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    Opera Tells Story of Scottish Slaves Hekja & Haki

    .

    Celtic-Life-25th-Ann-Cover-Contents

    Celtic Life - 25th Anniversary - Special Edition

     

    On this beautiful sunshined day, while reading away stories from Celtic Life  25th Anniversary Special Edition which compiles the “Best of the Best” articles published in the last quarter century,  a title grabbed my fullest attention: Child Slaves From Scotland; A Story rarely told .   !!??

     

    celtic-life-magazine-hekja-haji-slaves-scotland

    Child Slaves From Scotland by Douglas MacGowan - Source: Celtic Life (celticlife.ca)

     

    Written back in 2001 by Douglas MacGowan, it’s an horrific account on Scottish slavery. Slavery was dubbed “the most profitable evil in the world”.

    In his article, Douglas McGowan talks about:

    • An Opera telling the story of two slaves from Scotland: Haki and Hekja who journeyed to North American shores with a group of Vikings
    • The practice of selling children into slavery as portrayed in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped
    • Peter Williamson’s memoirs written in 1756 which got him arrested for publishing his ordeal of being forced into labour

    Took me only two seconds to raise from my reading chair  and get in front of my computer to google away about the Opera!

    Not that I’m a fanatic of Operas, but because I wanted to know more about the legend and eager to discover what triggered Michael Parker’s mind to compose an Opera around Haki and Hekja’s legendary story.

    Here’s what I found…

    THE LEGEND

    Haki and Hekja

    Together since childhood, they were captured in their late teens by Viking raiders on their home island of Stronsay, taken to Norway, and sold to King Olaf Tryggvason who gave them as a gift to Leif Eiriksson when he was visiting Norway.

    Leif Eiriksson took Haki and Hekja back to Greenland with him and later loaned them to Thorfin Karlsefni to aid him in his expedition to Vinland, which is where we find them in this opera.

    leif-erikson-sailing-ship

    Leif Ericson Discovers America - Source: history-world.org

     

    They are in a sense one person and rely on each other’s companionship to endure their slavery and exile. Their slavery, however, which has lasted for over ten years, is somewhat paradoxical because, being swifter than deer, they could simply run away from the Vikings on one of their scouting missions.

    Part of the problem has been that in the rugged countries of Iceland and Greenland where the Vikings have taken them, Haki and Hekja have had nowhere to run to where they could survive on their own.

    The other factor is that running together gives them a sense of freedom which allows them, temporarily at least, to transcend their pain and deny the real condition of their lives.

    Hekja especially has entrenched in her character the state of shock they experienced when their families were slaughtered and they were taken to a foreign country in chains.

    Their exceptional ability as runners, in fact, is an outgrowth of that shock, an expression of their desire to escape the horror the Vikings brought on them. Thus, ironically, they have accommodated their slavery.

    Their skill as runners that has made them valuable to their masters has also been their own solace. But in Vinland Hekja sees the possibility of escape and transformation.

    Although Haki is deeply tempted, he continues to be more inclined to accept the conditions of Viking society and to hope for freedom within it. What he longs for is to return to their ancestral island in Scotland, to continue their family’s interrupted history there.

    Hekja still feels herself propelled away from her old home by the horror that destroyed it; only more distance and more change will satisfy her.

    They both vacillate in their wishes; both feel they have been weakened by collusion and dependency.

    Source: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/mparker/visitor.htm

     

    THE IDEA FOR AN OPERA

    As mentioned below, Michael Parker was commissioned by Music Canada 2000 and the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra to write an opera to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Viking arrival in Newfoundland.

                       The Visitor: an Opera in Five Scenes with Prologue. Op. 58 (2000)

    Opera The Visitor - Michael Parker Composer

    Curtain Calls -Opera- The Visitor- Source: www2.swgc.mun.ca

    In 1998,  the Newfoundland Symphony and Music Canada 2000 commissioned me to write an opera to be premiered in 2000 to commemorate the millenium anniversary of the discovery of Newfoundland by the Vikings.

    I approached Newfoundland writer John Steffler to produce the libretto. He went to the Vinland Sagas and found a reference to three obscure characters: two Scottish slaves named Hekja and Haki, and a German rune-stone carver named Tyrkir.

