Two Magical New Operas

I am not usually so newsy, but my friend Michel Parry sent me this in an email from London.

Of course, I love fairy tales and they have provided many great subjects for operas through history.  But the one about John Dee seems like one of those wonderful artistic breakthroughs into the magical consciousness that intrigues me totally.

If any of you are in London, I envy you as I would give my eye teeth to see these!

Woodcutter's Daughter, by Sarah Blank

Woodcutter's Daughter by Sarah Blank

Thurs 3rd September
STUDIO 1 @ 8pm
The Woodcutter’s Daughter

Produced by: Eclectic Opera
Librettist: Buffy Sharpe
Cast: Kirsten Morrison, Peter Shipman
Combine a maiden who needs rescuing, a prince out hunting, a chorus of children, three professional singers, an imaginative set, an old Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale and new music and you will have a production that will delight your senses and tickle your fancy. Previewing Act Two of this new opera – catch it here first!

Dr. Dee

Dr. Dee

Songs Of Alchemy
Produced by: Eclectic Opera
Composer: Kirsten Morrison
Director: Jan-Willem van den Bosch
Cast: Oliver Gibbs, Peter Shipman, Peter O’Shea, Kirsten Morrison
A fascinating song-cycle set around the angel conversations of alchemist John Dee (1527-1608); astronomer, astrologer, geographer, occultist and consultant to Elizabeth I. Original texts, poetry, incantations and diary entries provide an authentic glimpse into a time just before modern science when angels held the keys to the world.

Will there be real Enochian chants in the Dee opera? looks like it!

See my articles on Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartok

The Dark Side of Faery Tales: Bluebeard’s Castle

Bela Bartok: Powers in the Land

Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

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London: Spirits of the Land, The Faerie Queene

Elizabeth Tudor: the Faerie Queene

Of Faerie lond yet if he more inquire,
By certaine signes here set in sundry place
He may it find; ne let him then admire,
But yield his sence to be too blunt and bace,
That no’te without an hound fine footing trace.
And thou, O fairest Princesse vnder sky,
In this faire mirrhour maist behold thy face,
And thine owne realmes in lond of Faery,
And in this antique Image thy great auncestry.
— Edmund Spencer, The Faerie Queene

I was drawn to London because of Shakespeare. In the 1980′s I was heavily involved in Shakespeare productions, not only as an actress, but as a choreographer as well. I was also known to lend a hand with costumes for they are one of my passions, and brought up in small town Massachusetts, I was a trained needlewoman since early childhood.
In 1998, an authentic replica of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre had been completed on the south bank of the Thames. Portraits of Queen Elizabeth and the Tudors were on free exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. It is quite a thing to be able to stand in front of a painting that one’s favorite monarch actually sat for and to feel the centuries pass below you, carried on the River Thames.
The reign of Elizabeth was remarkable for its glories in art, music, dance, magic, and culture, as well for its horrors.  One only has to walk along Tower Bridge to recall that in her day the severed heads of traitors would have been displayed above you,  visited by crows and reduced to bones on a regular basis. Of course, across the bridge one can see the Tower of London, where Elizabeth herself was imprisoned as a girl.
Bright light, deep shadow, London was a microcosm of the forces of dark and light, god and evil, and everything in between.

I have no doubt that I was ‘guided’ to live in London because of the intensity of this duality, resonant as I was with the city’s history in Elizabeth’s time. Magically, Elizabeth Tudor’s court Astrologer, John Dee, and his Seer, Edward Kelly, were talking to angels. After the Queen’s death, these two  would help to bring the art of Alchemy to fruition in Bohemia. King James’s daughter, Elizabeth, would marry Fredrick of Bohemia. Together they  became the icons of the Alchemical King and  Queen.
Edward Spencer’s epic poem, The Faery Queen, based on Queen Elizabeth, did not come out of a vacuum. I believe he was inspired by a conceit already being played out in the Court.
But I had ‘met’ her in this guise  while living in Seattle, long before I ever went to London.

Have a listen to Spem in Alium, composed for Queen Elizabeth’s birthday by Thomas Tallis, while you read the blog. It is sung by 8 choirs.

The Pelican and Phoenix Portraits


My first formal magical excursions into the Realm of Faery were under the guidance of R.J.Stewart in a workshop he gave on the Dark Goddess.
One of Bob’s exercises is have an audience with the Faery Queen and the Faery King. Each participant has their own version of this, for the Realm of Faery, though ‘real’, dresses itself in the iconography of our individual imaginations. I saw, and have seen since, the Faery King as great Stag/Man and the Faery Queen ‘dressed’ as Queen Elizabeth.

The Influence of Our Personal Imagery on How Faeries Appear

I thought this imagery was due to my inner links with Shakespeare and Elizabethan times. Also, as a child of he 1960′s, I grew up listening to Joan Baez singing the old Child Ballads, many of which came from the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of these songs were collected in Appalachia, brought to the Americas by English, Scots and Irish settlers during those times. As a child in Massachusetts, my imagination was informed by austere Puritan imagery: Women in black clothes with laced  corsets, neck ruffs, and peaked hats were among the  spirits of that land for me. The infamous Man in Black was dressed in 17th century clothes. I drew many pen and ink illustrations of women dressed like this, calling them my “Witches”. I felt they came to me from the flint, birch trees, and the golden rod, that covered the low hills of New England. The folk ballads and the Puritan imagery worked together in my imagination to generate ideas of what Underworld Faeries, the Ancestors, looked like.

This would be true for everyone who enters Faery. They will appear to you in a from that appeals to you or frightens you, or whatever gets the strongest emotional response from you.

