Monday, April 6, 2015

Next for Chorale Bel Canto

The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore
Great Opera Choruses

May 16, 2015 4:00 p.m.
First United Methodist Church Pasadena
500 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena

The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore or, The Three Sundays of a Poet is a “madrigal fable” for chorus, dancers and instrumental ensemble, with original libretto and music by Gian-Carlo Menotti. Premiered in 1956, the work coni8sts of a prologue and twelve madrigals that tell a continuous story, interspersed with six musical interludes.

The piece is based on the 16th century Italian genre of madrigal comedy. The madrigal comedy was an important forerunner of opera, a form first developed in Florence, Italy around 1600. It is fitting, therefore, that the second half of this Chorale Bel Canto program consists of choruses from some of the great operas of the 18th and 19th centuries.

While not staged and acted as fully as an opera, these madrigal comedies were often performed with backdrops, costumes and dancers.

The plot, while comic, ultimately embodies serious themes about social conformity, the ease with which no longer fashionable fads are abandoned, and the casual killers of a poet’s dreams.

Menotti’s fable tells the story of a strange, hermetic poet who keeps these mythical creatures as pets. On three successive Sundays he parades a different pet through the town, each creature an allegorical representation of a stage in the poet’s life.

First, the unicorn, representing the beauty and promise of youth,
described as a white, horse-like beast with a large, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead.
Originally depicted in the ancient Indus Valley and Greek civilizations,
by the medieval period it symbolized purity and grace and could only be captured by a virgin.

Then the gorgon, representing the success and haughtiness of middle age,
a female creature whose name, derived from the ancient Greek, means “dreadful.”

The term "gorgon" refers to three sisters described in Greek literature as having hair made of
venomous snakes whose gaze could turn one to stone.
Stheno and Euryale were immortal, but their sister Medusa was slain by the hero Perseus.

Lastly, the manticore, representing the shy loneliness of old age,
originally a Persian creature with the body of a lion, a human head, wings, and a dragon's tail,
this "man-eater" shoots venomous thorns to paralyze its victims and devours them whole,
leaving no jot behind.

In the middle ages the manticore became the emblem for the prophet Jeremiah,
the "weeping prophet" who lived in the final days of the nation of Israel,
the last prophet sent by God to warn the southern kingdom against idolatry.
He wept because the people would not heed his warning and he foresaw their destruction.
Jeremiah became discouraged and sank into loneliness and isolation, doubting God,
but still God offered restoration and hope, evidencing His infinite faithfulness.

Menotti himself has said that he strongly identified with the poet in his fable, saying of the last madrigal, “It is the most deeply and personally felt of anything I’ve written. It is something I would like for my own funeral.” Indeed, it was sung at the funeral of Menotti’s lover, the composer Samuel Barber.

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by one of our "colleagues in the arts"

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