FWO Archives: Stewart Copeland's 'Holy Blood and Crescent Moon' (1990-1991 Season)
Following tremendous popular success during its world premiere with the Cleveland Opera in 1989, Stewart Copeland, former drummer for the Police, brought his first opera, HOLY BLOOD AND CRESCENT MOON, to Fort Worth in the fall of 1990. Featuring an epic libretto by British playwright Susan Shirwen, the Crusades-set tale received its Texas premiere with a completely revised score, updated libretto, and a sleek contemporary production design.
SYNOPSIS OF SCENES
ACT I The Wazir's palace in Tabarja and on the road to Sidon
ACT Il The Wazir's palace
ACT Ill The Crusader castle in Tyre
THE STORY OF THE OPERA
It is dawn in Tabarja and the Muslims gather for worship as a great storm approaches from the sea. The Imam, a Muslim religious leader, and Abdullah, an assassin, climb to the top of a minaret. They observe the progress of a Christian ship which is tossed by the storm's fury. The ship carries a young Christian prince and, as they watch, it founders. Only Prince Edmund survives the shipwreck. He swims to shore where he thanks God fervently for his life. As Edmund prays, Abdullah falls ruthlessly upon him and leaves him for dead.
Dahlia, the beautiful but melancholy daughter of the Grand Wazir, laments her imminent marriage to an old sultan. She discovers the nearly dead Edmund on the beach and has him brought to the palace—she is smitten by his handsome looks. Edmund 's rescue is witnessed by the Knights Templar, who then mysteriously flee the scene.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders are en route to Sidon. Among them, Princess Eleanor daydreams joyfully about her upcoming wedding to Edmund ("One more day"). King Tancred also rejoices in his daughter's marriage plans. The Cardinal, however, admonishes Tancred and the gathered Crusaders, saying that they should not lose sight of their mission—which is to slay the infidels. The Knights Templar rush onto the scene to tell of Edmund's "captivity." The Crusaders, enraged by the news, prepare to attack the Wazir's palace.
Having recovered, Edmund wanders the Wazir's palace in awe. He recalls the beautiful and exotic woman who saved him. Dahlia watches, confused by her feelings for the Christian prince. Edmund, too, is confused ("Another life has found me"). He and the Wazir meet, and each gains a surprising respect for the other. They reflect on what their faiths share in common, and express a mutual desire for peace in the Holy Land. They kneel reverently, side by side, and pray to their Creator.
Dahlia, certain of her love for Edmund, begs her father to allow her to marry the handsome prince. The Wazir dismisses this notion as impossible, and Dahlia turns to Allah in anguish ("To know only love"). The fanatical Imam and the other Muslims resent Edmund's presence and threaten to kill him. Dahlia perceives their hatred and resolves to escape the palace with Edmund. Suddenly, the Knights Templar infiltrate the palace. They murder Dahlia's maid-servant and are preparing to kill Dahlia when Edmund stops them. The Knights Templar are glad to find that Edmund is alive, but they refuse to listen to his defense of Dahlia and the Wazir. The Crusaders storm the palace and slaughter the Muslims. Afterwards, they sing of their victory ("Destroy for Jesus and the Cross”).
The Wazir surveys the utter devastation of his palace while, in the distance, the Crusaders carry off their booty and their prisoners, Dahlia among them. The Muslim women tearfully come to claim their dead. Shattered by the outrage inflicted on his peoplc, the Wazir declares war—a jihad—on the Christians.
In the Crusader castle at Sidon, the Knights Templar make plans to do away with Tancred and to install Edmund on the throne of Jerusalem, legitimizing his rule by marrying him to Eleanor. Edmund and Eleanor are touchingly reunited. Edmund reveals his fear for Dahlia, who saved his life. Together he and Eleanor vow to save Dahlia from Tancred's bitter justice. When the Crusaders return to the castle, Eleanor sees Dahlia and jealously notes the other woman's dark beauty. Tancred asks the Cardinal to bless his future son-in-law. The Cardinal blesses the fighting men instead and denounces Edmund's sympathy for Dahlia. He urges fury toward the Muslims rather than thanksgiving to God. Tancred questions Dahlia about the Wazir's whereabouts, but she discloses nothing. Edmund comes to her defense, and the angry Christian mob begs to kill them both. In the uproar, Muslim hordes sweep into the castle and wreak vengeance. At the height of the battle, King Tancred is killed.
The Muslims massacre the Christians and only a few survive. Edmund offers up his life to the Wazir and the other if his comrades can be set free. The Imam and the other Muslims will not consider mercy. Dahlia reminds her father that, even if they kill these Christians, more will come, and the war between Christian and Muslim will never end. She begs for mercy and her pleas move the Wazir. He devises a way to please his daughter and to bring peace to the Holy Land. He offers to free Edmund and make him King of Jerusalem—if Edmund marry Dahlia.
With great anguish, Eleanor agrees to give up Edmund if it is God's will for the establishment of peace. The Knights Templar see their goal achieved: Edmund will sit on the throne of Jerusalem, a king of kings. With the prospect of peace imminent, an air of rejoicing settles over the assembled crowd. Only the Cardinal and the Imam dissent, each equally unwilling to compromise. So it is, at long last, that the Lion and the Lamb lie down together in the Holy Land. But peace is ever fragile in this uncertain world.
