nightingale

 


THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES
Igor Stravinsky
APRIL 13 TO MAY 19, 2018


SYNOPSIS

“Ragtime”
Living outside the borders of Russia, Stravinsky was exposed to more Western musical forms including jazz and ragtime which were becoming popular in the early 1900s. “Ragtime” grew out of a scene in the composer’s earlier ballet L’histoire du soldat.

“Pribaoutki”
The four nonsense rhymes are about: drowning ones sorrows away (“Kornilo”), everyday peasant life (“Natashka”), a colonel’s unfortunate hunting episode (“Polkovnik”), and a folktale about an old man and a hare (“Starets i Zayats”).

“Berceuses du chat”
The song cycle delights the listener with four short tales about cats: cats softly sleeping (“Spi kot”), kittens wanting to play with their parents (“Kot na pechi…”), a child dreaming about a kitten catching mice (“Bai-bai”), and a joyful tale about a parent boasting about how their child is as well provided for as the cat (“U kota, kota…”). In Russian folklore cat characters are often typecast as being lazy and opportunistic creatures.

“Two poems by Konstantin Balmont”
Stravinsky set two poems by the Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont (1867-1942). The first piece “Nezabudochka-Tsvetochek” (“The Flower”), describes the blooming of the delicate forget-me-not flower. The second piece, “Golub” (“The Dove”) paints a beautiful picture of a dove flying to a rose sitting on a window sill and then promptly flying away. What do you think these poems symbolize?

“Four Russian Peasant Songs”
In Russian, this song cycle is actually called Podblyudnye which literally translates to “in the presence of the dish”. The songs were inspired by the Russian fortune telling tradition that occurs during the holiday season. In one fortune telling tradition, a dish full of water is placed in the middle of the table, in which each participant places a ring or some other small belonging. The dish is covered with a towel. A fortune teller sings songs whose texts deal with agricultural activities, symbolic animals, and wealthy possessions of gold, jewels and other riches. The small items from the dish are extracted by each participant and their fortunes are determined by the imagery in the line that was sung at the exact moment they picked up their item. The meanings of the lines varied from place to place including finding a wealthy suitor, having a happy married life, a loveless marriage, etc.

  • •  “On Saints’ Days in Chigisakh*” (*a church in Moscow) describes peasants gathering riches on the banks of Yaouzoi River.
  • •   In the piece “Ovsen”, the singer calls out to the mythological Slavic thundergod, Ovsen, to provide light to the world in order to catch a grouse* which has hidden beneath a bush. *A grouse is a hen-like bird that is completely covered in feathers (including their beaks and feet!).
  • •   The third song “The Pike” uses a vast amount of jewel imagery including “While, instead of eyes, two diamonds blazed, Glory!” The word “Glory” (“Slava” in Russian) is often repeated in fortune telling songs.
  • •   The final song “Master Portley” is about spreading sacks of what should contain seeds, but instead are full of lice and fleas. Perhaps young girls would choose to sit out during this fortune telling song to avoid any bad luck!

Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet
The Three Pieces for Clarinet is among a cluster of works in which Stravinsky first tried out composing an emerging popular genre: American jazz. He tried to capture the freedom and spontaneity of American jazz in his Three Pieces.

Renard
Note: Stravinsky intended to have actors silently act out the story on stage with trained singers, sitting with the orchestra, offering their voices to the characters. This production follows this performance tradition but will use South-East Asian puppetry techniques to recount the story.

The cock, cat and ram express their desire to take down their enemy, the sly fox, Renard. The fox enters disguised as a nun and tries to convince the cock to come down from his perch and confess his sins. The cock recognizes him and refuses. The fox tries again and reminds the cock of his polygamous ways and explains that he’s only trying to save him from dying in sin. The cock jumps down and is caught by the fox. The cat and ram immediately come to his aid and chase the fox away, after which the cock, cat and goat dance triumphantly.

The second part begins with the cock comfortably settled on his perch. The fox attempts to trick the cock into coming down with flattery and impressive (though empty) promises. With some hesitation the cock jumps. The fox seizes him under his arm and begins to pull out the cock’s feathers. The cock begs for mercy and passes out. Entering in a joyful song, the cat and ram pretend to be in support of the fox. They distract the fox by saying that the fox’s wife is betraying him and take this opportunity to pounce and strangle the fox. At the end of the story the singers break character and ask the audience for a token of gratitude if they have been entertained by their story.

The Nightingale

At the seashore just before sunrise, a fisherman hears the song of the Nightingale, which causes him to forget his troubles. The fame of the bird’s song has reached the Emperor of China who sends his chamberlain, the cook and courtiers to the forest to invite her to sing at court. She accepts the invitation, but says that her sweetest song is heard in the forest.

At the Emperor’s palace, the Nightingale’s singing touches the ruler deeply. However when Japanese envoys arrive with a gift of a mechanical nightingale from the Emperor of Japan, the real bird flies away. The Emperor invites the real nightingale to sing but when he turns to its perch, he sees that she has disappeared. Angered, the Emperor of China banishes the real nightingale from his realm and names the mechanical bird First Singer of the Bedside Table on the Left.

The Emperor, ill and near death, is attended by the figure of Death herself. The genuine nightingale reappears, and in defiance of the imperial edict, begins to sing. Death is greatly moved by the Nightingale's song, urging it to continue. The bird agrees, on the condition that Death gives back the Emperor his life. Death agrees; the Emperor slowly regains his strength, and on seeing the Nightingale, offers it the post of First Singer. The Nightingale says that the Emperor's tears are reward enough, and promises to sing for him each night from dusk until dawn.


A scene from The Nightingale and Other Short Fables (COC, 2009), photo: Michael Cooper

 

  PERFORMANCES

  • 04/13/2018 at 7:30 p.m.
  • 04/14/2018 at 7:30 p.m.
  • 04/22/2018 at 2 p.m.
  • 05/01/2018 at 7:30 p.m
  • 05/02/2018 at 7:30 p.m.
  • 05/10/2018 at 7:30 p.m.
  • 05/12/2018 at 4:30 p.m.
  • 05/13/2018 at 2 p.m.
  • 05/19/2018 at 4:30 p.m.

 


Production originally made possible in part by

Paul Bernards
The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation

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