The winter solstice finds pilgrims from all over Europe streaming towards the small Adriatic village of Prosecco. It's the 16th century and, led by the local Guild of Fools, villagers are preparing for a great annual holiday pageant which will mark the turning of the year.
Soon the stars will come out, the moon will rise and the music and singing will start. Mysterious visitors will arrive from the East. With the sun, moon and stars in delicate balance, and three Fools in charge of the transition to the New Year, what could possibly go wrong?
Have a look at this year's program.
More photos and a blog entry by Cari Ferraro.
Thank you to all who attended The 27th Annual Christmas Revels.
The village of Prosecco, where we've located the action of this year's Revels, is a tiny town about seven kilometers north of the Adriatic port of Trieste. While Prosecco itself is rumored to be the source of the grape that lends its name to the celebrated sparkling Italian wine, its main distinction in 1520 would have been its location. The village stood astride the road leading to Trieste, one of the busiest trading ports of the Eastern Hapsburg empire. It was also a landmark for the Silk route for trade with the far east.
It is easy to imagine a festival in this region including songs and dances from all over Europe. While the basic culture would have been what we now consider Italianate, there was of course no country of Italy at this time, and even the nearest city state, Venice, occupied the Eastern shores of the Adriatic only sporadically. But merchants and tradespeople from Austria, Prussia, Hungary, and even parts of western Europe would have poured through this area en route to Adriatic and Mediterranean ports of call. In addition to the varied cultural influences of the Germanic and Eastern European peoples, the villagers of Prosecco would have had significant contact with their Balkan neighbors. The modern country of Slovenia is only a few kilometers to the east, and Dalmatia a bit to the South. Here's a 20th century map.
And so we take advantage of location and history to bring you a setting in which a rich blend of cultures can appear, coexist and play off of each other. We envisage a Solstice celebration that perhaps never was, but certainly could have been, and which the Revels will bring to magical life onstage.
California Revels is pleased to welcome aboard three extremely accomplished performers to play the roles of the Celestial Fools. They are named for the Sun, the Moon and the Stars, or in their Italian guises:
Jeff has a long history as one of the preeminent clowns and clowning mentors in the Bay area. A veteran of circuses from Ringling Brothers to Cirque du Soleil, he is a pioneer in bringing clowns into medical settings to promote the curative effects of comedy. Find out more about Jeff.
An accomplished street musician and busker, she is a living cartoon character and Circus Finelli's go-to percussionist. Her comedy is reminiscent of the golden age of silent films, with a touch of breakdancing thrown in. Mahsa brings her mimetic skills to the silent role of the Moon fool. See more photos here.
The role of Stella, the Star Fool requires quick repartee and acrobatic skills, both of which Tristan has in abundance. In addition to circus performing, Tristan can often be seen on Bay Area stages in a variety of dramatic roles. Here's a video of Tristan in action.
Comprised of founder Julie Graffagna, Bridget Boyle and Leslie Bonnet, The True Life Trio is highly acclaimed and widely recognized for their authentic and innovative presentation of Balkan and other folk traditional music. All three singers have roots in the legendary Kitka Ensemble, and are joined by Dan Auvil, percussionist for another of Julie's ensembles, Janam. Would you like to hear True Life perform?
Choosing and arranging music for a Revels is an extremely complex and challenging process. In Oakland, we are fortunate to have the services of two very accomplished musical experts, Fred Goff and Shira Kammen.
Fred has been the Musical Director for California Revels continuously since the late '80's. He brings to bear his extensive knowledge of composers and composition in researching and arranging music for the Revels choruses and the Brass ensemble as well. Fred also participates in production as a lead singer in the Adult chorus, frequently performing solos and in small ensembles. This year he will resume his role as audience leader. teaching and leading the Sicilian Piper's Carol, and Veni, Veni Emmanuel as well as the customary Dona Nobis Pacem and Sussex Mummers' Carol.
Shira Kammen is a noted violin and vielle player and leads a number of small early music ensembles. She is very much in demand as a performer and teacher and is constantly flying around the country and the world, doing concerts and workshops. As often happens, she is once again providing original compositions for this year's Christmas Revels. We are very excited about her setting of the O Fortuna sequence of the Carmina Burana. It will be the musical context for the climactic battle between the Fools and the minions of Death. She has also done a beautiful choral setting of the Catalan carol, What Shall We Bring. This will accompany a nativity playlet to be performed by the children's chorus in the manner of a medieval mystery play. Shira also performs on stage, and will be joining the Balkan ensemble for their special sets in the show.
The process of creating a Revels has changed a lot over the past 25 years. Many tasks that used to be extremely time-intensive can now be accomplished with the click of a mouse or a few keystrokes. As is true in many workplaces, paper is becoming a lot rarer, and screens and hand-held devices are the preferred “desktops”.
Here is Artistic Director David Parr's home office where much of the writing and planning of the show takes place. Notice the several computer screens which allow for viewing and playing music as well as previewing scenes from other productions of the material under consideration. Scenic plans, properties lists, costume renderings and scenic designs can all be viewed and transmitted to other members of the design staff efficiently and usually without the necessity of convening meetings. We also use teleconferencing from time to time, especially when consulting with artistic staff in other Revels cities.
Not every bit of planning uses electronic tools. This color model of the set for the 2012 Revels gives guidance to the scenic painters and also allows the director to plan staging in a miniature three-dimensional space.
One of the important ways in which Revels performances have changed over the years has been the increasing role of what we term our Young Performers, or more informally, the “YP's”. Originally these adolescents were included in performances on an informal, as-needed basis to carry props or assist in some inconspicuous onstage role. What quickly became apparent was the talent and performing energy that our youngsters added to the stage. Not only did they fill an age gap in the family groups that comprise our village stage picture, but they demonstrated great flexibility and a willingness to try almost anything.
The variety of roles they have performed include the dancing crabs in the Irish show (a number that was dubbed the “Seafood Shuffle”); the fierce Prechtin in the German Revels; heroes and monsters in ”The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh” in the Haddon Hall show; and now the medieval death figures, or I Cadaveri in the current production.
Many of the Young Performers have appeared previously in the Christmas Revels children's chorus and many of them will pass into the ranks of the adult chorus, often after a time away for college. Their participation broadens the scope of what we can do on stage and adds yet one more ingredient to the wonderful stew that is a Revels performance.
The central conflict in the plot of this year's show is provided by the efforts of the Three Fools to preserve and restore the light in spite of the efforts of death and his minions to steal it away. The struggle is metaphorical and the characters iconic, but we still need flesh and blood actors to perform them. For many years now, our go-to guy has been James Galileo. An accomplished performer in film and video as well as on stage, James has made Revels his performing home for the holidays. This year he plays the character of death.
Revels regulars have seen him as Knecht Ruprecht in the German show, Sir Gawain in last year's Arthurian Revels, the hero of the Irish Soul Cages, and in any number of mummers' roles. His grasp of the Revels aesthetic and variety of physical and vocal performing skills allow him to make valuable contributions to a wide range of Revels performances. We are pleased to welcome him back this year in the role of Death.
You won't hear him say much, but you're sure to notice his presence on stage as he leads his mischievous minions on their malevolent quest.