Friday, 22 November 2013

Kenn and the salmon

Performed at the banks of Dunbeath Water, the chamber opera Highland River, based on Neil Gunn’s novel of the same name, portrays the young boy Kenn’s relation to the river of his childhood. As a young boy, he prevails after a long struggle with a salmon and his parents use the fish to pay off the family’s debts with the local grocer. A few years later, his older brother Angus invites him to poach salmon further upstream, an illegal act that could lead to repercussions from the gamekeeper. As an adult, Kenn returns to the river of his childhood to reflect on his childhood memories and the sense of place and time these embody. The site-specific chamber opera Highland River touches upon themes of physical and spiritual growth and a deeply felt sense of place and time that Kenn’s childhood experiences of salmon, the river and the wider landscape conjure up. Performed in the open air, the voice of the baritone, clarinet, violin and cello will merge with the rushing of the river and the whisper of the wind.

The video beneath contains an extract from the opera from the first act. The young boy Kenn’s mood changes abruptly when he spots a salmon in the river. For a moment he is paralysed by fear of the gamekeeper, but soon his mind turns to killing the fish and finding a stone. His confidence soon grows as he throws stones at the salmon to disturb and catch it. The fish responds furiously and, in first instance, Kenn dashes back. In a moment of reflection, he considers how the salmon must have swum up the river. Kenn throws another stone at the fish and manages to pull it on the grass. Using the full weight of his body, Kenn eventually masters the fish and kills it. As the salmon dies, Kenn’s body comes to a rest and he looks in wonder at the hands with which he managed to land and kill the salmon.

Copyright text and music Petra Vergunst

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