• Julian Philips
  • The Tale of Januarie (2017)
    (Opera in Four Acts)

  • Peters Edition Limited (World)
  • 2actor,2S,3Mz,2T,3Bar,B + ch; 3[2pic].2+ca.0.2+cbn/
  • ch
  • Actor, Actor, Soprano, Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Tenor, Baritone, Baritone, Baritone, Bass
  • 2 hr 15 min

Programme Note

The Tale of Januarie (2017)

Act One
1 – Winter. Pavia. Lombardy. The townsfolk are performing the annual fertility rite around the pear tree. Januarie, a wealthy, but ageing knight, comes with his friends, Justinus and Placebo. After a colourful life, he has decided it is time to marry. He wants a young wife to care for him in old age. Justinus, a married man, counsels against taking a wife, especially a young one. Placebo, however, supports Januarie’s marital enthusiasm.

2 – Market Day. The customers are looking for bargains. Placebo, the barber, is giving Januarie a haircut. While he is in the barber’s chair, Januarie instructs his young servant Damyan to lure women over with his tray of ribbons so he can view them in the barber’s mirror without being seen. His eye falls on May, a young milkmaid. Damyan is himself smitten by the girl and tries to discourage Januarie’s interest in her. But the old man insists Damyan should find out where May lives.

3 – Spring. The Nymphs are welcoming the arrival of spring. Their mistress, Proserpina, arrives from Hades with his husband Pluto, King of the Underworld. They are fulfilling the agreement with Proserpina’s mother that her daughter be allowed to spend half the year on earth. But Pluto doesn’t enjoy these earthly holidays. They watch Januarie and May’s wedding processions as they make their way to church. Proserpina doesn’t like the idea of an old man marrying such a young woman. Pluto doesn’t think they should interfere.

4 – The Nuptial Bed. The marriage has now taken place, and the Priest has come to bless the nuptial bed. When May throws her stocking behind her, as is the custom, it is Damyan who catches it. He will be the next to marry. Januarie cannot wait for the guests to leave. When they finally do so, he closes the curtains on their wedding night, leaving forlorn Damyan to listen to their love-making.

Act Two
1 – The Next Morning. Januarie wakes merrily, boasting of his prowess. May wakes appalled, recalling the full horror of her night beside her new husband. Januarie sends May and her maidservants to find out why Damyan is not attending him.

2 – Damyan’s chamber. He is love-sick, and borrows a few lines of Petrarch to express his love to May in a letter. May comes with her maidservants. She now realizes how strongly he feels about her. He secretly passes the love- letter he has written to her and she conceals it.

3 – The Privy. May has escaped to the privy to read the letter. Januarie is calling for her to come back to the bed again. May reads the letter. She is triumphant, realizing she now has a rich husband and a strapping young lover. She no longer needs to work for Mistress Wellow, her domineering employer. She can milk the cow herself from now on.

4 – Back in the Bedroom. Januarie wants to inflict further indignity on May, demanding that she strip for him. This is too much for Proserpina who has been looking on. She intervenes on May’s behalf, calling on the goddess Fortuna to come to her aid. Januarie is suddenly struck blind.

Act Three
1 – Summer. Proserpina’s nymphs celebrate the hot season. Priapus comes to have some sport with them, but they see him off. Januarie has put a wall up around the pear tree and created a pleasure garden exclusively for his and May’s use. He comes with May and their entourage, including Damyan, to inspect the work. Januarie is now completely dependent on May and won’t let go of her. He is extremely jealous and wears the key to the gate of the pleasure garden around his neck at all times. No one else is going to enjoy the pleasures that he does.

2 – Back in the Bedroom. Januarie dismisses Damyan. He is no longer needed. But Damyan remains in the room. May tries to persuade Januarie to remove the key so they can make love. She convinces Januarie he should save his ardour for the next day, when he can enjoy her fully in their pleasure-garden. She briefly relieves Januarie of the key and hands it to Damyan who quickly makes an imprint of it in soft wax. While Januarie frets in his bed, courting couples come to sing of their devotion to each other.

Act Four
1 – The Wall. Damyan arrives first at the gate to the pleasure garden, but struggles to open it with the counterfeit key. May is trying to delay their entry into the garden, and Januarie is growing suspicious. Damyan finally manages to slip inside the gate ahead of them.

2 – Under the Pear Tree. Damyan has climbed up into the tree. May tells Januarie that before they make love she has a keen desire to eat the green pears. Standing on Januarie’s back, she climbs up into the tree where Damyan is waiting for her. The two young lovers consummate their passion, but Pluto, who has been watching, is so outraged by Januarie’s deception, he restores the old man’s sight. Januarie is horrified to see his wife in flagrante with his servant. But now Proserpina intervenes again and provides May with the excuse for her behaviour. She has May tell Januarie that she had heard that a cure for blindness is for the blind man to witness a man and a woman struggling in a tree. She enacted the scene for his benefit. Januarie protests that he saw a lot more than a struggle, but May counters this by telling him his sight has only been imperfectly restored. Januarie finally accepts the excuse, and they are reconciled.

1 – Autumn has come and it is time for Pluto and Proserpina to return to the underworld. They are taking Januarie with them. He has died. But, in the afterlife, he can see that May is now carrying a child, which he imagines is his. He tries to communicate with her, but she can no longer see him. He pleads with Pluto to allow him a little more time on earth, so he can be with the woman he loves and see their child born, but Pluto refuses. Though Januarie is now on his way to the underworld, the gods do not disillusion him that the coming child is his. He may at least continue to believe he has left behind an heir.


Preview of The Tale of Januarie, Guildhall School of Music and Drama 2017