"The Cleveland Opera production was realistic its staging," states composer Stewart Copeland, "The Fort Worth production is more impressionistic and dramatically, more ambitious. “
Noted for his non-traditional approach to opera, stage director Christopher Alden has conceived a simple, stylized set for HOLY BLOOD AND CRESCENT MOON. His intention is to create the effect of "a dramatic ritual unfolding in a blood-red tent.
"A mixture of contemporary costume with period detail summons images from our ow time to express the timelessness of this opera's message," he continues. "Rather than setting it within a strictly realistic context, we are attempting to create an atmosphere of struggle through the ages.
by Kevin B. Seaver
It makes headlines every day. Nations fall before its relentless march. It leaves death and hatred in its wake, and yet nothing is new under the sun. It has afflicted the world since the beginning of recorded history, and it continues to rock the world today—in the Middle East, in Europe and even in the heart of the United States. It isn't disease. It isn't crime. It isn 't plague, poverty or famine. It isn't anything so objective…it is religious fanaticism. And it pervades our lives…More wars have been fought, more crimes committed and more deaths justified under the banner of religious fervor than under any other human motivation. The world has been carved out and defined—and continues to be defined—by the strife born of holy conflict.
Beginning in the late 11th century, crusades to the Holy Land represented a 200-yearlong series of ventures initiated by various western kings, popes and nobles. Their goal was to reclaim the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem, for the good of the Christian faith and thus, of course, for the good of the "civilized" world. In the First Crusade, bolstered by the genuine zeal and fervor of his troops, Godfrey of Bouillon was clearly successful; he captured Jerusalem and was named Defender of the Holy Sepulcher. But Jerusalem could not be held easily from distant, European seats of power, so the Crusades continued into the late 13th century, and each succeeding expedition was incrementally less worthwhile than the previous one. Eventually, the Crusaders didn't even make it to the Holy Land before their pious intentions were dissipated by various misfortunes.
HOLY BLOOD AND CRESCENT MOON takes place about halfway through this process of deterioration, in the late 12th century, at a point when the Christian forces were being generally overwhelmed. The opera is set in the cities of Tyre and Tabarja in what is now Lebanon. In the 12th century, Lebanon was part of Greater Syria, one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
It is against the backdrop of the Crusades that HOLY BLOOD AND CRESCENT MOON takes place. The circumstance, painfully relevant to our times, is the powerful collision of two cultures, two incompatible worlds—Muslim and Christian. The bloodthirsty Christians fight with the unassailable assurance of their own righteousness. The Muslims, once tolerant of Christian pilgrimage and worship at the holy sites, have been attacked too many times to greet new Crusaders with anything but bitterness and violence. So, an irresistible force encounters an immovable object, and humanity suffers.
Amidst the clash of cultures, HOLY BLOOD AND CRESCENT MOON also takes into account the literary mystique and intrigue of the Knights Templar, a martial order of monks often enlisted as mercenaries. The insidious political and religious ambition of the Knights Templar lends a dark, mysterious dimension to the opera.
Despite the historical context of HOLY BLOOD AND CRESCENT MOON, religious fanaticism is not what Stewart Copeland's opera is all about. Not really. Nor is it about the secret agenda of a mysterious religious order. These elements are important in establishing a rich, textured scenario which has its own moral, political and philosophical implications. But the essence of the opera is not moral, or political, or philosophical.
At its core, the opera is simply a love story. Timelessly, dramatically, it is a love story about an unusual love triangle caught up in the bitter cultural conflict. It is a story of unity in the midst of division—of sacrifice in the midst of greed—of love in the midst of hatred and malice.
The intention of HOLY BLOOD AND CRESCENT MOON is ultimately not to enlighten us. Rather, the relevancy and power of the opera is that it speaks to our hearts. Its message resonates deep within us: love is our birthright, the common heritage of our humanity, and nothing, not political corruption or religious bigotry or cultural separation, can steal love away from us. Amen. Inshallah.
Kevin B. Seaver is an advertising copywriter and freelance writer.
CAST AND CREATIVE
Holy Blood and Crescent Moon
Music by Stewart Copeland
Book by Stewart Copeland & Susan Shirwen
Libretto by Susan Shirwen
Based on an original idea by Stewart Copeland
Sung in English
The action takes place in the Holy Land, in the area which is now Lebanon
The time is about the year 1180, shortly before the Third Crusade
World premiere October 11, 1989, Cleveland Opera; David Bamberger, General Director
Featuring the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra & Fort Worth Opera Chorus
Conductor Evan Whallon
Director Christopher Alden
Choreographer Edmund Cooper
Set Designer Paul Steinberg
Lighting Designer Kim Davis
Costume Coordinator Vicki Cole
Wigs & Make-up Rick Geyer & Theatrical Hairgoods Co.
Piano Reduction (Fort Worth) Jeff Seitz
Piano Reduction (Cleveland) Judith Ryder
Grand Wazir, ruler in Palestine Kimm Julian
Dahlia, his daughter Gloria Parker
The Imam, religious leader Gene Allen
Abdullah, an assassin Richard Gratton
Fadilla, Dahlia's servant Carol Attmore
Edmund, prince of the Franks Michael Denham
Eleanor, his fiancee Brenda Harris
King Tancred, her father Charles Karel
The Cardinal Eric Johnson
Lamark Hector Jorge Guedes
Peter Clifton Forbis
Denis Pat Sniderwin
Hervé Thom King
Photos courtesy of Fort Worth Opera