Hyperion Records

The Ephesian Matron, or The Widow's Tears
composer
1769; A Comic Serenata; orchestrated by Roger Fiske and Peter Holman
author of text

Recordings
'Dibdin: Ephesian Matron, Brickdust Man & Grenadier' (CDA66608)
Dibdin: Ephesian Matron, Brickdust Man & Grenadier
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66608  Archive Service   Download currently discounted
'The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 1' (HYP12)
The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 1
HYP12  Super-budget price sampler — Deleted  
Details
No 01: Overture: Presto – Andantino – Allegro
No 02. The Trio: Hence, hence away (Matron/Father/Maid)
No 03. The Father's Aria: But more, a monument I'll raise (Father/Matron)
No 04. The Matron's Mad Aria: And while, grown frantic with my woes (Matron/Maid)
No 05. The Maid's First Aria: If I was a wife (Maid/Centurion)
No 06. The Centurion's First Aria: What ho! charming dame, what ho! (Centurion/Matron/Maid)
No 07. The Duet: By Venus, mother of desire (Centurion/Matron)
No 08. The Matron's Second Aria: But before you go away, sir (Matron/Maid)
No 09. The Centurion's Second Aria: Zounds! I'm undone! (Centurion/Maid/Matron)
No 10. The Maid's Second Aria: Men boast of their prudence and sense (Maid/Matron/Father/Centurion)
No 11. Vaudeville: Thus old wits in wicked satires (Father/Maid/Matron/Centurion)

The Ephesian Matron, or The Widow's Tears
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The Ephesian Matron was first performed at a 'Jubilee Ridotto' at Ranelagh Gardens on 12 May 1769; in the London Chronicle the next day it was reported that the audience was 'exceedingly numerous and brilliant', that there were 'music and illuminations on the canal, the temple and other parts of the garden', and that 'about nine o'clock a new musical entertainment in the manner of the Italian comic serenata was performed'. Bickerstaffe mainly had Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona in mind, which was often performed in London in Italian and English from the 1750s; he wrote in the printed text that the managers at Ranelagh thought 'something in the same way would be an improvement upon the detached song and ballads, usually sung in their orchestra'. Another reason for imitating La Serva Padrona was that fringe theatres were prevented by law at the time from putting on spoken plays, so they had to use works with recitative. It is not clear to what extent The Ephesian Matron was acted out in its first performance; Bickerstaffe admitted that it had 'at a short warning, been in great haste put together'. Nevertheless, it was quite successful: it was transferred to the Haymarket Theatre, was performed about thirty times at the time, and was revived several times in the 1920s and 30s.

The work is, most unusually for the eighteenth century, a black comedy, set throughout in a tomb. It is based on an episode from The Satiricon by Petronius, which Bickerstaffe might have encountered in the Jacobean play The Widow's Tears by George Chapman, in an unpublished contemporary play by Charles Johnson, in many popular chapbooks, or in a well-known essay by Steele in The Spectator; Bickerstaffe clearly knew the latter, for he borrowed from it the motif of the traveller, the lion and the signpost for his vaudeville. The Ephesian Matron has just become a widow and, despite the pleadings of her father and maid, is determined to remain with the body until death. She expresses her grief in a delicious parody of the mad arias of contemporary opera seria. The maid tries without success to cheer her up in a patter song, but soon after a handsome Roman centurion arrives who has been guarding the bodies of executed criminals nearby. He has considerably more success but returns to his post, only to find that a body has been stolen. He returns distraught, but the Matron has an inspiration: her husband's body will replace the missing one. A wedding is the inevitable outcome, after the period of mourning has been swiftly reduced in the last recitative from seven years to one day. In the vaudeville the four singers step out of character to apologise to women for the way they are traditionally represented as false, vain and changeable.

from notes by Peter Holman © 1992

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