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The Canterbury Pilgrims

opera in four acts

Music by Reginald De Koven
Libretto by Percy Mackaye
after The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
About The Canterbury Pilgrims

One two works De Koven called "opera" rather than operetta, the music of The Canterbury Pilgrims is in a light style reminiscent of his operettas. The Canterbury Pilgrims was the first opera given at the Met for which a stage director was credited.

Cast of Characters
Chaucer, bar The Friar, t
The Squire, t King Richard II, t
Joannes, t The Knight, bar
Man of Law, bar The Miller, b
The Pardoner, t The Summoner, bar
The Shipman, bar The Cook, b
The Host, b Herald, b
The Prioress, s Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, c
Johanna, s
Nuns, Canterbury Brooch Girls, Tap Girls, Heralds, Priests, Nobles, Pilgrims, Choir Boys, Acolytes, Citizens, etc.

Synopsis from the printed vocal score

The time is April, 1387; the place, England.

Chaucer, first poet laureate of England, traveling incognito with pilgrims from London to Canterbury, encounters the Wife of Bath, a woman of the lower middle-class, buxom, canny, and full of fun, who has had five husbands and is looking for a sixth. She promptly falls in love with Chaucer, who--instead of returning her sprightly attentions--conceives a high-serious, poetic affection for the Prioress, a gentlewoman, who-according to the custom of the time--although holding an ecclesiastical position, is at the same time a secular person, having taken no vows.

The wife of Bath, however, is determined to win her man at all costs. Devising a plan for this, she wagers tha she will be able to get from the prioress the brooch, bearing the inscription "Amor Vincit Omnia," which the prioress wears on her wrist. Should she win, Chaucer is bound by compact to marry her.

After much plotting and by means of a disguise, the wife of Bath wins her bet, and Chaucer ruefully contemplates the prospect of presenting his hand to her. In this plight he appeals to the King, Richard II, who announces that the wife of Bath may marry a sixth time if she chooses, but only on condition that it be a miller.

At this juncture, a devoted miller, who has been one of her attendant swains, joyfully accepts the task, and the story ends with a scene of happy reconciliation between Chaucer and the prioress.

Performance History
World premiere
Metropolitan Opera, New York, New York
March 8, 1917
Chaucer: Johannes Sembach
Alisoun: Margaret Ober
Johanna: Marie Sundelius
The Prioress: Edith Mason
Bodanzky, conductor
Emens/Fox, stage direction
Ordynski, production designer

Last update: January 1, 2009