In February 2007, the first half of The Prioress’s Tale was presented in unstaged form with piano accompaniment at Eastern Nazarene College.   The performance featured Jean Danton, soprano, Paul Guttry, bass, Jake Wilder-Smith, treble, and ENC faculty member Brady Millican, piano.   This semi-formal performance, known as a workshop, provided the opportunity  for a substantial portion of the new piece to be prepared and presented as a work-in-progress.    The workshop was followed by a panel discussion featuring the composer, librettist, ENC professor of religion Eric Severson, and Rabbi David Paskin from Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, Mass.
Scroll down for an interactive tour through the opera featuring sound files from the workshop.
The Story
The plot of our version of “The Prioress’s Tale” differs significantly from Chaucer’s. (For detailed information on how - and why - click here.)  After you read on the background of the project, you can proceed to the following interactive plot summary of the opera’s first half. For each important event in the opera, you can listen to a musical excerpt from the workshop performance and follow along with the libretto.
The  Music
From a musical perspective, the most intriguing element of Chaucer’s tale is the Boy’s chant, the hymn “Alma redemptoris mater”.   In both the original story and our version, the chant serves a variety of dramatic functions.  Sung by the Boy as he walks through the town, it draws the ire of the Jewish community, resulting eventually in the Boy’s death.  When the Christian woman frantically looks for her missing son, the song serves as a homing beacon.  After the Boy’s body is removed from the well, its hideous, disfigured sound echoes endlessly through the town until the Jewish Man ins executed.
In the opera, the Boy only sings the chant “live” once: in Scene 1, when the Jewish Man overhears him (you can hear this in Scene 1, Excerpt 1, below.).  After that point, the chant appears as a digital recording of the boy soprano.  While the Boy is in the well, his song sounds familiar.  However, once his body is removed from the well - and it becomes clear that the cant of praise has become a curse upon the town - the recording of the boy soprano is subjected to substantial electronic processing.  Though the word and melody are still perceivable, the overall is now horribly disfigured. Simply put, the processing creates a version of the chant as I imagine it would sound as sung through a slit throat (you can hear this in Scene 3, excerpt 2, below.)  
In addition to its near-constant repetition, the chant also appears in other guises in the opera.  The chant is actually the basis for many of the melodies sung by the characters in the opera, as well as the source for many of the harmonies that are used.  Significantly, the Jewish Man’s theme (which appears throughout the opera when he sings) is based upon the first four notes of the Boy’s chant.   Thus, the music of both victims - the innocent Christian boy and the wrongly-accused Jewish Man -  is inextricably linked.  The composer forged this powerful connection in order to emphasize the common humanity of the two characters.   They sing the same music, but it is interpreted differently depending upon who hears it.  Thus, though the music of the chant becomes the central, divisive element in the opera’s plot,  the sonic landscape of the entire opera becomes a testament to the way music can serve as a unifying force.
The Prioress’s Tale
A Chamber Opera in One Act
Eastern Nazarene College Presents
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