Major Operas | The Midsummer Marriage by Michael Tippett | Modern Era

Composed: 1946–52
Premiered: 1955, London
Libretto by the composer

Act I

Mark asks the Ancients of the sanctuary for a new dance for his wedding to Jenifer. They warn him of the danger in meddling with tradition. Jenifer has run away from her father, King Fisher. She claims to want truth, not love, and disappears up a broken staircase.

Mark plunges through gates into the hillside as King Fisher appears. His secretary, Bella, cannot persuade the Ancients to open them. She fetches her boyfriend, Jack, with his tools. Sosostris, within, warns King Fisher, but he instructs Jack to try again. Mark and Jenifer reappear, transformed by the experiences of heaven and earth. They quarrel and depart to experience the other’s revelations.

Act II

Bella proposes to Jack. They yearn for simple domestic bliss. Over three ritual dances a male dancer (Strephon) – as a hare, fish and bird – is hunted by a female dancer – in the form of a hound, otter and hawk. Bella screams as the hawk swoops on the injured, helpless bird. Jack comforts her. She shows him how the ‘real’ Bella is created with comb and make-up. King Fisher has summoned them. Jack chases her off. The chorus is heard singing that ‘she must leap and he must fall… on midsummer day’.


King Fisher engages Sosostris, a clairvoyant, to reveal the truth, but is enraged by what she sees. He smashes her crystal ball and rips away the veils to reveal Mark and Jenifer. He aims a pistol at Mark. They turn to him and he falls dead. The dancers celebrate ‘carnal love transfigured as divine consuming love’. Mark, Jenifer and the Ancients disappear in fire. Mark and Jenifer reappear as themselves for their wedding.

Personalities | Michael Tippett | Modern Era | Opera


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