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Out of a Welsh past: Silverton composer debuts opera in Australia

By James Day

Silverton-area composer Christopher Wicks has debuted a short opera at an arts festival in Australia.

Wicks’ piece, The Curse on Dyved, was inspired by his interest in Welsh music and folklore. It debuted at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which Wicks described  as “literally hundreds of events in many fields of performing and visual arts between mid-February and mid-March each year, towards the end of the Australian summer.  It is the world’s largest Fringe Festival after that in Edinburgh, Scotland.”

Wicks has produced some choral arrangements as composer in residence for the Welsh Society of Oregon, but he told Our Town that “in 2023, I had a hankering to make something more ambitious. Having always admired the cycle of Welsh folklore known as the ‘Mabinogion,’ 11 tales translated into English in the 1840s by Lady Charlotte Guest, I picked out my favorite of the 11, adapted it into rhyme and meter, and then set it to music for four singers and piano in operatic form, with a duration of about 45 minutes.”

The cast of “The Curse on Dyved” in Adelaide, Australia: Michele de Courcy as Rhiannon, Jordan Newsham as Pryderi and Katelyn Crawford as Kicva.
The cast of “The Curse on Dyved” in Adelaide, Australia: Michele de Courcy as Rhiannon, Jordan Newsham as Pryderi and Katelyn Crawford as Kicva.

Dyved is an old word for a region in Wales, Wicks said. To put the plot in a nutshell, he said, “it’s about the struggles between the royal family of Dyved and a stealthy evil sorcerer. The royal family wins. It’s largely lighthearted and gently comic.”

Wicks made a recording of the opera in Silverton and then brought it to the attention of friend and collaborator Jamie Webster, choral director of the Welsh Society of Oregon. Webster’s enthusiasm for the piece led her to suggest a staged production of the opera at the fringe festival in Australia, “where she is currently living an expatriate life,” Wicks said.

“Fringe events tend to be a little low-budget and off the cuff compared to main festival events,” Wick said, “and ours had impressive costumes, dancing, singing, and playing, but simple sets and took place in a small hall.  Fringe events also are occasionally very envelope-pushing and crude, but ours on the other hand was family-friendly and G-rated, by intention.”

Wicks could not be present for the debut, but he has seen a video and “the applause certainly seemed long and loud to me.”

Webster, he said, “assured me that the performers had a great time and that the audiences were enthusiastic, although a terrible heat wave was underway.”

Wicks described the musical style of the  opera as “somewhat informed by modernism. It is fairly tonal and consonant, and the dissonances are mostly reserved for when the villain of the plot has the upper hand. Some folks have compared this piece to the music of Henry Purcell, an English composer who lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century.”

Next up for the piece is a possible performance in Portland if Webster has an opportunity to return to the United States. Because of the relative shortness of the opera, Wicks said he might program some of his choral arrangements to round out the performance.

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