The Secret Lover

(c) Rosemary Carlton-Willis

Incandescenza’s performance of works by Barbara Strozzi and Monteverdi, featuring the poetry and prose of various others.  Written, directed and produced by Rosie Carlton-Willis (Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, 16th October 2010)

My friends Rosie Carlton-Willis and Hugh Mackay recently put on a dramatic recital called The Secret Lover at the University of York as part of Rosie’s MA.  This performance, involving two sopranos (Rosie and Rosamund Cole), a chitarronist (Elena Cicinskaite), a harpsichordist (Andrew Passmore), a baroque cellist (Sam Stadlen) and a ‘man in tights’ (Hugh), evoked both a Venetian courtesan’s salon, ‘where sex presaged by high-brow conversation and entertainment was the main business’   and a German convent, ‘the natural counterpart to the high-class brothels’ (Carlton-Willis, 2010), where a nun declared her love for a fellow nun through poetry and psalms. These locations, significantly, were both spheres where ‘women might be literate, might make music, might act subversively, and crucially, might provide [services], as professional virgins […] and professional sex-workers.’  The women’s songs and readings explored the joyful subversion and the inherent contradictions in these scenarios – intellectual and emotional equality with men but only achieved through these marginal ‘outsider’ roles which, in themselves, subordinated them to men. Rosie and Ros’ voices complemented each other perfectly – Rosie’s rising to delightfully light and airy heights, while Ros’ lower register provided the shadows in the valley below…

These songs were performed in the original Italian and Latin with English translations provided in the programme.  These were interspersed (or perhaps juxtaposed or ‘contained’ would be better words?) with the prose of male commentators, enacted by Hugh speaking in English.  Hugh, playing a variety of Italians and Patriarchs, nonetheless had a touch of the ‘English Puritan’ in him, indicated by his Malvolio yellow tights. Come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure that Hugh was wearing yellow tights – it just seemed as if he should be!

This combination of forms and of language led me to think about performance conventions and interculturalism.  As an English audience, we listen without question to songs performed in their original language, but if Hugh had then spoken in Latin, even if the English translation was provided in the programme, the audience would have gone into a state of panic and bemusement. ‘Why isn’t it translated?’ we would have demanded. ‘Why are we being asked to listen to something in a language we can’t understand?’ After all, we weren’t in an intercultural performance space – or are we?

What makes a performance intercultural?

Why don’t we think of Italian music/English spoken word as intercultural in the same way that we would think of mixed language spoken drama as intercultural?

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