Night Blooming Cereus

Night Blooming Cereus Hour-long one-act opera for soloists and small orchestra, composed 1953-8 by John Beckwith to a libretto by James Reaney.

Night Blooming Cereus

Night Blooming Cereus Hour-long one-act opera for soloists and small orchestra, composed 1953-8 by John Beckwith to a libretto by James Reaney. It became a CBC commission after its actual completion ensured its radio premiere (4 Mar 1959), for which the cast comprised Ann Stephenson (as Alice), Patricia Rideout (as Mrs Brown), Phyllis Antognini, Irene Byatt, Alexander Gray, Bernard Johnson, Jean Marie Scott, and Patricia Snell.

The story, a parable of the deep-rooted, miraculous continuity of life, unfolds in a small-town Ontario house. Alice arrives there in search of her grandmother, Mrs Brown, whose daughter, Alice's mother, had broken the family tie years before. The meeting and forgiveness, and the resolution of the problems of various townsfolk, coincide with the mystical blooming of the cereus, a rare plant which flowers once in 100 years. After the broadcast, Kenneth Winters described Beckwith's music as 'apt, active, serious and witty. It came off handsomely in performance... taking its comic and dramatic suggestions from the words sensitively and artfully' (Winnipeg Free Press, 5 Mar 1959).

The work was repeated on CBC radio the following year and had its first stage production at Hart House Theatre, Toronto, 5 and 6 Apr 1960, conducted again by Mazzoleni, directed by Pamela Terry (Beckwith), and designed by Louis de Niverville, with Sheila Piercey and Ruth Ann Morse replacing Scott and Antognini in the otherwise original complement of singers. Subsequent productions have been mounted by the McGill University Opera Workshop in 1968, by Clifford Evens at the University of Western Ontario in 1971, and by the University of Victoria in 1992. The libretto appears in The Killdeer and Other Plays (Toronto 1962). The score is available on rental from Boosey & Hawkes, and an excerpt from the work, 'Houses in Heaven,' arranged fro mezzo-soprano, mixed choir and piano, was published in 1987 by Gordon V. Thompson


Further Reading

  • Mayo, John. 'Expectatiuons and compacts in the Beckwith-Reaney operas: a case study,' University of Toronto Q, vol 60, winter 1990-1

    'Opera in Montreal and Toronto'