2008 – 2009 WordStage Season

Flower and Hawk

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Art of Courtly Love

Eleanor of AquitaineThe first half of the program features Eleanor’s contributions to the codification of the Art of Courtly Love. In 1168, Eleanor of Aquitaine left the court of her husband Henry II and took up residence in her ancestral lands of Poitou. Having served as Vice Regent for the king in England, she had no difficulty pursuing her duties as a ruling duchess, and she wielded the power of a feudal lord and accepted the responsibilities that went with it. With a deft hand and a discerning eye, she transformed a district that had been on the periphery of events for forty years into a center of economic and social life.

As a result of this sudden burst of activity, Eleanor’s court in the city of Poitiers drew vassals paying homage, squires training to be knights, young ladies acquiring their education, and visiting future kings and queens related by blood or marriage to the duchess. Because she was a woman of renowned beauty, charm and style as well as extraordinary wit and iron will, the poets, chroniclers, musicians, philosophers, artists, and literati who always flocked around her also congregated at Poitiers.

It was out of this heady mix of royalty and romance that the movement of courtly love emerged.

The Program concludes with the Operatic Monodrama, Flower and Hawk, written in 1972 by the American composer, Carlisle Floyd. A one-woman tour de force, the opera takes place on the last day of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s near-sixteen-year imprisonment, in the Tower at Salisbury, under the orders of her second husband, Henry II Plantagenet. She believes that the day will end with her execution and thus spends it reminiscing about the major events of her life: her youth in Poitiers amongst the troubadours, her marriage to and divorce from Louis VII of France, her affair with and subsequent marriage to Henry, and the loss of her son Richard the Lionhearted. The opera ends with the tower bells tolling the news of Henry’s death, signaling Eleanor’s coming freedom.

Speak Low

The Letters, Diaries and Music of Lotte Lenya & Kurt Weill

Weill and LenyaIn the late 1920s, after the popular success of such shows as The Threepenny Opera, composer Kurt Weill and actress Lotte Lenya were Berlin’s artistic power couple.

But within a few years, as Hitler rose to power, the two had to flee Germany and reinvent their lives and careers in America. Their relationship was a complex one, indeed. Weill said that when he wrote his music, he heard Lenya singing it. But they were an unlikely couple from the start. He was the button-down musical prodigy from a German Jewish family; his father was a cantor. She was the free-spirited actress from an Austrian Roman Catholic family, a victim of child abuse who’d been a teenage prostitute.

And yet when Weill and Lenya met, each found a soul mate. Through all the affairs and all the time separated, the one thing that seemed to keep them together was, yes, their affection for each other — but it seemed also to be Weill’s music.

Speak Low spans a period of more than 25 years, from Lenya and Weill’s first meeting as little-known artists to their triumphs in Europe and America to Weill’s untimely death of a heart attack at age 50.

A Season In Hell

L’Affaire Verlaine –Rimbaud

Verlaine and RimbaudPaul Verlaine was born ten years earlier than Rimbaud, in 1844. The spoiled, only child of an army officer, Verlaine displayed early talent as well as audacity — he sent his first poem, at age 14, to the master, Victor Hugo. Upon graduation, he worked by day as a clerk, and spent his nights writing, drinking and carousing in the literary cafes with his contemporaries, Stephane Mallarme, Villiers de Isle-Adam, and Anatole France. This group later became known as the Symbolists, a revolutionary group of artists who sought to convey meaning by suggestion rather than direct statement.

Born in 1854, in the northeastern town of Charleville, Arthur Rimbaud was the son of an army captain and a local farmer’s daughter. When Rimbaud was six, his father left and he and their mother raised his siblings. Like Verlaine, Rimbaud was a remarkable student and showed a precocious talent, writing poetry as early as age eight. His first poem was published when he was just sixteen. He was to revolutionize French poetry forever with his dictum that a poet must “make himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses.”

In late August of 1871, at the advice of a friend, Rimbaud sent copies of some new poetry to Verlaine in Paris, who was taken aback by the brilliance of the work. Verlaine summoned him to Paris and thus began their tumultuous relationship.

From their first encounter, Verlaine was powerfully drawn to Rimbaud, whose arrogance and provocative behavior shocked the established literary circles of Paris The two men formed a passionate relationship that was often fueled by absinthe and hashish and characterized by love and cruelty, inspiration and antagonism, separations and reconciliation’s.

Rimbaud, encouraged Verlaine to leave his wife and infant son and the two traveled together throughout Europe. In July 1873, after Rimbaud once again threatened to leave; Verlaine shot Rimbaud and was imprisoned for two years on charges of violence and sodomy.

While Verlaine was in prison, Rimbaud returned to Roche, near his childhood home, and finished A Season in Hell, an account of his spiritual descent and his failure in art and love. While in prison, and forced into abstinence of both alcohol and sex, Verlaine rediscovered his Roman Catholicism. Upon his release, he sought out Rimbaud, and the two met for the last time. When Rimbaud repulsed Verlaine’s attentions, their relationship ended forever.

Mozart and His Women

Mozart and His WomenThroughout his life Mozart was inspired, fascinated, amused, aroused, hurt, disappointed and betrayed by women, but he always loved and respected them.

His mother, his sister, his wife and his lovers all figure prominently in his all-too-brief life, and his observation and his understanding reappear, spectacularly, in the female characters he created in his operas. focusing on the very different women who played significant parts in shaping Mozart’s character and imagination, from his wife Constanze and his Amazingly talented sister, the composer-piano virtuoso pianist, sister Nannerl to the temperamental divas who first created the female roles in the main operas.

Illustrated with some of Mozart’s delightful four hand piano works as well as selections from several of his most well known and the lesser, underappreciated operatic gems that flowed from his fertile imagination.

Trio Amoroso

Robert & Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms

The Schumanns and BrahmsThe trio in question comprises Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The program relates the story of the Schumanns, following Robert’s courtship of Clara despite the savage opposition of a father who had groomed his daughter to marry a count, and threatened to shoot Robert if he persisted in his suit.

It’s no secret that they marry, and Robert the composer seems ideally matched by Clara the performer. However, the happy early years are soon clouded by financial worries, Clara’s sacrifice of her career to her husband’s and her eight children and Robert’s multiple illnesses, culminating in his suicide attempt and subsequent incarceration in an insane asylum.

Brahms, a lad of 20, visits them just six months before Robert’s confinement and falls deeply in love with Clara . He is also deeply indebted to Robert for his support and admiration, going so far as to proclaim him the “messiah of music” before he had published a single work.

The conflict between these two powerful emotions manifests itself in psychological scars borne the rest of his life.