Opera Scotland

Mansfield Park

Music

Jonathan Dove (born London, 18 July 1959)

Libretto

Alasdair Middleton.

Source

Novel Mansfield Park (1814) by Jane Austen (1775-1817).

 

Premieres

First Performance: Boughton House, Northamptonshire, 30 July 2011.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc.

 

Background

Jonathan Dove's operatic treatment of the superb comic novel by Jane Austen was commissioned by Heritage Opera for performances on their regular tours of the smaller stately homes in the north of England. It is therefore a chamber piece, with a cast of ten soloists accompanied by piano duet.

The music is an enjoyably eclectic mix of styles from classical pastiche to Philip Glass by way of the soaringly romantic, as well as hints of Benjamin Britten. This all works very well as a delightful entertainment in a multitude of short scenes identified with chapter headings from the novel. Arias are brief, and ensembles develop from duets up to sequences including the full cast, The plot has been neatly filleted - we see and hear nothing of Fanny's own family in Portsmouth. Perhaps more importantly, we lose the Bertrams' older son, the dissolute Thomas, whose presence is pivotal to the theatrical episode in the book. But for audiences unfamiliar with the plot, ten characteers are quite enough to get hold of.

 

Characters

Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park (bass)

Lady Bertram, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Edmund Bertram, their younger son (baritone)

Maria Bertram, their elder daughter (mezzo-soprano)

Julia Bertram, their younger daughter (soprano)

Mrs Norris, a widow, sister to Lady Bertram (soprano)

Fanny Price, niece to Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris (mezzo-soprano)

Mr Rushworth, a wealthy but foolish gentleman (tenor)

Henry Crawford, a wealthy young gentleman (tenor)

Mary Crawford, Henry's sister (soprano)

 

Plot Summary

Some years before the novel opens, Sir Thomas Bertram has married one of three sisters, who provides him with two sons and two daughters. The second of these sisters marries a clergyman by the name of Norris, who is rewarded with the living of the nearby church. They remain childless and the husband eventually dies, leaving his widow in straitened circumstances. For reasons of economy, Mrs Norris moves into the 'big house', becoming increasingly bitter, and little more than a housekeeper and governess to her sister's family. The third sister makes an unfortunate marriage to an officer of marines and is condemned to a life of penury in Portsmouth, producing a succession of children who have little prospect of advancing to prosperity.

As the novel opens, the eldest of these children, Fanny Price, aged nine, is taken by her good-natured Bertram aunt to live at Mansfield. This will ease the circumstances of the Price family, give the Bertrams a young assistant to help Mrs Norris, and may, perhaps, be of some advantage to Fanny herself.

As the opera opens, Fanny has grown to young adulthood. She is treated as a drudge by her aunt Norris, and tolerated by the Bertrams. She loves her cousin Edmund, who has always treated her with kindness. Sir Thomas sails for the Caribbean to sort out some difficulties on the family estates. In his absence, Maria, with her aunt Norris's encouragement, becomes engaged to Mr Rushworth, an extremely rich idiot. The family meet the wealthy and attractive Henry and Mary Crawford, whose sister, Mrs Grant, is married to the late Rev Norris's successor at the vicarage.

Maria becomes engaged to Mr Rushworth, attracted entirely by his wealth and position in society. To Fanny's distress, Edmund is very attracted to Mary, who is, herself, not impressed by his desire to become a clergyman. The younger members of the household party decide to take to amateur theatricals, an episode orchestrated by young Thomas Bertram, the elder brother (omitted from the opera plot), who has taken to a dissolute lifestyle as a student. The play chosen is Lovers' Vows, a popular work of 1798 by Elizabeth Inchbald, which Edmund and Fanny consider highly unsuitable because of the various compromising situations its plot contains. Just as the performance is about to start, Sir Thomas arrives back from Antigua. He is appalled at what has occurred in his absence, all plans are halted, and the family is thrown into disarray.

The marriage of Maria Rushworth goes ahead, but is soon in trouble, as she is very attracted to Henry Crawford. He meantime, has recognised the great qualities that Fanny has developed, and proposes to her. She rejects him and (in an episode omitted from the opera) is sent by Sir Thomas to her family in Portsmouth where the wretchedness of their circumstances will punish her for her perceived ingratitude. She is only recalled to favour in order to provide support at Mansfield when Tom becomes dangerously ill as a result of his excesses. Maria Rushworth soon brings disgrace on the family by running off with Crawford. Mary's callous, if practical, reaction to these various events helps Edmund to realise that he has been deceived in her, and he at last recognises that he loves Fanny. They marry, while Mrs Norris goes to live in seclusion with Maria, who has been abandoned by Crawford and faces social ostracism.

The Cast

Edmund Bertram
 the Bertrams' younger son
Fanny Price
 niece to Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris
Henry Crawford
 a wealthy young gentleman
Julia Bertram
 the Bertrams' younger daughter
Lady Bertram
 wife to Sir Thomas
Maria Bertram
 the Bertrams' elder daughter
Mary Crawford
 Henry's sister
Mr Rushworth
 a wealthy, young and foolish gentleman
Mrs Norris
 a widow, sister to Lady Bertram
Sir Thomas Bertram
 of Mansfield Park

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