The song of Margery Kempe

Inglis, Brian ORCID logoORCID: (2009) The song of Margery Kempe. [Composition]


This project arose as a radical solution to the logistical and financial problems posed by operatic production in the 21st century, while also introducing formal innovation to the genre. The piece looks to investigate the limits of the genre, and poses the questions: how far can the form be stripped down to its essentials? Can one singer with no accompaniment create a genuinely operatic experience across a 40-minute timescale?
In the public repertoire there are just two precedents for a one-woman a cappella operatic work: Judith Weir’s King Harald’s Saga (1979) – subtitled ‘Grand Opera in 3 acts’, but in fact a concert work; and Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Medium (1981), a minimally-staged but non-narrative piece described as a ‘monodrama’. The Song of Margery Kempe builds on these precedents, adding first-person narrative relating to the life and experiences of the medieval mystic housewife, Margery Kempe (ca 1373 – after 1439).
I began by fashioning a libretto from Margery’s own Book of Margery Kempe (1436-8). Concurrently, I began the process of ‘hearing’ Margery’s spiritual and physical experiences, starting from two reference points: the medieval plainchant melody Veni Creator Spiritus (which she is known to have sung as part of her personal devotions) and birdsong, which she is known to have imitated. Musical motifs were devised to represent her ‘gift of tears’ (the weeping which beset her during moments of spiritual intensity) and the ‘heavenly melody’ which roused her from a form of post-natal depression and heralded her conversion to the spiritual life.
As well as relating to repertoire by Weir and Maxwell Davies, Margery Kempe is a kind of sequel to my earlier opera and PhD project, Hildegard von Bingen (1997). The vocal writing, unlike that in my Symphony No 2, is concerned with the projection of text, narrative and drama.

Item Type: Composition
Additional Information: Premiere staging 1-2 August 2009 Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London.

Production designed by Paul Burgess. Supported by the RVW Trust, following development funding from The Bliss Trust/PRS Foundation in 2008.
The performance was video recorded by the promoters, Tete-a-Tete: The Opera Festival

An excerpt of the work-in-development was broadcast on Radio 3, 29th July 2008.
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts
Item ID: 11764
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Depositing User: Teddy ~
Date Deposited: 22 Aug 2013 08:53
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2019 11:37

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