peace and harmony "after the visionary night."

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