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Peter Maxwell Davies (born Manchester, 8 September 1934)

The composer

Elements of 16th century historical sources.

First performance: London (Royal Opera House), 12 July 1972.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (City Hall), 8 November 2009 (concert).
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Quite a few new operas are still given first performances in Britain, but it is more difficult for them to be given a second production or to join the general repertoire. Taverner was a success at its first run (9 performances including a Covent Garden Prom, frequently selling out). It was revived a few years later and given a US premiere in Boston. It does not seem to have been performed since then. The composer’s subsequent stage works have been smaller-scale music theatre or chamber opera, only The Doctor of Myddfai, given by Welsh National Opera in 1996, using full operatic resources. Taverner was a stage spectacular at the time – not just an orchestra in the pit, but bands of medieval-style instruments on stage, and an impressive production by Michael Geliot designed by Ralph Koltai. This showed what was variously described as a large seesaw, wheel of fortune or scales of justice, which filled the stage.

The music combines elements of two of the composer’s contemporary interests – modern music taking several of the voices to high and low extremes of their range, and adaptations or parodies of music in the style of Taverner himself.

John Taverner (tenor)
Rose Parrowe, his mistress (mezzo-soprano)
Priest Confessor (counter-tenor)
Cardinal (tenor)
Jester & Death (baritone)
White Abbot (bass-baritone)
Richard Taverner (bass)
King (bass)

Plot Summary
The plot is based on not entirely accurate ideas of some events during the English Reformation under Henry VIII. Taverner is a prominent composer who, on becoming a protestant is tried for heresy by the White Abbot. He is pardoned by the Cardinal because of his musical importance. In the second act the position is reversed, and Taverner, having given up his music, is concerned in the trial of the White Abbot, who is condemned and burnt. The staging is enlivened by the introduction of various comic and parody scenes.

The Cast

Archangel Gabriel
Archangel Michael
 later Archbishop
First Monk
 later Death and Joking Jesus
John Taverner
 later God the Father
Richard Taverner
 later St John
Rose Parrowe
 later the Virgin Mary
Second Monk
White Abbot

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