- Scott Williamson
Day 9: 30/30 Pro(metheus)ject
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Lines after Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound
Orb most beautiful
My pyramid of night
A fleece of fire and amethyst
enshrouds an amphisbaenic snake
deep inside the weird Cadmaean forest
where my crystal accents pierce
The caverns of thy Pride’s deep Universe
And Aeolian modulations
perpetuate this Orphic song
with Daedal harmony
To love from hope
to bear one’s own wreck
(Roanoke – Venice – Roanoke | June – Dec. 2016)
N.B. [The image above is one of Canaletto's famous portraits of St Mark's Square, Piazza San Marco]
This poem first "appeared" while I was preparing a libretto for a proposed new musical work based on Shelley’s verse drama in 4 acts, Prometheus Unbound. Inspired by Aeschylus’ fragments, it is one Shelley's greatest, most quoted yet least read and appreciated major works. In another season of political unrest, it remains one of Shelley’s more prescient and substantive political allegories. Unsurprisingly, it was not a commercial success.
My version is a re-working or “transposing” of lines and phrases from his poem, whose musical values lend itself to such treatment.
[I took the photo just above of a "demonic lion,"off the beaten path, recommended by Secret Venice, a travel book of maps, historical lore, ephemera, and esoterica I used as "guide" for my trip.]
For inquiring minds...
I was arranging a 4-act libretto after Shelley for myself. For some time, I had been planning a sabbatical because of a compelling need to compose. This was a creative outlet I hadn’t exercised with anything approaching discipline since my undergraduate years with John Hilliard at James Madison. I was fortunate enough this year to be given the time and space to take a month and get away, so I went to Venice (thanks, Mom! Zichronam liv'rachah).
I stayed at a fantastic AirBnB apartment called 'I Felzi' (and recommend Roberto Pazzzano as a host. I would stay there again in a second!) From mid-July to mid-August I was able to make an initial vocal draft of the vocal parts of the first three acts of my own Prometheus Unbound.
I expect the work to be a 60-70' dramatic musical poem for voices (and chamber ensemble, tbd). It could easily become an opera. I could imagine it done by an enterprising professional chorus with soloists at its disposal and a penchant for interesting &/or theatrical programming...
The title role will be a lyric baritone (or a Pelléas, bari-tenor type). His love, Asia is a soprano. Her sister, Panthea is a mezzo. This means she also gets a turn with Prometheus, especially since this is the same Shelley who hung out with Byron... The Earth, our hero's mother, is set as a pair of treble voices (not dissimilar from how Britten sets the "voice of the Lord" in his Abraham and Isaac Canticle and famous War Requiem). The various choruses of spirits, furies, fawns, and other eerie groups are given their own vocal ensembles of solo duets and choruses, deployed in various combinations.