Opera Scotland

Simoon

Music

Erik Chisholm (born Glasgow, 4 January 1904; died Cape Town, 7 June 1965)

Text

Composer

Source

Book by August Strindberg.

 

Premieres

First Performance (two pianos): New York,1954.

First Performance (full score): Glasgow (Western Baths), 8 June 2015.

 

Background

Chisholm began his musical career as a concert pianist, Later, in 1930, in Glasgow, he established the Active Society for the Propagation of Contemporary Music. By this means he was able to bring notable living composers including Hindemith and Bartók to Glasgow. He was himself a prolific composer, and his trilogy of murder mystery operas, Murder in Three Keys, was written after his move to South Africa in 1946. The last of these, Simoon, is a psychological thriller, in which the hot, violent desert wind plays a key role.

Only previously performed in New York during 1954, where the run was extended to last for six weeks, Simoon was then performed with much reduced forces (two pianos). The full sound includes strings, a wind quintet, trumpet and trombone, with 2 percussion, 2 pianists, harmonium and celeste. The last two provided an unusual aspect to the sound world of the piece. Did Chisholm find the harmonium more common in a hot colonial country than back in Scotland?

 

Characters

Biskra, an Arab guide (soprano)

Yusuf an Arab fighter, her lover (tenor)

Guimard, a French Legionnary officer (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

From 2015 programme note - Algeria during the 1880s. Ali, an Arabian guide, has been murdered by the French Legionnary forces, and Biskra has sworn to avenge his death. Yusuf, her lover, intends to resist her embrace until she succeeds in this task, a feat she must accomplish without employing any weapon.

As the exhausted Frenchman Guimard crawls towards shelter to escape the cruel and potentially fatal brutality of the Algerian simoon, Biskra summons the mystical powers of her lineage, and unleashes her exacting psychological revenge.

Promising succour, she remorselessly and systematically convinces the overwrought legionnaire that all he holds dear is violated - his senses confounded, his religion false, his wife an adulteress, his son dead, and he himself disgraced as a deserter from his regiment. In the final scene of this macabre torture, Biskra presents him with a skull. Guimard, his life ebbing away, believes it is his....he is long dead!

Her revenge complete, Biskra and Yusuf embrace, honouring the child she will now bear him.

The Cast

Biskra
 an Arab guide, lover of Yusuf
Guimard
 a French Legionnary officer
Voice
 
Yusuf
 an Arab fighter

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