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Black Feather Rising

Music Theatre for 2 Singers and 6 Instrumentalists

YEAR: 2008

ORCHESTRATION: fl./cl./perc./harp/vln. dbl. vla/vc



LIBRETTO BY: David Rudkin

SOLOIST(S): Soprano and Baritone

COMMISSIONED BY: Stichting Octopus (The Netherlands)

DEDICATION: Godelieve Schrama

AVAILABILITY: For more information, please contact the composer.

PREMIERE DATE: October 24, 2008


De Toneelschuur – Haarlem (NL), followed by a tour throughout the Netherlands.


Charlotte Riedijk soprano
Alistair Shelton-Smith baritone
Jana Machalett/Marieke Franssen flute/piccolo/alto flute
Lars wouters van den Oudenweijer clarinet/bass clarinet/contrabass clarinet
Godelieve Schrama harp
Wim Vos percussion
Marijke van Kooten violin/viola
Doris Hochscheid violoncello
Jos van Kan director
Lieke van Hoogenhuyze assistant
Berthe Spoelstra dramaturgy
Michiel Voet scenery
Dorien de Jonge costumes
Desiree van Gelderen light design
Sepp Grotenhuis correpetitor
Jonathan Berman rehearsal coach
Holger Breek technician
Michel Weekhout stage management
Kees Kaya production
Annemarie Reitsma sales


At a tribal gathering, a young man and young woman see each other, and fall in love.  But she, West-Wind-Rising, is married with a child.  He, Raven Caller, is in subjection to a witch who, in her jealous fury, punishes him with the loss of his memory and magical powers.  But in his unconscious, his song of love sings on.  West-Wind-Rising, guided by it, sets out on a difficult and dangerous journey to find him.  Her way brings her toward the mysterious Black Feather Mountain, from where his song seems to be coming.  As she clambers down a sheer rock-face, a raven attacks her, and she falls.  Raven Caller finds her broken body almost lifeless.  Once, with his healing powers, he could have restored her.  Now he does not even recognize her; he cannot remember even his own name . . . In one continuous scene, the drama shows how they re-awaken each to the other, and by the miracle of love their lives and powers are restored.

The story is developed from a Native American legend, and is here re-worked as an inner dramatic journey for its two main characters.  Black Feather Mountain is music theatre with a quality of myth, inhabiting an elemental world of forest, rock, wind and birds, where human senses are still tuned in to the voices and wisdom of Nature around them, and song is everywhere.   The continuous action is an ascending curve of raw human emotion, from yearning, up through pain, terror, desolation, anger, to a climax of wonder and joy.   In a contemporary culture of noise, activity and ‘information’, it re-asserts the primacy of each individual human quest, the search within.

See also
DAVID RUDKIN: Wayward seeming but unerring: the strange genesis of Black Feather Rising


[Along a high rocky edge a young woman searches in distress for a way down.  Her hair is roughly lopped, her clothing ripped, her hands arms face feet torn and bleeding.  A pouch hangs by a thong about her neck.]

No way down.
From this high rock,
no path.
All my journey:
here it ends.

[She sinks aside, dispirited.]

Each step of the way the earth has fought me.
Turn back! the forest said.
Its branches sprang in my face:
Turn back, turn back!
Its thickets ripped my hands and arms:
Back to your people and your village,
to your child . . . 
Its thorns clawed at my hair:
How can you leave your husband and your child . . .
A woman does not do this.

I hagged my hair off to tear free of the thorns.
I do this.
I, West-Wind-Rising, I do this.
I go to find a man I do not know.
All of him I know
is his song the night wind brings me . . .
But what way forward to him now? . . .

[She searches;  in vain . . .    Apart on the space, an obscure form like a mound of rags.  From it, a man’s voice begins to sing: ]

Lady, hear me . . .
Wherever you are,
hear me where I lie sleeping . . .

All next day long, my journey said Go back!
High desert of rock . . .
upward . . .
Go back!  Go back!
Scorch of the Sun,
the searing wind:
Go back to your husband and your baby!
The sharp rock tore at my feet:
Back to your baby . . .   Back to your baby . . .
I fought the wind and the Sun and the knives of rock.
I come to find a man I do not know.
All I have of him
is in this pouch I carry:
a string of shells
one day a raven brought me . . .
a raven brought me . . .
as I looked out from my husband’s door
across the world in yearning.
A string of shells
from around the neck of a man I do not know.
Only the once I ever saw him.
Across that wedding dance he looked at me.
Our eyes met.
He smiled.
I knew.

[In the mound of rags a restlessness, a struggling;  again the man’s voice sings:]

Lady hear me.
Only the once I ever saw you.
Across that wedding dance you looked at me.
You smiled.
I knew.

[Libretto Copyright © David Rudkin, 2007. Used by permission.]

Photographs by Anna van Kooij



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