Mother’s Blood (2009)

for SSA chorus, soprano solo, and chamber ensemble, 18 minutes

 

Instrumental ensemble: flute, oboe, violin, viola, cello, piano, 1 percussion

Also available for chorus and piano

 

Drawn from the choral music from my opera The Furies, Mother’s Blood traces the narrative of the opera and tracks the progression of the Furies from evil to benevolent gods.

 

Program Notes:

Mother's Blood is a six-movement suite for women's chorus and soprano solo, drawn from my opera The Furies, which premiered at CUA in 2006.  The Furies was the third and final opera in a trilogy of one-act operas setting Aeschylus' ancient Greek tragic cycle, the Oresteia.  The libretto is by Sarah B. Ferrario, who translated the English text directly from the ancient Greek.

This three-part epic tells of the family of Agamemnon, King of Argos and triumphant leader of the Greek armies in the Trojan War.  Agamemnon returns home victorious only to be murdered by his queen, Klytemnestra.  To avenge his father's death and regain his usurped throne, their son, Orestes, returns from exile to kill his mother and her lover, Aegisthus.  It is for this act that the Furies pursue Orestes.  These terrible ancient goddesses pursued those who killed their blood relatives.  In the final play of the trilogy, Orestes is pursued by the Furies all over the earth, until he finds shelter in Athens, under the patronage of Athena.  There, he is put on trial for the murder of his mother: he is acquitted.  The Furies, however, jealous of their rightful claim, threaten to destroy the city.  Athena placates their anger by making them honored dieties in her own city, Athens.  Thus, The Furies (The Eumenides is the title by which the Greek tragedy is known) ends happily, unusually for a Greek tragedy, as the citizens of Athens escort the now-kind Furies to their new home under the Acropolis.

In The Furies, the chorus consists of women only, and so their music has been combined into a suite which roughly tracks the narrative of the opera.  The six movements are played without pause.  The first movement, which begins with an instrumental prologue, leads directly into an opening chorus in which the Furies proclaim their outrage that a man who killed his mother should be under the protection of Apollo (this is who the Furies are addressing). 

 

In the second movement, the Furies reassert their determination to follow Orestes to his death, to bring him to justice for his crime. 

 

The interlude which follows, for the chamber ensemble, was originally a scene-change interlude in the opera.  In the suite, it serves as an instrumental interlude (which may also be danced, as was done at its premiere). 

 

The Binding-Song follows directly: the listener will hear the opening music of the suite re-stated here.  The Furies have, in this movement, now caught up with Orestes in Athens.  They surround him in preparation to kill him by sucking out his blood (!).  Before doing so, however, they sing a binding-song to first drive the victim mad.

 

The Binding-Song works to a climax, which is immediately followed - and dissolved - by the next movement, a lyrical one, in which the soprano solo (as Athena) promises good things to the Furies by way of appeasement.  This movement comes after Orestes' trial and acquital in the opera, and thus passes over a good portion of the narrative.

 

The final movement is the procession of the citizens of Athens and the Furies (represented here by the soprano solo).  Beginning with a simple tune reminiscent of modern Greek folk music, the tune repeats numerous tunes, with new layers added at each repetition.  In addition, the melody modulates upward by a half-step each time, so the key continually rises: the suite, and the opera, end on a powerful, high, joyous note, with the line "Raise up your voice with our song!"

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