Songs from the End of the World (2015)
for soprano and chamber ensemble
text by A. E. Jaques
Commissioned by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Arizona State University, Eastman School of Music, Florida State University, Metropolitan State University of Denver, The Ohio State University, Texas Tech University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Oregon, University of Texas at Austin, and Western Michigan University.
World premiere on November 19, 2015, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Lindsay Kesselman, soprano. Kevin Geraldi conducting the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Wind Ensemble.
The cycle is inspired by a passage in the Odyssey in which Odysseus, shipwrecked and near death, washes up on the shore of an island belonging to the nymph Kalypso. Homer's telling treats the ensuing interlude as just another bit of exotic travelogue, one of many adventures on Odysseus' long journey home; these three songs imagine what it meant to Kalypso herself, and are sung in her voice.
i. A long time alone
Kalypso's island home is beautiful beyond imagining but remote beyond reach. Her immortality is thus an eternal solitude. The first song in the cycle, set before Odysseus' arrival, is her lament of this loneliness. Standing on her shore, she remembers long-gone days when she could still delight in her paradise, and tells of the slow erosion of sensation and even sense after endless ages alone.
The second movement begins after Odysseus has been with Kalypso for seven years. She sings as she moves back and forth with a golden shuttle at her loom, weaving a tapestry–the work of all that time–that tells their story. At one end, the luminous threads show the near-dead castaway washed ashore; nearby the nymph nurses him back to health. Flowers and fruit, ripe and radiant, tumble through images of the love they found together. But the simple happiness of the scene and the song curdles: Odysseus wants to return to his home, leaving Kalypso to her solitude; nothing she has given or can give means anything to him anymore. She is shattered, but he is cold. So Kalypso returns to her loom, singing again, but now unraveling the tapestry, unmaking the document of love.
iii. At sea
In the final song, Kalypso watches Odysseus sail away on a boat she has given him, born by a breeze she has called up to fill a sail she has fashioned from the unmade tapestry. Waves carry him toward the horizon, and her loneliness washes in again.
- program note by A. E. Jaques (please credit A. E. Jaques when reproducing program note)