All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage

Robert Murray, Rachel Nicholls, Ashley Riches et al; ENO Chorus; London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Edward Gardner (LPO)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

The Midsummer Marriage
Robert Murray, Rachel Nicholls, Ashley Riches, Jennifer France, Toby Spence, Claire Barnett-Jones, Susan Bickley, Joshua Bloom, John Findon, Paul Sheehan, Robert Winslade-Anderson; ENO Chorus; London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Edward Gardner
LPO LPO 0124   158:23 mins (3 discs)


The Midsummer Marriage challenges both performers and audiences. Michael Tippett’s chatty libretto, the masque-like style which blends dance and song and spectacle, and the opaque meanings all bypass tidy definitions of opera. It belongs to a very particular period of English culture when, isolated from Europe after 1941, British artists turned inwards in search of an English Modernism tinged with Surrealism.

Musically, however, Tippett composed one of his most sumptuous scores for this, his first opera. And Edward Gardner making his debut as the principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, relishes every note and nuance. The orchestral opening to Act II with bird-like flutes and shining chords rising through the orchestra with the sun on a midsummer day is luminous, and the Act III apotheosis when the giant flower bud opens thrilling.

Perfectly drilled, the LPO Choir and the ENO Chorus are a reminder that that we see the unfolding mysteries through their eyes. Unexpectedly, it’s the second pair of lovers, Bella and Jack, admirably sung by Jennifer France and Toby Spence, who capture your ear. But then the principal lovers Mark and Jenifer are sometimes shadows in Tippett’s great Jungian scheme. Robert Murray offers a handsomely sung Mark, though Rachel Nicholls is not perhaps a natural Jenifer, lacking a rounder, fuller tone.

It’s the villain who almost steals the show. Ashley Riches is chilling as King Fisher, a bully and a slave to his own dark ego. For all that, this is Edward Gardner’s show, and he rises to Tippett’s challenge superbly.


Christopher Cook