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Berwick Educational Association: Bridging the Hellespont: Persia in Western Literature and Music

This lecture is one of two events supporting Berwick Festival Opera: Byre Opera: Xerxes on Saturday 30 June & Sunday 1 July.

Proof of purchase entitles ticket holders to £5 off tickets to Xerxes and the same deal applies to Byre Opera: Xerxes: Behind the Scenes, so you can attend all 3 events for only £20 (£18 concessions).
‘We live and die in the books we read’ : So wrote Edith Thompson, the millinery book-keeper who was addicted to Sheikhs, desert moons and Eastern romance and who would end up hanged for murder. Edith’s exotic tastes were in part an escape from humdrum realities. But one does not have to be a literary fantasist to be imaginatively stirred by The Thousand and One Nights or the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In this lecture by Dr. Richard Moore , we shall examine some of our Western responses. We shall also see how the East generally was musically treated in works as varied as Arne’s Artaxerxes, the song In A Persian Garden, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade, and such comedy-operas as The Rose of Persia, Utopia Limited and Il Seraglio.
The fascination with the East is well seen in responses to the career of Xerxes, a Persian king who ruled from 486 B.C. until his assassination in 465. In Histories, Herodotus relates that at the Strymon river, his Magi sought good omens by sacrificing white horses. When they learned that Nine Ways was the name of the river-bridges, they buried alive nine boys and nine girls. Xerxes' wife Amestris also twice buried people. Each time it was seven sons of notable Persians.
Xerxes’ story is best known to us now through Handel’s eponymous opera. Here, surprisingly, the main part was taken by a soprano castrato and the story is much changed. At the end the great king not only avoids assassination; he apologises to everyone. Later Eastern-inspired works offered rather more death, sex and passion. They also produced the curious 1920’s notion of the Sheik reflected in the famous Fahmi murder case.

Come and learn what we in the West have made of ‘East of Eden’. It will be an informative preparation for the delights of the Handel opera and a resurgence of associated cultural treatments.

Image: Xerxes at the Hellespont, by Jean Adrien Guignet (1816-1854), oil on canvas.
Year: 2018
The Maltings Theatre & Cinema is operated by The Maltings (Berwick) Trust Registered Charity No: 701194