Imagination, or Something Else?

While in London, I began writing fiction. I had been writing all my life, mostly poetry. (I am a published poet and have won a few prizes for my work.) But it took living in an historic country like England for my stories to come alive in me. My first endeavor was a novel about a Faery Changeling entitled Dark Night, Lily Bright. The Faery Queen is called Queen Elspeth and her consort is Cernunnos, the Stag/Man. There are also two other related characters in the story, sorceresses, that are similar to her. They all wear Elizabethan fashions.

Writing is a magical act, and the characters were very much alive. This seems to be the reason people become passionate about writing, for the writer watches as the characters act out their story and record it. In my novel about Faeries, I merely clothed the Faery Queen as Elizabeth. I never dreamed it may have actually been Elizabeth as Goddess of the Land entering my inner world.

My ‘real’ work is as a psychic and healer. One day, I was doing a healing session with a client lying on the massage table in a trance. When the session was over, she sat up and said “The whole time we were working, two women were standing at the end of the table dressed in purple. They said they were Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary.”
I was floored! Never had anyone else seen them before. I did know that Queen Mary had arrived. Of course they were sisters.

Masonic Connections


Before I went to England in 1997, I had a dream that I was invited into a gathering of English people seated in an a circle in a formal library as you might find in a stately home. It was a gathering of occultists. I saw the face of the leader of the group very clearly, for he had opened the door to me.
In 2004, I went to a talk on Alchemy that was held at a Masonic center in Cannonbury, Islington. During the tea and cakes reception a man walked toward me, holding out his hands as if he were greeting a long lost friend. I instantly recognized him as the man in my dream! During our conversation, in which I told him of my pre-cognition of our meeting, the subject got on to my feelings about Queen Elizabeth and magic, especially Alchemy. This man, Joseph McDerrmott, had been a Jesuit monk in Ireland. He eventually left the Order to focus on occult practices. The iconography of Queen Elizabeth was a special interest of his, so he kindly invited me to meet him at the Tate gallery to see the Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. He told me it would be ‘an initiation’.

The Symbols of Sacred Queenship

Pelican of Sacrifice

The iconography of the rubescent Pelican Portrait displays emblems of the Queen’s willingness to sacrifice  herself for her subjects, for as the mythical Pelican pierces her own breast to feed her young with her heart’s blood, so the Queen bleeds for the benefit of her country and its people. Red is the color of martial strength,as well as sexual energy. She has a branch of cherries behind her ear that seems like a ‘come and get it if you can gesture’, though one could not possibly suggest that the Queen would play such games…The roses and other  flower-like jewels and embroideries on her gown suggest fertility and abundant life. The Tudor rose and the fleur-de-lis floating in the space behind her are the symbols of England and France.
In restored versions, there is a fringe over her head suggesting  that she stands beneath a canopy. As her shadow is cast on the wall behind her, we can assume she must have been facing the sun, the source of light. This solar spotlight suggests that the Queen chose to be highly visible before her people. She had nothing to hide, rather she displays her role as their protector and guide.
These are the outward shows for the sake of reassurance for the realm that she give her all for their sake.
Yet there was one important thing Elizabeth would never give them — an heir. I think her compensation for this is revealed in the companion portrait, where she looks to the left, the ‘sinister’ direction of the moon. Her black veil suggests that she stands in the shadows, in the darkness, hidden.

Phoenix of Death and Rebirth

The Phoenix Portrait is the companion piece to the Pelican Portrait. Joe described one as being  ‘with the red rose’, while the other is ‘under the black rose’. The black rose signifies secret knowledge kept ‘under the rose’ or ‘sub rosa’.

In the Phoenix portrait, Elizabeth stands under a black veil against a black background suggesting that she is on the threshold of the Unseen. The phoenix is an emblem of death and rebirth, but not pro-creative duplication. This is important in Elizabeth’s case, for she remained ‘virgin’, or unmarried, all her life. This created serious political problems, for she was dooming the kingdom to go on, after her death, without an heir.

The phoenix as a symbol for Elizabeth’s uniqueness, oneness and chastity, has a hidden meaning. The bird that dies  in fire to rise again from its own ashes, is a powerful icon for dynastic mysticism. Its ability to transcend death asserts the continuation of hereditary kingship through the immortality of the monarch, in this case the Virgin Queen. There could be no more potent symbol of power on Earth than this reminder that  even death cannot defeat this Queen.

The jewels in the Queen’s hair ray out like moonlight, she is covered in pearls and garnets, suggesting moonlit dew drops and blood. The strawberry leaves embroidered over the fabric of her gown symbolize love, luck and pregnancy(?). (It is interesting to note that strawberries, when crushed, could be said to bleed.)

Most significantly for the occultist, the Queen holds a white stone in her  hand. Could it be the Philosopher’s Stone that grants immortality, eternal youth and life?

This portrait explains the secrets behind and esoteric justification for the Queen’s chastity. Her possession of the Philosopher’s Stone means that she will never die.  Did Dr. John Dee conjure this for her? As we saw previously, it was he that brought Alchemy to Bohemia, catalyzing the Magical Court of Emperor Rudolf, a center for esotericists from all over the world.

When one  considers that the Tudors were also Celts, with their ancient tradition of Lady Sovereignty, representative of the Land, it may not be too far fetched to suggest that Queen Elizabeth reveals her magical beliefs and alchemical aspirations to be the Sovereign Lady reigning over the land of England forever. All future Kings who marry the Land will marry Elizabeth, for she is one with the land, part and parcel of it. She is the Faery Queen.


photo credit: Ivana Warde   Hampstead Heath

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