    John Steffler (L) and Dr. Michael Parker

    John Steffler (L) and Dr. Michael Parker - Source: www.mun.ca/gazette/2000-2001

    These became the focus of the libretto and the opera.

    The Visitor is scored for Mezzo-Soprano (Hekja), Lyric Baritone (Haki), Bass Baritone (an Icelendic Bard, Tyrkir, Decker) and Speaking Part (an Interpreter, Agnes), and chamber orchestra consisting of 2 Violins, Viola, Violoncello, Contrabass, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Piano and 2 Percussion.

    The plot is a simple one on the surface.

    The first three scenes take place in AD 1000 as the Vikings are about to return to Europe from Vinland (Newfoundland).

    In the last two scenes, the setting suddenly changes to AD 2000 although Hekja and Haki remain.

    The two Scottish slaves, brought to Vinland by the Vikings to reconnoite the place, are trying to decide whether to return to Europe with their Viking masters or to escape from them to take their chances in the new world.

    As they ponder these choices, they encounter several other characters.

    In Scene II, they encounter Tyrkir, a German rune-stone carver. He is disgusted with life in the new world and longs to return to his wife in Europe.

    In Scene IV Hekja and Haki meet Agnes, a modern doctor who has come to Vinland to escape painful memories of the brutal murder of her family in Africa.

    They also meet Decker, an archaeologist who sees in the 1000-year-old artefacts of the Vikings a chance to better his position in his job.

    In the end, Hekja and Haki make their decision.

    At its heart, The Visitor is an opera about home, about where we all belong, about wishing for better things somewhere else while perhaps not recognizing those precious things that are right at hand.

    The opera was written between January 1999 and March 2000. It received two very good concert performances in September 2000. As a result of those performances, I have decided I would like to revise some of the work.

    I look forward to doing that in the near future.

    http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/mparker/opera.htm

     THE AUTHOR/COMPOSER

    Michael-Parker-Composer

    Michael Parker - Composer - Source: www2.swgc.mun.ca

    Welcome to my homepage.

    I am a composer of contemporary concert music. I was born in Toronto but have been living in Newfoundland since 1976. The next few years will see some important anniversaries for me.

    2006 will mark my 30th year living in Newfoundland.

    2007 will mark my 30th year of teaching at Grenfell College, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

    Finally, 2008 will mark my 60th year of living on this planet. What I’ve been doing during all this time is documented throughout this site. I hope you enjoy it.

    This webpage will provide you with detailed information about all of the compositions I have written. It will also give you some insights into my live outside of composing. (…)

    Newfoundland 1941 Sir Wilfred Grenfell 5c stamp

    Newfoundland 1941 Sir Wilfred Grenfell Stamp Commemorates His Hospital Ship: Strathcona II

    Further Reading:

    THE VIKINGS, NEVIL SHUTE AND CAPE COD

    Cape Cod was discovered by the Vikings a thousand years ago. That is what is believed by many researchers after reading the Vinland Sagas. The geography fits perfectly. It is also what Nevil Shute believed when he wrote his novel, An Old Captivity in 1940 and his screen play, Vinland the Good in 1946 about Leif Ericsson’s visit to Cape Cod.

    (…)

    Nevil Shute visited Cape Cod in 1939 and described Cape Cod as one of the most beautiful places in the world. Interested in the Viking sagas, Shute wrote his sixth novel, An Old Captivity, about the Vikings discovering Cape Cod. It is set in the 1930s and is about an archeologist who explores the Viking sites on Greenland. He hires a pilot to take him there from England in a seaplane. The pilot, overworked and under great stress, cannot sleep so he takes sleeping pills and dreams about Leif Ericsson and two Viking slaves, Haki and Hekja.

    http://www.nevilshute.org/cc05.php

    I’m now going to dig into the other two aspects of slavery mentionned in Douglas MacGowan’s article: the practice of selling children into slavery and the story of Peter Williamson’s book: The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson, Who Was Carried Off from Aberdeen, in 1744, and Sold for a Slave , and will come back with more.

    A bientôt!

    Janice

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