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Wandering can be dangerous:

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On Tuesday morning I made a quick visit to the Edinburgh Writers’ Museum on the Royal mile to learn more about Robert Louis Stevenson, one of Edinburgh’s best loved sons. A Edinburgh university graduate and passionate writer, Stevenson makes quite a good mascot for my Scottish adventures.

He was also quite fond of a good wander, making his way through the Pacific to Kiribati, Western Samoa and finally Australia:

“…youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the world to the other, both in mind and body; to try the manners of different nations.”

Stevenson’s days as a young man in Edinburgh seem from all accounts to have been dominated by excessive drinking and philandering with local prostitutes. He apparently fell in love with two such women, but wasn’t permitted by his father to marry either of them.

While Stevenson doesn’t seem to have been particularly focused on his academic work during his time at Edinburgh, he did pursue his writing career with single-minded focus. Forced by his father to study engineering, he sat through classes writing stories in his ‘Book of Original Nonsense’ and founded the University of Edinburgh’s student newspaper, The Student.

Writers' museum

On Tuesday evening I went back to Festival Theatre to see Rodion Shchedrin’s The Enchanted Wanderer. The opera was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002, specifically composed for concert stage performance rather than dramatic staging.

I’ve been living 53 years now – been dying my whole life:
but I just can’t seem to die…

The story is about a monk called Ivan that falls in deep platonic love with a gypsy, who in turn falls in deep passionate love with Ivan’s patron, the prince. When the prince marries another woman, the gypsy (in typical operatic gypsy fashion) tricks Ivan into killing her, so she is not forced by her jealousy to kill the prince and his new wife.

You alone loved me,
sweet friend of my heart.
The prince grew sick of me,
wearied with me.
He loved me, and then threw me away…
Prove your love to me now.
Do what I ask of you.

Effective opera gives you real emotion through unbelievably dramatic stories and transcendent music. The Enchanted Wanderer is really about the sacrifices that true friendship demands, and the overpowering nature of love. It’s hard not to like anything that features frenzied gypsy passion so predominantly.

Musically, parts of the score sounded very modern and while the choral sections were more traditional, the two styles merged successfully into one cohesive sound. The program notes classify Shchedrin as a neo-romantic composer. I’d like to hear more of his work to figure out exactly what that means.

The theme for the Edinburgh International Festival this year is ‘artists without borders’; immigration, war, cultural convergence, geopolitics. But The Enchanted Wanderer isn’t really about that. It’s about an inner struggle and journey, a reconciliation of a troubled mind. It’s the sort of journey that art takes you on.

Which is something Robert Louis Stevenson also understood:

“When I suffer in mind, stories are my refuge, I take them like opium; and consider one who writes them as a sort of doctor of the mind.”

The Enchanted Wanderer
Rodion Shchedrin
Mariinsky Opera and Orchestra

26/08/08
Festival Theatre Edinburgh

April 2017
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