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BILL NEWMAN has been to the 2001 Spoleto Festival
and reports on his impressions of the surroundings,
local artists and international music-making


Bill Newman - a portrait by Enzo Falcone

<< Continued from last week

8. Daniel and the Lions

This twelfth century liturgical drama was one of my favourites from my school days. It tells how Daniel read the writing on the wall that prophesises Belshazzar's doom, with the loss of his kingdom to the stronger Darius, and his appointment as the new King's regent. This is followed by Daniel being cast into the Lion's den through worshipping his own God instead of Darius, and how the Angel of the Lord kept the animals at bay while commanding Habakkuk the prophet to feed him with bread.

After Darius throws the conspirators in the den he commands that Daniel's God be worshipped by the whole Kingdom, and the coming of Christ the Messiah is announced. The inscription at the head of the plot reads, 'In your honour Christ, this Daniel play was written by our youth at Beauvais'.

The whole direction and presentation of the Medieval Play's spectacle by Frederich Renz became the chosen performing vehicle for New York's Ensemble for Early Music with six vocalists, eight actors, three on-stage musicians. I was very taken with the three Lion operators -- two either side of the huge canvas that portrayed the menacing creature, eyes staring madly into space, while the remaining personage dressed as a smaller counterpart shyly emerged from the gaping jaws and started galoping around the stage area.

Full praise to Renz and Paul Hildebrand for the concept, Ralph Lee's Lion designs and Karen Matthew's for the whole cast's individual, vari-coloured costumes. I have already mentioned Wayne Hankin, but Karen Hansen and Christa Patton joined him on stage before acting commenced, playing carillon a campane, salterio, ribeca, tromba marina, claramella, flauto dolce, arpa, flauto and dulciana.

Sant' Euphemia Church, Spoleto. Photo: Bill Newman

The whole area of St Euphemia Church was involved, with the audience already seated in the centre, and musicians and actors the far end with the fatal symbol translated as 'Mene, Thekei, Peres' reproduced high up on the wall above. The main door and side aisles also provided a means of entry for key characters as they were due to appear, announcing their presence then walking towards the front. I was also intrigued by the processional columns as they intercrossed at the various locations, giving a real sense of authenticity to each and every step of the plot. Small wonder that this was one of the most talked about events at this year's festival.

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Copyright © 11 December 2001 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK






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