February 21, 2012

Getting To Another World Is A Particular Problem: The Cursed Perelandian Opera

I don't think it is commonly known that there is an opera based on C.S. Lewis' sci-fi novel Perelandra. The opera was written by Donald Swann and David Marsh in collaboration with Lewis between 1960 and 1964. The sale of the film rights shortly after Lewis' death, however, placed a long-term embargo on its performance. Swann was bitterly disappointed about this; the piece contained, he considered, some of his best music. He said "I think of Perelandra with a great sense of yearning. There is a feeling of loss to be involved in such a huge drama and then find it not being performed all the time". It was Swann's dying wish that Perelandra should have a proper hearing. Thus far there have been only nine public performances.

Here are some photos of the 1969 student production in New York:

I can't for the life of me find any sort of recording (audio or video) of any of these performances. Supposedly some sort of professional recording was made of the June 26th 2009 performance but has not been released. This bit of The New Yorkers review of a 1969 performance is enough to keep me searching for one though: "While the rest of the twentieth century was writing serial, atonal scores, Swann was writing hummable melodies and lush tunes.". I love hummable melodies and lush tunes.

"The impact of it was that while composing it I was able to live ... in a dream world. I could live in places where eldila were walking around singing and talking. I worked on it in a little cottage in Suffolk where I lived with my piano in a quiet, secret world. " - Donald Swann

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