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" The songs of our ancestors

are also the songs of our children "

The Druid Way

Opera and the Religious Experience

October 6th, 2007

Last night I saw Verdi’s Macbeth at Glyndebourne. Fabulous music, fabulous singing, horrendous set (a white polystyrene castle with tourquoise mortar!). The set – even though dreadful – was however painted superbly!

I almost had a religious experience but for the little aesthete who lives beside my left ear (wearing a bow tie and big glasses) who kept talking to me about the proper use of tourquoise.

But I did have one in the shop in the interval. There I came upon a series of books on Sussex produced by a new imprint: Snake River Press. They are the sort of books you want to own regardless of the content – with impeccable design, woodcuts and so on. The little man with the bow tie was suddenly relieved that taste was still alive and well in this hallowed sanctuary of the arts. Have a look at their website – just as an example of how good books really can be. They even do clever things like offering a blank notebook made in the same design, a magazine and so on. The head honcho of the press is an eccentric character called Peter Bridgewater who’s written one of the titles…

Back to opera! Here are some facts that will fascinate and thrill you:

Druids have a minor but nevertheless significant role in the history of the world’s oldest profession: opera

1. Two of the world’s greatest opera singers owe a debt of gratitude (in however round about a way) to the Druids. Their careers were triggered by these august fellows: Maria Callas got her big break playing the Druid priestess Norma in Bellini’s opera of that name. Her rendition of the hymn to the moon ‘Casta Diva’ is still one of many opera lovers’ favourite arias. Pavarotti had no intention of becoming an opera singer until as a young man he traveled with his choir to the Welsh Eisteddfod (presided over by the Druids). They won a prize, and he was inspired to begin his career.

2. The longest running opera ever to be performed in Britain featured the Druids heavily. It was Rutland Boughton’s ‘The Immortal Hour’. The poor man started the very first Glastonbury Festival on the day the First World War began… it wasn’t a success – but his opera was.

3. Michael Tippett’s opera ‘The Midsummer Marriage’ has a deeply Druidic and Tantric theme. I’ve written an essay about this. It’s got some beautiful photos from the Chicago Lyric’s production and other illustrations.

4. A Druidic almost-opera has just been born! The dazzling harp geniuses Myrddhin and Zil from Brittany have teamed up with the ‘electro-shaman’ Pascal Lamour in Brittany to create what is described as ‘la troisième (approche) – Magic Chaudron- est proche d’un Opéra (non-dramatique) par les domaines qu’elle touche : musique, chant, danse, récit, théâtre… ce que l’on pourrait appeler un “Opéra Druidique”.’ Here is a photo from the first performance courtesy of Michel Audinet. And you can hear a sample (‘Elfin’) here.

Here is a photo from the first performance courtesy of Michel Audinet

6 Responses to “Opera and the Religious Experience”

  1. Being a convert to Opera (courtesy of a free ticket to a Glyndebourne Opera from Stephanie) I’d really like to hear a clip from the Magic Cauldron – I love Myrdhin and Zil’s work too. Sadly they don’t seem to have uploaded an audio file to their myspace page. Keep blogging Philip – the family might not be reading, but I’m sure many others are 🙂

  2. I profite of that blog to say hello to Damh and to say him we like the last CD he did (last year’s CD), and the radio sent by the Stephanie on which Damh speaks … we said him that few months ago but the MAil went back …
    So, Philip, your blog is necessary also so as friends of you can speak together! (Je dois juste apprivoiser cet instrument avec les commentaires possibles… et comme tu disais une fois, les français sont bien plus prudes que les anglais, alors je n’ose pas parler de cette façon- mais ça vient, et la question est bien le “middle way”, pour nous aussi, lecteurs de ton blog : et ça oblige à bien peser ses mots quand même pour ne pas tomber dans le piège de se mettre à dire ce qui passe par la tête n’importe comment, ou à faire des romans fleuves!
    In fact I find now after ten days, that you write something daily, and I thing about it in the days after and that works in me so as I have to work with (about the 8 feast for example and so on), to meditate : it’s agood experience at the beginning of winter, that helps me to go inside me in a new way.

  3. Thank you so much Zil.
    It is helpful to know that what I write is helpful.
    I have realised that somewhere I had the belief that I could ‘spoil things’ by talking too much. It is such a ‘British’ thing (or was) to admire the taciturn, silent type who only says the occasional ‘bon mot’.
    This is where I make the link with this process and undressing. So the question becomes: “What if you have nothing to hide?” You can keep undressing, keep talking, keep letting go, and the more you do this the more authentic you become….
    That’s the idea but of course there’s always the danger of rambling on for its own sake, which is something else.
    The french have a great word for wasteful speech, I think : devaguer.

  4. French : divaguer (sorry) (to ramble is not the same?)
    à part “errer deci delà”, signifie “une rivière qui quitte son lit”… Ca peut emmener loin, non? (Sie sind den Fluss – le fleuve Couesnon met le Mont Saint Michel tantot en Bretagne, tantot en Normandie – Aber geht den Fluss nach Himmel so as to be “skyclad”?
    Oui, le risque est aussi pour nous lecteurs (ou pour moi!) de parler trop sur ces commentaires!
    La nudité n’incite-t-elle pas à être nu aussi dans les mots? A mettre moins “d’habits” autour des mots? Et alors l’écrivain devrait trouver une nouvelle forme d’écriture, très directe, très “nue”?

  5. Delighted to see you mention Boughton’s ‘Immortal Hour’. It’s been on my playlist for many years and contains some wonderfully ethereal songs and choruses. I suppose ‘How beautiful they are’ was the smash hit of the day but the druid chorus ‘By the voice in the corries’ is well worth a listen. Far be it from me to advertise but if you haven’t got the cd you can hear some brief snatches on iTunes…

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