"Flower and Hawk"
Monodrama for Soprano on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Dunja Pechstein, soprano
Michael Strauss, pianist
NOVEMBER 20, 2009 8pm
River of Life Church
440 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
admission: $15 adults, $10 students
Flower and Hawk is based on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the wealthiest and most powerful women of the Middle Ages. In her long life of eighty-two years she was born the Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou, became Queen of France through marriage to Louis VII and later became Queen of England when she married Henry II. The title of the opera is derived from her seal (on view in the Louvre) in which she stands holding a hawk in one hand and a flower in the other, suggesting a dualism in her character that is invoked in this work.
Flower and Hawk takes place in 1189 in Salisbury Tower, where Eleanor of Aquitaine has been a prisoner for nearly sixteen years: her husband Henry II had her confined after she and her sons led an unsuccessful revolt against him. Overcome by feelings of despair, abandonment and betrayal she is contemplating to end her life by taking poison. Instead however, she resolves to distract herself by recalling happier times. As she relives her memories of becoming Queen of France, the tormenting memory of her beloved son Richard's death resurfaces. She also recalls a painful confrontation with Henry in which she forces him to choose between her and his mistress Rosamund Clifford. Again she finds herself sinking into hopelessness wishing to end her life. She then relives other pleasant memories from her past such as advising a nobleman about finding a suitable wife for his son. Later, she recalls with intense pleasure the nightly visits of her troubadour lover before again the bleakness of her current surroundings bring back the reality of her confinement and her loneliness. Time and again her feelings about Richard's death force her into the present until at last she comes to an understanding of this tragic event. She is finally able to bury her son emotionally and thereby finds release from her guilt and self-doubt. Finally, she is able to re-assume her role as Queen when the tolling of the bells announces the death of Henry and her liberation from the Salisbury Tower.