|Atlantis, as pictured by Athanasius Kircher in "Mundi Subterranei," 1669|
De Falla's Atlantida was a work with which I was utterly unfamiliar; the account given by the Philharmonic made a strong case for it as an elegant, evocative, slightly uncanny piece, the hallucinatory imagery of Catalan poetry supported by subtle orchestration. For those of you, Gentle Readers, who may be saying, "But mythology about Columbus?" ...I know. This felt to me, however, like a surprisingly depoliticized piece, despite the rhetoric about Spain resting in the hand of God, etc. The imagery it uses--and more importantly the values it laments and seeks to recreate--are much older than nationalism. The orchestra is concerned not with lines on maps, but with oceans and sky, with the submerged marble palaces of Atlantis, and the fragrant trees and verdant hills of Spain. In evoking these, Frühbeck de Burgos negotiated carefully between passages of great delicacy and confident sweep. In this mysterious mythology, Isabella dreams of a golden bird carrying a hundred-sided ring, after which she begs Columbus to take her jewels and buy swift-winged ships; the queen will array herself in violets and cornflowers. The role of the queen was taken by Emalie Savoy, the tone of her dream becoming more strongly prophetic under Frühbeck de Burgos' guidance.
|Wheel of Fortune, from the Codex Buranus|
Addendum: for anyone attending this weekend's performances, a few notes on the text in the surtitles. I can't speak to the representation of the Catalan poetry, although some of the English lines seemed odd, but the handling of the medieval German was clumsy, and the Latin barbaric (ha! Medievalist joke. Sorry.) Those "forest soldiers" whose health is drunk in the tavern? Those would be outlaws. Sure, suave labor can be translated as, er, "suave labor," but that's not what "the sweet work of Venus" means. Lost is the dramatic heightening of verbs in "Totus floreo," and several of the tavern songs have liturgical echoes which were likewise glossed over. (Liturgical satire: hilarious in the thirteenth century.) I'm sure there are ways to bring out the classical allusions of the pastoral poetry for a modern audience, with some thought and care. Sigh. Apologies if this seems like pedantry, but the original text is vibrant and sly and sexy in ways that the translations weren't.