Read about "Eden In Atlantis"


A Scena for soprano, flute/alto flute & piano (1996)

Duration 25'00"

Music & Libretto by Derek Strahan

The libretto is given first, followed by notes

In the fourth cycle of the second moon
which is the closer of the two
when the first moon was in eclipse
my lover joined with me in that protected garden
on the enchanted mountain
which joins our land to the spirit realm above.

Our first kiss was given enshrouded by pallor
as etheric Malkuth shone alone
amid the constellations.
Then as our passion grew
celestial Selene appear'd again
bathing entangled limbs of vines and trees
in cascading argenteous light.

In this wall'd garden
Aromatic blossoms scented the heavy air,
mist lay on our nakedness, earth's warmth caressed, enfolded.
Lost in each other we pass'd the night hours
in endless embrace.

At dawn, as we lay in bliss together
beneath the outstretch'd arms of an ancient bo tree
laden with ripe figs
the vast furnace of the Sun rose in the western sea
angry red becoming bronze.
Around it the sky darkening to purple
brighten'd from within
finally to glow with the deep turquoise
of its accustomed canopy.

We prais'd the Sun who warms our land
in constant heat
from the first to the last day of her cycle
numbering sixty and three hundred.

Later breaking our fast on fig, pomegranate,
berry and golden apple,
we mov'd to a verge on the cliff edge
where we reclin'd
looking down on the temple of Alconuz
built on the shore below
its gilded roof brazen in the Sun's radiance.

And as the day grew ever more fecund in its power
and as the air grew hazy with coiling mist
feeding the fruiting earth
we watched two colossal serpents
in the slow heaving of the deep
lash their tails and writhe about
their bodies entwined in frolic
as they like us delighted in their play
in the calm confines of the bay.

