I traveled to Cambridge this afternoon to attend the Christmas Revels, a celebration of the shortest day in song, dance, verse, and theater. My niece introduced me to this spectacle, and although she is not singing in the chorus this year, I so enjoyed the productions I attended in previous years that I decided I couldn’t miss this year. With me in the balcony of Harvard’s Sanders Theater, Row AA Seat 8, with a full house around me, the matinée performance this afternoon closed out the 48th season of Revels in rousing fashion.
Paddy Swanson, Artistic Director, introduced the story line in the program: haunted by the loss of his favorite uncle, the child Sven remains moody even as his household prepares to welcome Finland’s new ambassador at a Christmas party. However, when Sven receives magical gifts, including a book and key, he is propelled into an alternate universe, populated by witches, snakes, and other fantastic creatures, where he experiences adventures beyond his imagining.
Music Director Megan Henderson chose a wide variety of music from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, most of which was unfamiliar to me, but of course haunting and beautiful. In Part One, we watched folk dances and couples dances and listened to sacred songs and hymns, folk songs and ballads, prayers, and poems. The last song before intermission was the audience favorite, Lord of the Dance, which we were invited to sing.
Part Two included a lullaby, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, popular tunes, a walking dance, Silent Night, the traditional round Dona Nobis Pacem, the Reinlender dance, a toasting song, the Sword Dance, a Christmas carol for St Lucia, hymns, and more. The traditional Mummers’ Play was a send-up of Hamlet, but in which all ends well, as the dead are revived. The performance ended with a recital of Susan Cooper’s The Shortest Day and with the audience singing the Sussex Mummers’ Carol.
I don’t think I can choose a favorite piece, but I have to say that the adaptation of scenes from the Finnish Kalevala epic were mesmerizing. Props to set designer Jeremy Barnett, costumer designer Heidi Hermiller, lighting designer Jeff Adelberg, and the puppeteer Mark Ward. As in past years, the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble and choruses were excellent. I’d also like to acknowledge the musicians and their fascinating instruments: Sunniva Brynnel who sang and played the accordion and harp, Corey DiMario who played double bass and guitar, lydia ievins who played the Swedish nyckelharpa and 5-string fiddle, Loretta Kelley who played the fiddle and Norwegian hardingfele, Andrea Larson who played the fiddle, and Merja Soria who sang and played the Finnish kantele and percussion. Master of Ceremonies David Coffin was the star of the show — with his musical talents and irrepressible humor and good will, he embodied the true spirit of Revels.