Based on Mevlana poetry
The libretto of the piece is based on the idea of putting Mevlana’s poetry into the mouths of nearly all the characters as they act out this drama of mystical love, loss, and regaining. “I wrote the first version of that, which the Belgian director Caroline Petrick - who had a big influence on the piece and deserves a lot of credit for its evolution - criticized for being too historical, though she loved the idea of the poetry and other elements. We then found a dramaturge to help, and then an actual librettist to rewrite, but then Caroline was even less pleased with his version than with my original. At that point in the summer of 2009, having absorbed this whole process, I took the libretto again and totally rewrote it,” Ellison said.
After the rewriting process the action became more direct, more down to earth and forceful by utilizing speech more, something which is very much needed amidst all of this poetry, Ellison added. “Now, the libretto still has linearity, there is a much more ‘vertical’ aspect to it: it is more poetic, more abstract, less historical, while the action is more palpable because the characters are very down to earth in their interactions. It works much better dramatically this way, and despite all of the gorgeous poetry everywhere, we also try to be very clear about the story,” he said.
After the writing was complete it was time to bring music to the piece, so Operadagen, VocaalLAB, İKSV and the Istanbul Music Festival came together to collaborate on the production of the project’s music.
“Yesim Gürer in 2011 introduced me to Deniz Ova, İKSV’s international director, and thus the connection was made that would lead to the work’s premier on the 40th year of the music festival. The fact that you are seeing a new, contemporary opera premiered on this festival along with all the other extraordinary concerts is really a credit to Ova,” Ellison said.
He noted that the music was not a reflection on Mevlana’s philosophy as much as a portrayal of his moment of great spiritual crisis, when Shams-i Tabriz came and turned his life upside down. “Listen the Reed,” the famous opening 14 lines, as well as a story of a mouse and frog, are included from the Mesnevi, which in general is a more philosophical work. But most of the poetic material is taken from his early ghazels.
“These poems are on fire with longing for Shams, longing for the Beloved, desire for annihilation in the divine. They are fully alive, exquisitely beautiful and therefore very, very inspiring for music,” Ellison said.