Friday, March 02, 2007

St Kilda Opera

I am excited to hear about a new and innovative project that the Gaelic Arts Agency is developing involving St Kilda (see here). An opera of sorts has been commissioned. I means of sorts because the "performance" on June 22nd & 23rd of this year will take place in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Scotland simultaneously. All places will view the same script, score, pre-filmed material and satellite link-up to St Kilda itself. There will be vertical dancers (see here) from France and traditional and new song in Gaelic. The basis of the story (although they're not giving much away on their website) is the tough life of the St Kildans before they were evacuated in the 1930s.

I have a soft spot for St Kilda. Not just because of the romance of "the islands on the edge of the world" or the tight knit community that clung to traditional ways for survival in such an inhospitable place but because when I was a child my Dad used to go off to St Kilda for two week trips. He went with the National Trust to help in the rebuilding of the only village on the island. He would come back with stories of the St Kildan mouse, wren and soay sheep. We would sit as family around our big oak dining table and watch the slides he took of this magical place. He told us also of the little boat that would carry the team out to the islands and how the sea was so rough that the boat would be almost vertical at times but that didn't bother him as he inherited his sea legs from my great-great grandfather who sailed schooner ships from the west coast of Scotland to the 'New States of America'.

My sister, brother and I were always fascinated by the St Kildan 'post' which was a slightly more sophisticated "message in a bottle". They would put postcards and letters in a vessel and make it sea worthy and set it off to be carried to the mainland by the waves. We were always fascinated when the postcards he sent us arrived - normally after he had been home for a few weeks.

He told us of the St Kildans who developed an unusually large big toe to be able to climb down the enormous cliffs (one being the same height as the Empire State). The St Kildans ate sea birds to survive and would use every last bit of each bird to make oil, soap etc. They had little connection with the outside world until Calvinism arrived in the form of a minister in a boat and a Kirk was built. They were a democracy. Every morning the men would meet in the street to decide the day's business. When little needed doing this meeting was more like a sewing circle. All the food that was caught was shared out equally regardless of who caught what or how much. And they had no mirrors. This last fact has always fascinated me.

I am deeply curious about this opera and hope it is a big success. I wish I could see it. The website says there will be a DVD so hopefully I can get a hold of one. I like how the definition of 'opera' is being broken down in this aspect. I know some die hard traditionalists will gripe and moan about it (because they always do) but I like the use of modern technology in Art. It adds perspectives that were unseen before and can link experiences thousands of miles apart.

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