STONEHENGE AT SUNSET
BACKDROP FOR BELLINI'S OPERA,
Acrylic diptich (two panels - 7 feet x 10 feet each)
Stonehenge and how it is related to the Celtic peoples is locked in mystery. We know for certain that Stonehenge had an astrological significance, and the Druids would have put some kind divination to the phenomenon of the sun's bi-annual change (when the days would begin to lengthen or shorten, as the case may be). There were no doubt many significant metaphysical aspects to Stonehenge which would have been well "understood" by the Gauls---certainly by the Druids---and possibly by peoples who came long before.
The Druids had litterally divine authority over matters of ethics, law, arts, crafts, hunting, planting and harvesting, marraiges, deaths, inheritance, warfare, etc., yet belonged to a second-class tier, along with the warriors; the militia. The first-class tier included the nobility who, indeed, consulted the Druids in all important matters. And the remaining, third-class tier including farmers, hunters, builders---the salt of the earth---also consulted the Druids.
In far-off Rome, around 50 BC, the government's leaders became concerned about the "barbaric and superstitious" habits and rituals of the Gauls, who were controlled and influenced by bearded mystics and their female counterparts. Indeed, male and female Druids had equal authority. They were ranked only according to experience and an achieved-level of schooling, based on a mentoring system, which lasted for decades. The end came to the Gaulish way of life, subsequently, with Rome's invasions. Led by Ceasar around 50 BC, the Roman soldiers had superior weapons and advanced tecniques of warfare. The Gauls proved to be no match for them, no matter how valliantly and couragiously they fought.
The opera, Norma, is a story about an illicit and tragic love affair of a Druid "princess". Norma, who has secretly fallen in love with a Roman proconsul---someone higher in rank than a general---sadly discovers that her Roman soldier, Pollione, is having an affair with her best friend and confidant, Adalgesa. Because Norma has broken her vows (by having become romantically involved with a member of the enemy) she feels committed to end her life on the funeral pyre. To make good his honor, Pollione feels committed to end his life, as well. Hand-in-hand, the star-crossed lovers mount the funeral pyre and walk into the flames. Meanwhile, Norma has begged her father, the arch-Druid, to care for her two children whom she had carefully kept hidden. Her father, Oroveso, played and sung by me, could not hide his feelings of surprise, disappointment, rage, and sadness. With a heavy heart, moments before her end, Oroveso accepts his daughter's plea.
Without any doubt, the intention of the composer was to compare, symbolically, the end of Norma's tragic life with that of the end of the way of life of the Gauls. My own vision of the backdrop was to portray Stonehenge in the glow of a sunset, which I could imagine as being symbolic of the end of a great and long-lived era, as well.
Not only did I enjoy acting and singing the role of Oroveso and painting the backdrop, I also created the pyrotechnical effects for the funeral pyre and even drove to the Fort Bragg area and purchased a 29 and 1/2 inch Chinese gong (used by Norma to alert the Gaulish warriors that it was now time for war). In addition, I enjoyed mounting the 35 pounds of bronze in a wooden frame which I designed and constructed. I also built the funeral pyre, which doubled for a stage (on the regular stage), and which was used by the dancers and performers for dramatic effect. I also made four spears and made my own costume---or, at least, designed and put the thing together. Thats Opera in the small house. Roger