Tiresias is a ballet in a prelude and three acts choreographed by Frederick Ashton to an original score by Constant Lambert. With scenery and costumes designed by the composer's wife Isabel Lambert, it was first presented by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London, on 9 July 1951.
The idea of a ballet on the subject of the Greek seer who changes sex was first considered by Lambert in the 1930s. Lambert started composing the score in Paris, but due to the distractions of other work he had to enlist assistance for the orchestration from younger colleagues, such as Robert Irving, Humphrey Searle, Gordon Jacob, Alan Rawsthorne and Elisabeth Lutyens.
One of three ballets commissioned for the Festival of Britain, Lambert's score is roughly contemporary with French composer Francis Poulenc's short comic opera Les mamelles de Tirésias first performed at the Opéra-Comique in 1947, on a similar sex-change theme, based on Guillaume Apollinaire's surrealist text of 1917.
The premiere was conducted by the composer and given in the presence of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.There were 12 performances in 1951, then ten the following year, seven in 1953, three in 1954 and two in the next season. The critical reception was generally negative, and the composer instructed solicitors to challenge the hostile review by Richard Buckle, which cast aspersions on the entire artistic leadership of the Royal Ballet company. Lambert died six weeks after its premiere. The work was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1951 and in New York in September 1955. The New York Times review, headlined "Superb 'Tiresias'", was stronger than any of the UK reviews.
Alan Rawsthorne's orchestral Improvisations on a Theme of Constant Lambert (1960) uses the opening fanfare from Tiresias as its theme.
Tiresias enters on a scene of young girls engaged in vaulting over the horn of bull. After a solo and a dance for Tiresias and male corps de ballet, priestesses and a young virgin come on the scene. The Neophyte gives him a wand and departs. Tiresias spots two snakes copulating and in a rage he strikes the female snake with his staff and is thus changed into a woman.
Following a pastoral interlude, shepherds and shepherdesses enter and dance with Tiresias. Her lover appears, and they dance a climactic pas de deux. Then there is a bacchanale celebrating their happiness, at the end of which two snakes enters, engaged as before. Tiresias strikes the male snake with her staff, and is restored to his original self.
Another interlude transforms the scene to a palace courtyard where Zeus and Hera are arguing whether men or women get most pleasure in sex. Called to be judge Tiresias declares that women do, and Hera angrily blinds him, but Zeus bestows the gift of prophecy on Tiresias and he departs.
The first broadcast performance of Tiresias, using the score edited by John Abbott, took place on 8 November 1995with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth. In April 1998 a recording of the score was made by the English Northern Philharmonia conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, and issued by Hyperion Records the following year on CD, coupled with the Pomona ballet music by Lambert. The CD booklet cover uses one of Isabel Lambert's designs for Act 1.
In Greek mythology, Tiresias was a blind prophet of Apollo in Thebes, famous for clairvoyance and for being transformed into a woman for seven years. He was the son of the shepherd Everes and the nymph Chariclo. Tiresias participated fully in seven generations in Thebes, beginning as advisor to Cadmus himself.
Leonard Constant Lambert was a British composer, conductor, and author. He was the Founder Music Director of the Royal Ballet, and he was a major figure in the establishment of the English ballet as a significant artistic movement.
Sir Frederick William Mallandaine Ashton was a British ballet dancer and choreographer. He also worked as a director and choreographer in opera, film and revue.
Alan Rawsthorne was a British composer. He was born in Haslingden, Lancashire, and is buried in Thaxted churchyard in Essex.
John Arthur Lanchbery OBE was an English-Australian composer and conductor, famous for his ballet arrangements. He served as the Principal Conductor of the Royal Ballet from 1959 to 1972, Principal Conductor of the Australian Ballet from 1972 to 1977, and Musical Director of the American Ballet Theatre from 1978 to 1980. Although he resigned from the position of Principal Conductor of the Royal Ballet in 1972, he continued to conduct regularly for the Company until 2001.