        "Eden In Atlantis" is a 25-minute Scena for soprano, flute/alto flute and piano. This is the second work written to develop material intended for inclusion in a proposed cycle of four operas on the subject of civilisations of pre-history. It was commissioned by Michael Scott and composed in 1994. It was given its premier performance in 1996 by Michael Scott playing flute/alto flute and pianist David Miller. The soprano part was given by Liza Rintel who has sung leading roles with Opera Australia, including that of the Queen Of The Night in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" both touring with OzOpera and sharing the role with Jennifer McGregor in the 1995 opera season.   The premiere performance was given on November 15 1996 in the Joan Sutherland Studio at The Opera Centre, 480 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, Sydney (New South Wales, Australia.) The live recording of that performance is available on Jade CD, "EDEN IN ATLANTIS", JADCD 1074, which can be purchased from the Shopping Cart .   For a complete overview of the "Atlantis" opera project please go to the Atlantis Files, (Additional information is also contained in Read about "Atlantis", giving background on my work "Atlantis" for flute/alto flute & piano. The music score, which can be purchased at this site also has a preface which comprises 16 pages of program notes, annotated illustrations and diagrams. These refer mainly to the source material on Atlantis found in the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato which date from around 400 B.C., and to modern commentaries on Plato.   Debate on the topic over the past 100 years has widened to include speculation that Plato's account of an ancient civilisation destroyed by cataclysm may indeed be based on fact, giving some credibility to parallel accounts found in the mythology and religious beliefs of many cultures. Science has recently found proof that the earth has been subject to global upheavals many times in the past, upheavals caused by natural phenomena such as asteroid strikes. Dating these events is still problematical, as is the age of human civilisation, and this is a topic which students might wish to explore in the considerable literature available on it. (See bibliography). A four-opera cycle based on global cataclysm clearly has a previous model in Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung", and, while I have, of course, found inspiration in that achievement, I also feel that it is worth attempting to write a work of similar scale which offers a modern perspective on this kind of eschatalogical scenario.   There are parallels between Plato's account of Atlantis, Nordic myth, and the scriptural narrative about antediluvian civilisation found in Genesis, the first chapter of the Hebrew/Christian Torah or Bible. (This account is in turn based on earlier Sumerian literature.) Many writers apply a reductionist approach to mythology and religion, some attempting to reconcile religion and science, some treating mythology as history and seeking a rational explanation for fabulous events. It is fair to say that all are seeking the truth .about human history on this planet. The Great Flood is not the only event of global import recorded in human beliefs about our past. There is also the belief in an earlier Golden Age, which was itself terminated by a disaster of some kind, possibly by fire (though fire is often described as being followed by flood).   In developing a scenario for the four-opera cycle I came to feel that, to give a proper perspective in time, the first opera should be set in the Golden Age, as a contrast to the later age of Atlantis. As a part of my work-in-progress for the first opera in the cycle, I wrote this 25-minute Scena "Eden In Atlantis". As can be inferred from the libretto (above), the scenario aims to evoke a geologically different world - an earthly environment prevailing in the age before the high civilisation of Atlantis: a Golden Age, a time of Paradise. My libretto contains numerous references to the condition of the planet in this remote era, a composite of beliefs from many cultures: a composite which is, of course, poetic guess-work on my part. The term "Eden" is used generically to denote Paradise. "The word paradise comes from the Avestan (Old Iranian) word Pairi-daeza, meaning a walled or enclosed garden" ('Memories & Visions of Paradise', Richard Heinberg). "All neolithic and Bronze Age paradises were orchard-islands." ('The Greek Myths' Robert Graves). The Bushmen of South Africa have a myth that a large continent west of Africa disappeared at an epoch when there two moons. Several cultures assert there was a time when the sun rose in the west, implying that the rotation of the earth was once reversed. Taking the 360 degree circle to be an ancient calendar, the libretto refers to a year of exactly 360 days, when, presumably, the Earth's orbit was closer to the sun which appeared larger than now, and gave more heat. I have also assumed that the axial tilt was nearer to the vertical, resulting in a climate of eternal summer and producing the conditions attributed to Paradise: a garden of eternal summer, perpetually in fruit. ("Genesis" states that when man was expelled from Paradise he had to till the earth with the sweat of his brow. This could mean that, after the axis tilted to its present position, plant growth was subject to seasons, leading to the invention of agriculture.) In my proposed opera, an asteroid collides with the second moon, destroying it, and, by successive impacts, destroying on earth the geological basis for Paradise (The Evening Star fell to earth?) However, this Scena seeks to evoke one event in a story set in a forgotten place, in a forgotten time, before disaster struck. Although elements of the Genesis narrative are present - lovers, a fig tree, serpents, they are presented as in nature, devoid of mythological significance, which came later.   Thus, the two lovers of this scenario are not the Adam and Eve of Genesis, though they are named after them, nor is this Eden the Eden of Genesis, though named after it. However, the Golden Age portrayed is intended as the Golden Age of mythology which, I have to assume, was the age of the Goddess, since this age predated the patriarchal age of Atlantis.   The lovers are members of a closed community fortified by walls against a wide variety of fauna, including many now extinct species described in mythology as monsters, dragons and serpents. This world of untamed nature must have been a "paradise" for all species! The particular "Eden" of this story is located in what later became "Atlantis". The Scene takes place in a walled garden and depicts a night-long lovers' tryst, as recollected by "Eve". The music "moves" through four distinct sections, corresponding to the passage of time.   Stanzas 1 & 2 set the scene in the garden as the two moons appear. Musicals themes are heard which aim to invoke a sultry, humid atmosphere, which persists as darkness falls, and the two moons appear. The theme for the principle moon invokes the hunt. The singer (Eve) invokes her attachment to her land, and the setting for the ttryst with her lover.   There are three different melodic settings of Stanza 3, each rhapsodic and each set to the same harmonic basis. These depict the lovers' passion through the passage of night.   Stanzas 4, 5, 6 depict successive stages of the arrival of day, and introduce a "Sun" theme to conjuree the intense heat of a sun which is warmer and larger, because closer.   In the final stanza the lovers watch two large sea serpents at play in the bay below, and Eve's recollection is set to a synchopated melody as she compares the serpent's frolic to their own romantic entanglement.   In the Coda, the principle theme for Atlantis is heard as an exultation.   Annotations to the libretto   Malkuth is an early name given to a "ghost moon". Selene is an early name for Luna (hence "selenites") Alconuz is a name associated with the "ten books of wisdom" of Adam which were dropped from heaven, following the expulsion from Eden. I have "pre-dated" the use of the name, by giving it to a temple of worship in this earlier age.   Given the way meaning is hidden in mythology, it is possible to interpret the "expulsion" from Eden as being a "saving" from Eden: and the "flaming sword" which bars to re-entry to Eden as the fire which destroyed it (Eden no longer exists); and the status of Adam and Eve (as "first humans") as denoting those who survived the destruction of Eden to become the "first humans" of the new age.   The moons are given great importance in the opening stanza, and the (present) Moon has its own musical motif (see below), Worship of the Moon is of great antiquity dating back to the era of Goddess worship, when societies were matriarchal with, no doubt, quite different laws regarding property and inheritance. Robert Graves, in his monumental writings on mythology gives ample evidence that such societies existed. As patriarchy gained control, major deities underwent a sex change! Two examples will suffice. The Greek God Uranus is associated with the Golden Age. But his name is a masculine form of Ur-ana, Queen of the mountains, of summer, of winds and of wild oxen, representing the Goddess in her orgiastic midsummer aspect. And it is surprising to learn that the Hebrew name for God, Jehovah, or Yahweh is the masculine form of the Sumerian Goddess, Iahu, which means exalted dove. Goddess worship survived in cult form into the patriarchal age. Most durable was the Cult of Diana, the Roman version of the Greek Goddess, Artemis. Diana was originally a woodland goddess, a tree spirit, mistress of the forest creatures and the hunt, who became associated with Selene or Luna (the Moon) through her identification with Artemis.   This is why the motif associated with the Moon is given a primal character, like a hunting call played by natural horns using the notes of the natural harmonic series.   The final cry of the libretto - "Atlantiha!" is a Mayan word (atlan ti ha) meaning "Sun - big place - water". The Maya believe that they came from this place when "the waters took the big stone of knowledge". "Atlantis" is therefore as much a heritage of the Maya as it is of the ancient Egyptians from whom Plato's story derived.   (Unfortunately the Spanish Conquistadores destroyed all but 20 books of Aztec and Mayan culture).   Derek Strahan

Available on JADCD1074 Eden In Atlantis

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