The Shivaree

The Shivaree. Opera in two acts by John Beckwith, with a libretto by James Reaney, composed 1964-5 and 1977-8, with some revisions and a prologue added in 1982.

The Shivaree

The Shivaree. Opera in two acts by John Beckwith, with a libretto by James Reaney, composed 1964-5 and 1977-8, with some revisions and a prologue added in 1982.

Scored for a chamber orchestra of 20 players, The Shivaree was given a public reading in Toronto in 1979 by COMUS Music Theatre of Canada. COMUS also produced the first staged performances at Town Hall of the St Lawrence Centre in Toronto 3, 4, and 5 Apr 1982, directed by Paula Sperdakos and conducted by Howard Cable. The cast included Avo Kittask as William Quartz, Caralyn Tomlin as Daisy, and James McLean as Jonathan. This production was broadcast 26 Jun 1982 on CBC radio.

According to the libretto, 'the action of the opera takes place in a farming district of Southwestern Ontario in the early years of the 20th century. The characters are fictitious, but the custom of the shivaree (a mock wedding serenade played on homemade percussion instruments) is an actual custom of the area'.

The Shivaree is a black comedy, combining elements of farce and tragedy. Daisy, an attractive but naïve girl, is newly married to Quartz, an older wealthy landowner who is a buffoon and something of a blackguard. She has allowed the courtship to proceed in hopes that it would spur her true love, the indecisive Jonathan, into professing his love for her. Jonathan comes to his senses after the wedding and enlists the help of the shivareers to distract Quartz while he serenades Daisy. The lovers are discovered by Quartz, who gives them a beating. Daisy leaves her cruel husband, and the shivareers help the lovers escape. Two unexpected twists conclude the opera: it is discovered that Quartz had entered the wrong name for his bride on his marriage certificate, nullifying the marriage, and Aunt Annie, the cross-dressing tomboy and one of the shivareers, decides she can handle Quartz and agrees to marry him.

The Shivaree was also performed (with revisions) by the Banff CA Music Theatre Studio ensemble in December 1982.


Further Reading

  • MacMillan, Rick. 'Beckwith opera light-hearted and accessible to audiences,' MSc, 326, Jul-Aug 1982

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