Façade is a series of poems by Edith Sitwell, best known as part of Façade – An Entertainment in which the poems are recited over an instrumental accompaniment by William Walton. The poems and the music exist in several versions.
Isabel Rawsthorne, also known at various times as Isabel Nicholas, Isabel Delmer, and Isabel Lambert, was a British painter, scenery designer and occasional artists' model. During the Second World War she worked in black propaganda. She was part of and flourished in an artistic bohemian society that included Jacob Epstein, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon.
Les biches is a one-act ballet to music by Francis Poulenc, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska and premiered by the Ballets Russes on 6 January 1924 at the Salle Garnier in Monte Carlo. Nijinska danced the central role of the Hostess. The ballet has no story, and depicts the random interactions of a group of mainly young people in a house party on a summer afternoon.
Horoscope is a ballet created in 1937 by Frederick Ashton with scenery by Sophie Fedorovitch and music by Constant Lambert. It is based on astrological themes, and is reminiscent of Gustav Holst's The Planets in its musical exploration of the mystical.
Les Rendezvous is a plotless one-act ballet created in 1933, with choreography by Frederick Ashton to the music of Daniel Auber arranged by Constant Lambert and with designs by William Chappell. It was the first major ballet created by Ashton for the Vic-Wells company.
Alexander Marshall Grant was a New Zealand ballet dancer, teacher, and company director. After moving to London as a young man, he became known as "the Royal Ballet's most remarkable actor-dancer in its golden period from the 1940s to the 1960s."
Les Patineurs is a ballet choreographed by Frederick Ashton to music composed by Giacomo Meyerbeer and arranged by Constant Lambert. With scenery and costumes designed by William Chappell, it was first presented by the Vic-Wells Ballet at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, on 16 February 1937. It has been called "a paradigm of an Ashton ballet, perfectly crafted with a complex structure beneath the effervescent surface."
Jazz Calendar is a ballet created in 1968 by Frederick Ashton to the music of Richard Rodney Bennett. The ballet was first performed on 9 January 1968 by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with designs by Derek Jarman. The work was performed over 50 times up to 1979 by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden but is not part of the current repertoire. It was also produced in October 1990 at the Birmingham Hippodrome by Birmingham Royal Ballet.
The Wise Virgins is a one-act ballet based on the biblical Parable of the Ten Virgins. It was created in 1940 with choreography by Frederick Ashton, to a score of music by Johann Sebastian Bach orchestrated by William Walton.
Façade is a ballet by Frederick Ashton, to the music of William Walton; it is a balletic interpretation of items from Façade – an Entertainment (1923) by Walton and Edith Sitwell. The ballet was first given by the Camargo Society at the Cambridge Theatre, on 26 April 1931. It has been regularly revived and restaged all over the world.
Symphonic Variations is a one-act ballet by Frederick Ashton set to the eponymous music of César Franck. The premiere, performed by the Sadler's Wells Ballet, took place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 24 April 1946 in a triple bill; the other works were Ashton's Les Patineurs and Robert Helpmann's Adam Zero. The ballet was conducted by Constant Lambert and the set designed by Sophie Fedorovitch.
The Camargo Society was a London society which created and produced ballet between 1930 and 1933, giving opportunity to British musicians, choreographers, designers and dancers. Its influence was disproportionate to its short life. Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of The Royal Ballet, saw it as "having done much for the cause of English ballet", and Encyclopædia Britannica Online credits it with "keeping ballet alive in England during the early 1930s". The society was named after the eighteenth-century French dancer Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo.
Desmond Doyle was a South African ballet dancer who performed in England in the 1950s and 1960s before becoming ballet master of The Royal Ballet.
Brian Shaw was a British ballet dancer and teacher. As a leading dancer with the Royal Ballet during the 1950s and 1960s, he was widely regarded as "one of the finest classical male dancers of his generation".