Caritas relates the 'true', yet largely undocumented story of Christine Carpenter, a 14th-century anchoress who moves towards insanity as her desire for a divine revelation continues to be unfulfilled after a period of three years locked in her cell. Although physically isolated, she is aware of the worldly life and love that she has abandoned. The very essence of the drama is the dogmatic refusal of her Bishop to release her from her vows. Set against the backcloth of the Peasants' Uprising (1381), the libretto/play juxtaposes sacred and secular worlds, the relative power and servitude of rulers and serfs, and the terrifying ordeal of Christine who is caught between the inflexibility of the established church and her personal religious expectations. Such a narrative was to offer rich opportunities for musical characterization and evocation of the historical context of the action, as well as substantial challenges in pacing and integrating the sequence of dramatic 'snap-shots' that culminate in a scene of total despair. The colourful juxtaposition of secular life and that of a recluse in Act One culminates in a Second Act finale of immense dramatic power in which Saxton's vocal and instrumental writing reaches new heights - a landmark both in his output and in late 20th century opera. Caritas - first performed in 1991 - occupies an important position in Robert Saxton's output and, as Thomas argues, in British opera during the closing decades of the 20th century. Thomas provides a detailed contextual setting in which to evaluate Caritas, as well as presenting an analytical commentary on the structure, musical language, instrumentation, staging and production of the opera. Thomas concludes with a reflection on the reception of Caritas as well as looking forward to Saxton's later and future works. A CD of the first performance is included.
'As both composer and specialist on medieval music, Thomas is able to approach the subject matter and its musical realisation from a position of erudite authority, interrogating closely the score and its related texts… Thomas skilfully demonstrates the means by which Saxton generates momentum across the 78-minute work… The three chapters that are devoted to the genesis of the opera (from historical documents through to the actual music) are the core of the book, and barely a page goes past without an illuminating comment… What Thomas's compelling study demonstrates time and again is that Caritas's value - if we have to think in such terms at all - lies in its impeccable attention to detail and craftsmanship and above all in the way that, by virtue of a deeply felt and considered response to the text, Saxton fashions anew a dramatic musical language that appeals to both the emotions and the intellect.' CHOMBEC News
Contents: Preface; Introduction: operatic context; Christine Carpenter: from documents to drama; Caritas: towards the opera; Caritas the opera: overview; Caritas: performance and reception; The Wandering Jew and other works after Caritas; Reflections and projections: an interview with Robert Saxton; Appendices; Select bibliography; Index.