‘Sometimes I dream I am a boy… and then I am a girl again’: Traversing Gender in The Knot Garden’s ‘Schubert Scene’



Michael Tippett’s third opera, The Knot Garden (1970), based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is possibly unique in its focus on the psychoanalytic scenario. During his life and career, Tippett was drawn consistently to the psychoanalytic theories of Jung, and Jungian themes such as the pursuit of individuation and the Collective Unconscious are integral to The Knot Garden’s action and conclusions. Nevertheless, in The Knot Garden, Tippett appears to treat certain Jungian precepts – particularly those relating to gender and sexuality – with considerable scepticism. Several of The Knot Garden’s characters, for instance, do not concord stereotypically with a classically Jungian position that mature gender identity is the inevitable result of archetypical and biological predispositions. Instead, Tippett’s unstable presentations of gender and sexuality appear to align more closely with the ideas of his analyst contemporary, Lacan, whose work undermines Jungian assumptions of heteronormativity and fixed identity.

The Knot Garden features two young individuals, Flora and Dov, who are particularly distressed by their misalignment with prevailing standards of gender and sexuality. During the opera’s second act, these two characters share an evocative, interpolated duet of a Schubert lied, ‘Die liebe Farbe’. Afterwards, Flora tells Dov ‘sometimes I dream I am a boy… and then I am a girl again’, and Dov voices his empathy with Flora’s liminality. This paper argues that the intertextual implications and musical construction of The Knot Garden’s ‘Schubert scene’ amount to a critique of conventional Jungian wisdom on gender, and a prophetic vision of a world beyond Lacan’s ‘symbolic order’. The scene furthermore offers an insight into Tippett’s own struggles with gender and sexuality as a gay man in the mid-twentieth century, along with his platonic, doomed relationship with the writer and musician Francesca Allinson.


Michael TippettThe Knot GardenLacanJungSchubert
  • Volume: 7 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 22-48
  • DOI: 10.18573/ipics.87
  • Published on 30 Apr 2019
  • Peer Reviewed