Abelard and Heloise
(Abelard and Heloise from a 14th-Century MS of The Romance of The Rose)
GUILLAUME DE LORRIS and JEAN DE MEUN

SUMMARY
ABELARD & HELOISE

An epic new musical drama based on a true mediaeval love story to equal Romeo & Juliet. A famous teacher-philosopher and his much younger pupil fall in love contrary to the mores of the Church and their station, creating a cauldron of passion, eroticism, jealousy, hate, separation and tragedy.

The true 12th century love story of Abelard and Heloise has been adapted by Fiddes and Kavanagh as a musical drama from letters of the lovers and a revealing autobiography by Abelard. They have been assisted by director/dramaturg Matthew Lazarus-Hall.

The story of Abelard and Heloise has all the dramatic seductiveness of Romeo and Juliet. Its themes of love, abandonment and separation, unrequited passion, morality, and the power of the medieval church have fascinated people for centuries. In modern times it has been the subject of at least 2 major TV documentaries, a feature film, a stage play (with Diana Rigg as Heloise), a musical with dialogue called Rage of the Heart (a quite different treatment of the subject), and many learned papers and books.

The Fiddes/Kavanagh creation has a number of key elements - truly poetic lyrics, even when the moment is humorous or bawdy; music which is consistently melodic and reflects the words and story in a most powerful way; and a broad sweep of emotion and spectacle to lift an audience out of the everyday and transport them in the joy and then the despair and tragedy of the lovers. Whilst the work has been devised in the form of a musical, there has been an intentional use of many operatic devices to achieve this aim.

Opera Hunter, with Newcastle Bicentenary Events Corporation funding, supported two 1997 concert performances of the work still in development and unstaged. These took place after 12 months of musical workshopping and 2 months of rehearsal. With little marketing, no staging, very basic costuming for a few characters, and only piano and percussion as accompaniment, the concert performances drew remarkable audiences for such an event, and an unprecedented response.

Subsequently Fiddes and Kavanagh gained Newcastle theatre’s highest award for 1997 - the CONDA (City of Newcastle Drama Award) for Outstanding Achievement in Newcastle Theatre, for their creation of this musical drama. Their work competed for this award against all kinds of local and imported theatre, musical and opera performances, believed to exceed some 200 professional, pro-am and amateur productions in the city’s bicentenary year.

It was found necessary to run a further series of workshops and a performance to test the revisions which came about as a result of the 1997 outcomes. A performance took place on 1 August 1998 in the Civic Theatre Newcastle, (1450 seats and the premier theatre in the area), and was produced by the theatre itself. The performance was given limited direction, staging, sound, costumes and lighting, and a very reduced orchestration of string quintet, single reed, piano and percussion. Again the work received an enthusiastic response.

There has been an interest and a growing awareness of the musical. Already some numbers have been performed outside the show, including at a funeral, a wedding, and a number of showcase "music from the shows" concerts.

All principals in the workshops and performances so far have been professional singers or actors. Some have performed principal roles with Opera Australia. Other singers involved perform with Australia's premier vocal ensemble The Song Company. All singers have donated their services to the development of this work.