On the 200th Anniversary of Lord Byron's Manfred: Commemorative Essays

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Byron's Manfred by Jerome McGann

Byron’s Manfred was my fourth and last attempt to adapt Romantic poetic dramas for stage production.  From the outset Manfred and Beddoes’ Death’s Jest Book were the works I had most in mind to do.  But when we founded the small theatre company in Chicago in 1968, Cain’s Company, everybody wanted to do Byron’s Cain, so we did (in 1969), and the next year I made a stage version of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which we also produced.  The company broke up but those two initial works never left my mind.  More than 20 years later I managed a stage version of Beddoes’s mad masterpiece and in 2014, working again with Virgil Burnett, one of the founders of Cain’s Company, I worked up this stage version.  I still long to see it mounted in an extravagant multi-media production.  Virgil and I discussed production ideas at length, he sketched some stage designs, and I wrote up scenes for what I imagined as a kind of mirror play – a Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for Manfred. But like so much that is Romantic, all that remains something longed for, never seen.

– Jerome McGann, June 2019

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Adapted Script of Manfred by Michael Barakiva (April 20, 2017 NYC Performance)

Ever since I first encountered the alleged closet dramas of the early 19th century in Susan Brisman's Romantic Poetry class as an undergrad at Vassar College, they have occupied singular and haunted real estate in my imagination. The text plays – I encourage you to put an informal reading together with some friends just to hear it out loud. And a casting note for full productions: cast all the spirits as women or non-binary. It helps.

– Michael Barakiva, June 2019

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Musical score: “The Witches’ Carnival.” Score by Sir Henry Bishop. The orchestral notation reduced for piano and voices by Alonso Pirio.

The lyrics for this song were part of a discarded draft of Act III ridiculing the Abbot, who has instructed Manfred to “devote thyself/ To penance, and with gift of all thy lands/ To the Monastery.” In response, Manfred present the greedy Abbot with a casket. When the Abbot opens it, out pops the demon Ashteroth singing this song (Manfred, 2017. 64) Bishop kept “The Witches’ Carnival” by placing it at the end of the scene with the Witch of the Alps. The comic grotesque of Byron’s lyrics and Bishop’s melodic shifts effectively prepare for the arrival at the Hall of Arimanes. Rescuing this discarded song, Bishop has preserved “the one detail of Manfred lifted directly from Faust” (Cochran, Manfred n36; Hewitt, Byron, Shelley and Goethe's Faust). Byron’s lines on the ravens parallel Faust’s flight past the raven stone (gallows) where witches have gathered (Faust 4399-4404). The lines on the dance of the witches draws from the Walpurgis Night (Faust 3958-4015)Even without the sense of vast space conjured by the full orchestra, this reduction preserves the sprightly energy of Bishop’s setting and his concern with echoing the established musical tropes of witchery.

– Frederick Burwick, June 2019

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Audio: “The Witches’ Carnival.” Music by Sir Henry Bishop. Piano performance by Yuko Shiina.

One of the most successful composers of the London theaters, Sir Henry Bishop’s credits of more than forty opera and melodrama include Clari, or the Maid of Milan (1823, libretto by John Howard Payne) with the hit song, “Home Sweet Home.” His score for The Miller and His Men (1813) included a drinking song, “Fill Boys & Drink About, that prompted the entire audience to sing along. His musical scores were praised for effectively rendering the dramatic themes and for creating memorable tunes. As performed in Covent Garden in 1834, Bishop’s score for Manfred exhibits the lively rhythms and commanding resonance that anticipated the music hall melodrama of the mid-century. Yuko Shiina’s performance accentuates the staccato pecking rhythm of the ravens at the raven-stone. When the lyrics announce the arrival of the witches, the piano alters rhythm to accompany the witches as they “dance their round/ Merrily—merrily—cheerily—cheerily.”

– Frederick Burwick, June 2019

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Published @ RC

June 2019

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