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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Ice Break
Opera by Michael Tippett
LibrettistMichael Tippett
7 July 1977 (1977-07-07)

The Ice Break is an English-language opera in three acts, with music and libretto to an original scenario by Sir Michael Tippett. The opera received its premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 7 July 1977, conducted by Colin Davis, the dedicatee of the opera.[1][2]

One meaning of the opera's title is a reference to the actual physical breaking of ice on the frozen northern rivers, signaling the advent of spring.[3] The composer has said that the subject of the opera is "whether or not we can be reborn from the stereotypes we live in." John Warrack has noted that the work "confronts questions of stereotype on a wider scale" compared to Tippett's earlier operas, and also in a contemporary setting.[4] Tippett himself put this line on a preface page to a published score of the opera, the opening of François Villon's Ballade des pendus::[5]

"Brother humans who live after us, do not harden your hearts against us."

Performance history

A German translation was given at the Kiel Opera House the year following its premiere. The Opera Company of Boston staged the work in May 1979 for 3 performances,[6] under the direction of Sarah Caldwell, in the first professional production of a Tippett opera in the USA.[7][3] Covent Garden revived the opera in the same year, but was not thereafter seen until a 1990 concert production at the Henry Wood Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in 1990. A recording was made with the 1990 cast.

Birmingham Opera Company, in partnership with 45 arts and social organizations in Birmingham who provided the amateur actors to perform in the many crowd scenes in the opera, gave the second UK and third in total production of the opera, in five promenade-style performances of the opera in the B12 warehouse in the Digbeth area of central Birmingham, in April 2015.[8] Graham Vick directed the production, with the Birmingham Opera Company Chorus and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Gourlay.[9]


Role Voice type (composer's description) Premiere Cast, 7 July 1977
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Conductor: Colin Davis
USA premiere, 18 May 1979[6]
Opera Company of Boston
Conductor: Sarah Caldwell
1990 Proms concert performance, 23 July 1990, Royal Albert Hall
London Sinfonietta, London Sinfonietta Chorus
Conductor: David Atherton
Birmingham Opera Company, April 2015
Conductor: Andrew Gourlay
Lev, a 50-year-old teacher bass John Shirley-Quirk Richard Fredricks David Wilson-Johnson Andrew Slater
Nadia, his wife lyric soprano Heather Harper Arlene Saunders Heather Harper Nadine Benjamin
Yuri, their son baritone Tom McDonnell Jake Gardner Sanford Sylvan Ross Ramgobin
Gayle, Yuri’s native-born white girlfriend dramatic soprano Josephine Barstow Leigh Munro Carolann Page Stephanie Corley
Hannah, a hospital nurse, Gayle's black friend rich mezzo-soprano Beverly Vaughn Cynthia Clarey Cynthia Clarey Chrystal E. Williams
Olympion, a sports champion, Hannah's boyfriend tenor Clyde Walker Curtis Rayam Tom Randle Ta'u Pupu'a
Luke, a young intern at Hannah's hospital tenor John Dobson Bonaventura Bottone John-Colyn Gyeantey
Lieutenant baritone Roderick Kennedy Donald Maxwell Adam Green
Astron, a 'psychedelic messenger' lyric mezzo-soprano and high tenor (or countertenor) James Bowman Christopher Robson Anna Harvey, Meili Li


Prior to the action of the opera, Nadia had emigrated with her baby son, Yuri, after her husband, Lev, had been sentenced to the prison camps of Russia.

Act 1

The opera opens in an airport lounge, where Lev, a Russian dissident, arrives to join his wife, Nadia, and his son, Yuri, in the West in exile after 20 years in prison. In the airport also are Yuri's girlfriend Gayle and Gayle's friend Hannah, who are also waiting the arrival of the black athlete, Olympion, a Muhammad Ali-like character. Lev and Olympion separately arrive. Lev reunites with Nadia and Yuri, but Yuri feels distant from Lev, since he has never met his father as an adult. In the meantime, Gayle throws herself at Olympion, which angers Yuri and causes him to attack Olympion, who knocks him down. Back at home, Yuri expresses anger at his father.

Act 2

Among Olympion's fans, there are gang rivalries which crystallise into a conflict between blacks and whites. Gayle and Yuri wear masks and blend into the masked white chorus, while the same is true on the black side for Olympion and Hannah. The conflict explodes into a mob riot, and Olympion and Gayle die in the violence. Yuri is barely alive and is taken to hospital.

Act 3

Nadia, on the brink of death, asks Hannah to take care of Lev. In an interlude, the psychedelic messenger Astron has appeared, and a drugged-out crowd hails him as a saviour. Astron dismisses this and disappears. Back in the hospital, Yuri has undergone successful surgery, and is totally encased in a plaster cast. The cast is cut away, and Yuri stands. Yuri eventually embraces his father.



  1. ^ Dean, Winton, "Music in London: Opera - The Ice Break" (September 1977). The Musical Times, 118 (1615): pp. 747–748.
  2. ^ John Rockwell (1977-07-31). "Tippett's The Ice Break". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  3. ^ a b Joseph Horowitz (1979-05-22). "Opera: Tippett's Ice Break in Boston". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  4. ^ Warrack, John, "The Ice Break" (July 1977). The Musical Times, 118 (1613): pp. 553, 555–556.
  5. ^ Birkhead, Jane, "Music Reviews" - The Ice Break and Flower and Hawk (December 1980). Notes (2nd Ser.), 37 (2): pp. 427–429.
  6. ^ a b John Rockwell (1979-05-06). "Music: The Contiguglias, Duo Pianists". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  7. ^ Christopher Porterfield (4 June 1979). "Healing Spring". Time. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2007.
  8. ^ Oliver Soden (2015-04-03). "Tippett's The Ice Break – time to take it out of cold storage". The Guardian. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  9. ^ Andrew Clements (2015-04-05). "The Ice Break review – race riots and pill-popping". The Guardian. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  10. ^ Malcolm Hayes, Record Review, Tippett: The Ice Break. Tempo (New Ser.), 181 32–33 (June 1992).
  11. ^ Antony Bye; "Closing briefs' (record reviews). The Musical Times, p. 84 (1992).

Further reading

The Operas of Michael Tippett (English National Opera/Royal Opera Opera Guide 29), John Calder, 1985. ISBN 0-7145-4061-7.

This page was last edited on 21 July 2021, at 14:47
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