PATH OF MIRACLES
Joby Talbot’s acclaimed and popular a cappella choral work Path of Miracles (2005) has been given its first full theatrical treatment, opening up its intricate polyphony and dramatising its interior meditation on the Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela as a probing exploration of human endurance and a profound spiritual journey for a diverse contemporary audience.
"A transformative musical pilgrimage... Deeply moving.”
Charleston Post and Courier
"One does not need to be Christian or even religious... Many cheeks, as mine, were, mysteriously, wet.”
DC Theatre Scene
"A spiritual journey in sight and sound”
“A serene contrast... director John La Bouchardière transformed this hypnotic score from a liturgical piece into a quasi-opera by having each member of the choir enact a personal drama of abandonment, deprivation or restoration, both individually and with each other.
“The ensemble moved hypnotically through La Bouchardière’s elegantly minimalist set, in Scott Zielinski’s dreamlike lighting, and also through the darkened auditorium. Operatic treatment seemed natural for this complex score, with its solos, ensembles, and recitative-like declamations, its dizzying counterpoint, simple modal hymns, swooping glissandos, near-inaudible drones and piercing crescendos.”
Performed by Westminster Choir
Conductor, Joe Miller
There is an old Celtic saying that Heaven and Earth are only three feet apart but that in ‘thin places’ they are even closer. Here, it is supposed that the veil separating us from the infinite is lifted, encouraging millions to make arduous pilgrimages in search of a glimpse of the divine.
A trail beneath the Milky Way has led pilgrims to a ‘thin place’ on the western coast of Spain since Neolithic times; here, at the edge of the old world, ancient pagans believed the spirits of the dead gathered to follow the setting sun into the hereafter. Medieval pilgrims flocked here from across Europe, out of fear for their immortal souls, seeking contact with St James’ relics and hoping he would plead for their salvation at the Last Judgement. Today, pilgrims of all creeds and none come from every corner of the globe, sharing an apparent need to step out of the ordinary.
Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles encompasses this. It opens with a primordial cry, delves deep into medieval thought and the guilt-ridden urgency of the Catholic pilgrimage, and uses modern poetry and a supremely imaginative musical palette to carve a spiritual journey for the 21st century. It is as if the audience is walking in the footsteps of the millions who have travelled before, as if we are pilgrims too. And for all the references to local myths and landmarks, the pilgrimage could be any pilgrimage, even the path of life itself.
Path of Miracles has more to say and more stories to tell than many operas but it is not intended for the stage. The score is primarily reflective, undemanding of dramatic action, and so is typically performed in churches with processions creating musical effects but little physical journey. Unlike many choral pieces, however, the music is not written with everyone singing together. Instead, it is composed in 17 voice-parts, each of which weaves its own way through the text. The vocal lines are like pilgrims from different countries, speaking different languages and finding individual paths. As lines of polyphony, they share a common destination but need not travel the same way, just as pilgrims have different motivations but share an experience that is communal.
From medieval manuscripts to on-line blogs, pilgrims’ accounts of the Camino reveal a remarkable connection: the need for change and discovery, to find release from some sort of darkness. Be the gloom hellish or mundane, the struggle for illumination spurs pilgrims to relinquish everyday burdens, to seek alternative perspectives and live differently; despite the physical challenge, or perhaps because of it, many find revelation on the path of enlightenment and are forever altered by their journeys. Whatever their starting point in time and place, pilgrims travel towards the light, peeling back the veil to see the world unmasked. The change is theirs and, ultimately, comes from within: the miracles of the path are the people who walk it.
John La Bouchardière, May 2019