Recently, I caught the opening of the Christmas Revels down at the beautiful Scottish Rite Building. They always change up their area and era of focus for this annual production of historical wintertime celebration, and this year the Revels takes place in 18th century Central Europe, which made it extra fun since my date for the evening was not only from the Czech Republic but heads up the Czech School of Portland.
Somewhere during the show, she leaned over and whispered that the big illustration on the stage floor was actually a reproduction of a famous astrological clock in the Old Town Square in Prague.
That's one of the things I like about the Revels productions. Their attention to detail. I never would have known the image on the stage was more than just something pretty had my friend not mentioned its significance, yet there it was, another bit of historical detail - which they later made come alive on stage, actually, in an esoteric sketch about the complexities of time.
The players for this year's production are headed up by Eric Stern (the town mayor and clock maker, who plays a mean accordion), Burl Ross (who plays Hodiny, the clock maker's assistant, a charming comic with the chops of an old time European circus clown) and Ithica Tell (the Empress - stately, full of presence, and plays a great straight man to Ross' clown).
|photo by david kinder|
Some favorite moments. Let's see. There was a beautiful couple songs back to back: Što Mi e Milo (Macedonian) and Shen Khar Venakhi (Georgian) - amazing harmonies that made me close my eyes involuntarily. The first was sung by all women, and the richness of the harmony was surprising. The second brought in the men, too - slower, softer, almost mournful, which is interesting as this medieval hymn to the Virgin Mary is apparently often sung at weddings in honor of the bride.
Some of the music in the Revels is historical and some is newly composed, and I have to say, I may be a layman when it comes to the tunes of Old Europe, but to my uneducated ears, the new stuff sounded as authentic as the old stuff. I particularly loved Jaschkele (with a Russian feel) and Rachenitsa (in Bulgarian style - and in 7/8 time), both composed by the town mayor, Eric Stern.
Another favorite moment: Nevijska Koleda (from Croatia) - a gorgeous song that started with all men's voices, then a wash of women's voices coming in, a beautiful, pure sound, a cappella, building and building until I had to close my eyes again.
And Dragana I Slaveya, which is (as I read in the program) a fiendish story about a nightingale and a girl having a singing contest. If the girl loses, the nightingale gets to cut off her hair. If the bird loses, the girl gets to cut off his wings. [!] But what beautiful music for such a creepy tale - a sort of call and response that then folds in together, a tune that twirls and hovers around one note like a hummingbird.
I love that the Revels gives me the opportunity to hear music I never would have had the chance to otherwise. Live, in that beautiful space with great acoustics. One other note: we had a third member of our party that night, a boy around... [I have no sense of age in people.] ten? I wondered if he'd be as engaged as the grown-ups with this performance of old, traditional music. Luke laughed and laughed at all the comedy throughout and had a great time.
You can check out more info on the Christmas Revels here.