About Midi

Lewis Spratlan, Composer

Lewis Spratlan. Photo Gigi Kaeser.

Lewis Spratlan. Photo Gigi Kaeser.

Composer, oboist, conductor and teacher Lew Spratlan has found inspiration for his musical compositions in Greek myth (Apollo and Daphne Variations, 1987); Mayan prophecy and prayer (In Memoriam, 1993); Freud’s Wolfman case (Wolves, 1988); crows gathering on a winter’s day (When Crows Gather, 1986); the 17th-century play La Vida Es Sueño, by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (Life Is a Dream, 1978); and NASA’s Mars rover (Soujourner, 1999)—not to mention his mother-in-law’s love of ragtime, the Charleston and old-time gospel hymns (When Crows Gather). Recent important work include Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus (2012).


Over his career as a composer, which he began at the age of eight, Professor Spratlan has explored every musical genre; from medieval chant to jazz, his influences cross cultures, forms and styles. Equally eclectic are the instruments through which he gives his compositions voice—orchestras, choruses, quartets—even the Terpsiptomaton, a string/percussion instrument that he invented using wrought-iron coils and rods, piano strings and ball bearings.


The themes that Professor Spratlan has brought to our ears have often been primordial ones—fathers and sons, fate and free will, dreams and reality—perhaps most magnificently in his opera Life is a Dream. He received the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2000 for a concert version of the second act of this piece, which he had completed 22 years before. Professor Spratlan has also been honored with Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts and MacDowell fellowships, among many other awards. In 2016 he received the Charles Ives Opera Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Midi, an Opera

The Medea Krater, Lucanian Red Figure, ca. 400 BC. Cleveland Museum of Art

The Medea Krater, Lucanian Red Figure, ca. 400 BC. Cleveland Museum of Art

Midi (Medea) is a native singer in the bar of a hotel/brothel in a city in the French Antilles, c. 1930. She is also a sorceress, a descendant of the Sun himself, loved and feared on the island. She lives with a dubious American "businessman," Jaz, who cheats on her and beats her. She could destroy him with her magic, but, loving him, she is helpless. They have two children.


In a prelude, Midi dances with her familiar spirits. In Act I, set in the hotel bar, Midi sings about herself as a Sun-creature, the rain, and Jaz. Jaz appears outside with his new lover, Claire, the Governor's daughter, whom he has promised to marry. They argue. Midi sings a mythic song about false lovers. Claire sends Jaz in to break with Midi. He hasn't the courage. Claire takes charge, leaving Midi in misery.


In Act II, set in Midi's ancestral house the next morning, she awakens in total devastation and confusion. She goes to the corner of the room where she has set up an altar to her gods, prays, and performs a ritual. Meanwhile Jaz enters with a suitcase to collect his belongings...as well as some of hers. He has brought Claire's old nurse along to help him take the children. Her religious observances completed, Midi confronts Jaz. Overcome with her old feelings for him, she seduces him. Infuriated by his loss of power, he beats and rapes her. She reaches for a coutelas to kill or mutilate him, but he runs away. She leaves the room with the weapon to kill their children. She reemerges covered in blood. Claire arrives and taunts her. In response, she uses magic to set fire to Claire. Through these terrible acts she takes full possession of her divinity.


Act III, scene 1 is set in a courtroom in the city. Midi is tried for the murder of her children. All is set against her, but she secures her acquital by magic. In scene 2, set on an airstrip by the beach, she is ready to fly off on a biplane. The people urge her to stay, so they can continue to enjoy her music. Jaz tries to shoot her. The crowd overpowers him. Midi flies away towards the sun.


The first act was performed at the National Opera Center of Opera America in New York City in October, 2016, in a workshop organized by American Opera Projects.



Vocal Score, Act I

Three arias from Act I

Special Thanks

Michael Miller, Librettist

Michael Miller

Michael Miller


Michael Miller is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of New York Arts, an International Journal for the Arts and The Berkshire Review for the Arts. He was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in the Classics, the English language, and Art History at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently he writes fiction, pursues photography, and studies theory and piano at the Juilliard School Evening Division. He has recently written an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians (2011) and to George Tice, Lifework (forthcoming), as well as a major revision of the entry on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 


His libretto for Midi has given him an opportunity to revisit the work of one of the ancient Greek authors he most admires, Euripides, to explore mythology, and the discover a new culture, that of the French Lesser Antilles, with its rich traditions in religion, magic, myth-making, and music.


He is also currently at work on a translation/adaptation of Georg Büchner's Woyzeck.