Æthelred the Unready

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8 pm

Peter Norton Symphony Space

Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025-6990

$30; Members, Seniors, Students, Children $20

Prologue to 2011 version

La Musica

O beleaguered audience, lend me your ears and your sympathy.

Just down from Mount Olympus, I, the Spirit of Music, have come to tell not of Orpheus or Apollo, Dionysius or Persephone, but rather of Aethelred.

Aethelred the Unready, history's dimmest lightbulb.

Pray open your hearts and minds to this icon of incompetence, this victim of scholar's distortion, elitist snobbery, right-wing birthist fanaticism, opportunism, leftist neo-colonial socialism, capitalistic patriarchal hegemony, originalist sinistromanualism, deconstructionist abelism, anti-Anglo-Saxon xenophobia . . .

Richard Wilson writes:

It was during a prolonged losing streak of the New York Yankees that, musing on the subject of failure, I decided to write an opera about Æthelred the Unready. The libretto I wrote is mainly whimsical. But it does draw on history, presenting three characters who actually existed:

Æthelred the Second lived from about 965 until 1016. He was king of England from 978 until 1016. Æthelred acquired the epithet “the unrede” meaning “the ill-counseled.” In time this was corrupted to “the unready” despite the different meaning. He was indeed cursed at his baptism by Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for defiling the font. The words of Dunstan’s curse, quoted in the opera, are drawn from the chronicles of William of Malmesbury.

Emma married Æthelred in 1002. She was the sister of Richard II, duke of Normandy

William of Malmesbury lived from about 1096 until 1143. His great work entitled Gesta regum Anglorum (The Deeds of the English Kings) is a history of England from 449 to 1127. Much of the text of William’s part in the opera is taken directly from this chronicle.

Reference is made to an anti-Æthelred poem containing the expression, “with knees unsteady”. This is “An Archaic Jingle” by Christopher Logue, from his collection Abecedary.

Richard Wilson's whimsical opera Æthelred The Unready tells of a blundering, henpecked Anglo-Saxon king ill-treated by history. Quite possibly the first Shaggy Dog Opera.

Robert Osborne will be Æthelred; Rachel Rosales, his nagging wife Emma; Mary Nessinger, Clio the Muse of History; and James Ruff, her boyfriend William of Malmesbury. Also in the cast are Nathan Carlisle, Christine Howlett, and Curtis Streetman. Drew Minter will direct; Richard Wilson will conduct.

"A droll meditation on failure...witty and oddly touching" -- American Record Guide

"Joyously recommended" -- New Music Connoisseur

Æthelred at Vassar College on January 22 and 23.