There are, perhaps remarkably, two operas on the theme of based on Anatole France’s short story about a juggler monk who impresses the Virgin Mary with his skills. There is a long one by Massenet and a much shorter one by Peter Maxwell Davies which I shall deal with here.
It’s perhaps misleading to call it an opera. It’s a stage work which requires a juggler mime. That bit doesn’t work so well on CD! There’s only one singer; a baritone playing the abbot who is initially shocked by the juggler and then comes to understand. There’s lots of nstrumental music played by a small chamber ensemble and, rather oddly, the last three minutes or so feature a children’s band.
It was originally written for the Fires of London but the CD is by the now defunct Opera Sacra of Buffalo, New York with Edward Albert singing the abbot and Edward Peltz conducting. It’s sparsely scored and quite quiet and meditative. It’s not typical Maxwell Davies but I enjoyed it. As a bonus, there’s a recording by the Arditti Quartet of PMD’s first published work, his String Quartet, which was written when he was eighteen and is less than three minutes long.
It was recorded in the Opera Sacra’s home church and it’s a churchy acoustic which is fine for the instrumental music but the abbot’s words get a bit lost and there’s no digital booklet. As a “church” recording it’s just not in the class of, say, the Decca recording of Curlew River, but then not much is!
It’s available as a physical CD, MP3 and FLAC and I would suggest the physical CD just to get the booklet!
Catalogue number: Mode MOD-CD-59