Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Forgotten Kingdom, The Tragedy of the Cathars

Over the past three weeks, MILLENIUM OF MUSIC has introduced American Early Music Listeners to the most important recording of Early Music since February 24, 2004,  the day of happy memory for those of us who love Monteverdi and longed for one good production - instead we got a great one - of one of his operas on tape.   It was on 02/24/2004 that Virgin Classics released William Christie's and Adrian Noble's production of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, perhaps the greatest production of opera for video ever released.

The incredibly moving new recording from Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI is The Forgotten Kingdom, The Tragedy of the Cathars on Alia Vox.   It could also be called The Forgotten Music, and for most of us - even those of us who already have a strong interest in music before Bach - our whole picture of the history of western music will be irreparably changed.

This project is incredibly devastating in showing that so much beauty could be wiped out completely and yet strangely inspiring in that such fragments as are shored up here of a lost beauty can still prove so moving.

In the end there is a paradox at the heart of Cathar music.  You would not think a people who believed that the material world was evil would be capable of creating works of such heart-wrenching beauty.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Hurt McDermott's adaptation of Aristophanes' text is a delight, its breezily contemporary tone easily comprehended by academics and ignorami alike. Literary allusions ("You don't expect me to believe that someone could write an interesting play about The Clouds, do you?") abound, side-by-side with casual colloquialisms—"Trying to kill a bird with two stones, huh?"—and flat-out puns ("I'd forget my head if it weren't attached to the body politic."). - Mary Shen Barnidge, Windy City Times

Lybrary.Com has just released my English Rendering of Aristophanes's
most contemporary and relevant comedy,  BIRDS. 

For anyone who wants to see what a play looks like when it arrives on a Literary Manager's Desk and goes into an actor's backpack, this is the edition for you.  Lybrary.Com has put this play out as a working copy for theaters who want to mount this version, and they have not reformatted it for general audiences. 

My version is quite different than any other English Translation in that
I came to feel one of the two main characters, Happy, ends up being
killed by the other.  I have found this in no other English version I know of.
Below I've posted my some remarks from the original program
which explain how I could differ so markedly from the Greek translators
on this point. 

Most ancient Greek plays are brought into English by 
Greek scholars.  The problem is that Greek scholars 
do not usually have the experience of making a
play come to life before an audience in the theater.
The problem is compounded by the fact that 
the authors mounted the plays themselves, so the
old texts have no stage directions.  In fact they do not 
even identify the speaker of each line.

Although Hurt McDermott is not a Greek scholar,
he is an award winning playwright and film director
who knows what it takes to bring a text to life.

In the 3 years he wrestled with BIRDS, he came to believe
that the play only made sense with the death of
one of the main characters - a death that is lacking in every
other currently available English translation. 

This death of one of the two main characters,
engineered through the machinations of the other,
injects the urgency and contemporary relevance
needed to make this timeless classic fully come alive again on stage.