A Tour of Olagón
as a work in progress,
illustrated with excerpts from rehearsals and mockups
with composer Dan Trueman as your guide
We begin with some pillow talk, between Queen Medhbh and King Aillil, as The Táin itself begins. As of this writing, this song is currently being composed — the last remaining bit to do — but I’ll share a powerful point of reference for Olagón as a whole, and for this opening: the macaronic song I Am Weary of Lying Alone, a traditional Irish sean-nós song from Iarla’s rep.
After this prelude, the piece proper begins, with a play on an old nursery rhyme from the north of Ireland, interwoven with an old Irish aphorism, in Irish (“ar scath a cheile a mhaireas na daoine”), that roughly translates as “we live in each other’s shadows.”
Then Medhbh is on the move, in flight, scheming and we meet some of her “friends.”
Ochon agus ochon oh is an old Irish keen, probably most well known from the Lament of the Three Marys, and it serves as a sometimes ironic refrain through Olagón. Poor Aillil.
The shadow of Marbhan, the hermit and brother of a king, makes its first appearance; we will hear from Marbhan later.
Some reflections on Medhbh’s new love interest follow (NOTE: these videos are from a recording session, not a performance; performances will be partially staged, with visual elements in progress (created and directed by Mark DeChiazza) to assist with the intelligibility of the text.
But things start to get serious, and Medhbh denies that she has taken to the drink, or worse (please excuse my voice, attempting to stand in for Iarla!).
Ochon, ochon, ochon…. Iarla is joined by a choir of his brothers here. Poor Aillil.
“Let’s stir the pot!” say Medhbh in The Táin; internal machinations and scheming abound:
But our talking head analyst has a few words of caution about the new regime:
And from the choir loft, the Church weighs in (gloriously, I might add: the voices of Gallicantus):
But the stirrings continue, and we take a trip down the old bog road, where things have gotten out of hand:
Not to be dissuaded, the stirrings persist, but meanwhile Aillil finds himself in the presence of Marbhan, and asks him how he can live so simply in the woods, sleeping under the trees, with nothing to his name. Marbhan, in Irish, responds:
As if waking from a dream, perhaps in Marbhan’s forest, or outside the pub:
But all is not well in the waking, and our talking head/newscaster returns with some troubling news:
Medhbh is not herself, or perhaps she has finally found herself, it’s hard to tell. In any case, she is pining for Aillil again (forgive my singing, we haven’t gotten Iarla on tape with this yet):
Meanwhile, down the old bog road, Aillil has remained true to Medhbh, in spite of some serious temptation (again, forgive my singing!):
But, in spite of the hopeful feelings that remain between Medhbh and Aillil, it may be too late, and our newscaster returns with more bad news; perhaps Medhbh has gone too far, and she is lost in a twisted seisiún.
and, in her unstable state, some memories of voices past emerge from the fog:
Iarla and I recorded these gorgeous young voices, students of the great sean-nós singer Treasa Ní Mhiolláin, on Inis Mór, off the west coast of Ireland, in January of 2016. Treasa herself makes an appearance, setting up the final Book of Lamentations, itself an echo of the Part I, where we lived in each other’s shadows:
She returns, along with the girls, for a final keen
Perhaps there will be one, drawing on the Pillow Talk of the Prelude. We will see….