Isle of Gold - a story in music
Samson, Matthew David Arling
MetadataShow full item record
Out of the great abundance of stories available to humans throughout history, opera composers and their librettists have favored a surprisingly small subset of these stories in the production of their works. Thus, a significant amount of very interesting subject matter has remained largely unexplored by the compositional community. One such seldom attempted story is Plato’s tale of Atlantis, both its existence and its fall. At present, only a small handful of composers have attempted large scale musico-dramatic works dealing with the legend, and arguably none of these works have taken hold in the greater operatic canon, if they are even known in the first place. Despite its neglect, this particular legend, which depicts the conflict of an idealized primal state with one ruined by arrogance and both of their eventual destructions by catastrophe, is ripe for interpretation. This work is an attempt to begin to begin to address the story’s neglect. My focus in exploring the topic and composing this stage piece has been foremost on the idea of repetition, and key to that exploration has been the use of carefully structured anachronism. Symbolically, Atlantis can be made to function as a stand-in for nearly any powerful nation or empire in nearly any time period. As such, textually, “the Isle” as it is called in the piece, is ostensibly placed in the distant past; however, there are textual elements that problematize this assumption, such that it could indeed be set in the distant future or even as a continuously repeating event, removed from the normal workings of time. Similarly, the orchestration consists of essentially only instruments present in an early baroque orchestra, and while they are generally asked to play in a conventionally baroque style, the harmonic, melodic, and formal material is decidedly contemporary. Furthermore, from time to time, both the instruments and voices are asked to perform techniques and in styles borrowed from many different times and places. All these elements and others taken together serve to underscore the universality and timelessness of the tale, especially highlighting its relevance to the modern world and our place in it.