Holy Women Grace Greenwich in Sirota Premiere
A deconsecrated landmark chapel, St. Bede’s on the campus of the Westchester Fairfield Hebrew Academy (formerly the Rosemary Hall school for young women) in Greenwich, Connecticut, was venue to a most unusual premiere (November 2010). Under the auspices of Palladium Musicum, Holy Women: Lives of the Women Saints in the Stained Glass Windows of St. Bede’s Chapel, a 40-minute scenic cantata with music by Robert Sirota and text by his wife, Victoria, was presented to an enthusiastic full-house audience.
The edifice stemming back to 1909 has been described as “the only example of pure Middle English Gothic architecture in America” with walls of rough stone, hand-hewn rafters and timbers, and a slated roof after the fashion of the churches of the fourteenth century when nails were not used. Its unique stained glass windows depict the nine female saints that inspired the work, which calls for nine female voices and a small instrumental ensemble (flute, oboe, bassoon, guitar, organ, violin, cello). Not only did the Sirota couple conceive of the piece but they also served as active performers, Victoria playing the organ and Robert conducting. Dona D. Vaughn was stage director.
Holy Women begins with a striking Prelude for Solo Guitar, followed by an explanatory Prologue (sung by Saint Theresa of Avila) and a hymn that serves for the entrance and exit processional. The main portion of the cantata is structured in three sections, symbolizing the differing contributions of the depicted saints: the Mystics, the Martyrs, and the Mothers. The program note states that “each woman was misunderstood in her own time, but despite the fact that their lives span sixteen centuries, they have much in common with each other, namely courage, faith and joy. This Cantata is a conversation with these holy women.”
The Cantata is published by Muzzy Ridge Music. Information and perusal material available from Music Associates of America.