SHREVE: LAVINIA; ANNA KOMNENECourageous Women of Antiquity
STEVEN MERCURIO, conductor
CZECH NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Meredith Lustig, soprano
Jacqueline Bolier, soprano
Elizabeth Sutphen, soprano
Wendy Bryn Harmer, soprano
Carla Jablonski, mezzo-soprano
Alexander McKissick, tenor
Roy Hage tenor
Timothy McDevitt, baritone
Brandon Cedel, bass-baritone
World Premiere Recordings
PROGRAM NOTESLavinia and Anna Komnene are semi-operatic oratorios by Georgia Shreve that pay tribute to wise and strong women of antiquity. In the case of Lavinia, conceived by Virgil and fleshed out by novelist Ursula Le Guin, she stands up against kings and threats of war to marry Aeneas, the man she has chosen. In the case of Anna Komnene, her life was a testimony not just to her father, but to history, education and the potential power of women. Both texts are inspired by Homer’s Iliad, with the Aeneid and the Alexiad using parallel names.
This oratorio is a feminist take on the Aeneid and is focused on the third woman in Aeneas’s life, Lavinia. As Virgil was dying when he was writing this final section of the book, her presence is somewhat limited. However, author Ursula Le Guin put Lavinia in her novel in a more prominent and assertive role, here distilled into a libretto by Georgia Shreve. Merging Virgil’s original text with that of the novel, Shreve creates a vivid musical vision of the story. In the live performance setting, evocative artwork by Barnaby Fitzgerald features classical imagery reconceived with a contemporary vision, is presented in a video montage, providing a vivid backdrop. Lavinia, the only daughter of King Latinus of Latium, is pursued by many suitors who wish to take over the kingdom. Aeneas is urged by an omen to leave Dido and go to Latium to found Rome. This work brings to life the romance between Lavinia and Aeneas, and their conflict with King Turnus, an aggressive suitor who wages war to win her hand as a bride.
Anna Komnene was born in 1083 in Constantinople, the first-born child of Emperor Alexios, on whom her history is focused, who reigned over the vast Byzantine Empire from 1081-1118. Anna was a princess, scholar and physician. Also the likely first European female historian, she authored the Alexiad, a 10-volume history of the Byzantine era in which she lived. Almost a millennium since it was written, the Alexiad is considered one of the most reliable accounts of the era; it is a masterpiece of literary and historical writing and an exemplar of Thucydides. It is also the only Greek source on the first crusade. Like Lavinia, performances of Anna Komnene are accompanied by a video montage of the rich and glorious artwork of the Byzantine period, providing an inspiring canvas for imagining Anna’s colorful life.
Anna Komnene portrayed her family as supportive, loving and close. Her father, Alexios, put great faith in the strength and wisdom of women, granting his mother, and later his wife, the power to reign in his frequent absences and designating Anna as his successor. Anna, perhaps the earliest example of an intellectual woman balancing writing and family, may stand as the most highly educated woman not only of her time, but of history before her. For centuries, historians maintained that Anna had attempted to murder her brother to obtain the throne. In recent times, however, a growing number of female historians have proven her innocence. It took almost a millennium to clear her name. Shreve has distilled this fascinating history into a poetic libretto.
Anna was the emperor’s first-born child and at her birth he declared her the heir to his throne. But, as he lay dying, her younger brother John stole his imperial ring and with a combination of trickery and violence took over the royal palace and the imperial army. He then deprived Anna and her mother of all their assets and banished them to a convent.
New York-based American composer Georgia Shreve is a respected contemporary artist. As a composer, Shreve’s creative voice, passion for music, words and visual imagery, combined with her interest in poignant, timeless themes and exploring the nature of relationships, has resulted in a growing body of compelling, dynamic works for orchestra, voice and small ensemble. Her settings of her original texts and texts by renowned poets and writers have been presented and performed by the Manhattan Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and singers and musicians who regularly perform on top orchestral, operatic, Off-Broadway and Broadway stages. Her music has been performed at numerous notable venues, including Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall and Zankel Hall, CAMI Hall, Steinway Hall and National Sawdust in New York City, and at the United Kingdom’s Royal Over-Seas League in London, among others. Shreve’s interests are not only in music, but also span the written word and film. Her works have been performed at New York’s Daryl Roth 2, Heckscher Theater and Theatre Row. Shreve’s poetry and writing have been published in high-profile publications, including Poetry, The New Yorker, New Republic and New Criterion.
[ www.georgiashreve.com ]
Steven Mercurio is an internationally acclaimed conductor and composer whose musical versatility encompasses the symphonic, operatic and crossover worlds. He is the Music Director of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra with whom he has enjoyed a rich relationship for more than a decade. His notable appointments also include Music Director of the Spoleto Festival and Principal Conductor of the Opera Company of Philadelphia. He has conducted more than 60 different operas in seven different languages. In addition to his engagements throughout the world, Mercurio has conducted numerous telecasts, including a live stream of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 with his own CNSO. He is a frequent conductor for RAI and PBS, with performances that include the iconic telecasts of Christmas in Vienna with The Three Tenors as well as Andrea Bocelli’s Statue of Liberty Concert. Mercurio was pivotal in mounting and performing the stage show for Sting’s Symphonicities and an Evening with Chick Corea. Mercurio’s compositions include songs, chamber works and pieces for large orchestra. Highlights include his symphony, A Grateful Tail, dedicated to dog lovers and his symphonic tone poem, For Lost Loved Ones, which was given its world premiere by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic.
LAVINIA | Oratorio in One Act (2020)
Libretto by Georgia Shreve
Adapted from Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin and The Aeneid by Virgil
III. I was then King of Latium
IV. King Turnus
V. I dreamed I saw my kingdom
VI. I saw great ships
VII. I will keep and cherish
VIII. The enormous roar of men shouting
Virgil . . . . . Timothy McDevitt baritone
Lavinia . . . .Wendy Bryn Harmer soprano
Amata . . . . Carla Jablonski mezzo-soprano
Latinus . . . .Brandon Cedel bass-baritone
Turnus . . . . Alexander McKissick tenor
Aeneus . . . .Roy Hage tenor
ANNA KOMNENE | Oratorio in One Act (2020)
Libretto by Georgia Shreve
II. A woman wiser than men
III. Time in its ceaseless flow
IV. You are so just and highly esteemed
V. Growing weaker day by day
VI. Your beautiful eyes are so often shining
VII. We stayed by his bedside
VIII. His imperial ring
Anna . . . . . . . Meredith Lustig soprano
Alexios . . . . . . Brandon Cedel bass-baritone
Empress Irene . Jacqueline Bolier soprano
Constantine . . . Alexander McKissick tenor
Maria of Alanis ..Elizabeth Sutphen soprano
Bryennios . . . . . Roy Hage tenor
John . . . . . . . . . Timothy McDevitt baritone
Anna Delucina . Carla Jablonski mezzo-soprano