STORIES OF LOVE, COMMUNITY AND RACIAL INTOLERANCE EXPERIENCED BY JEWISH, CHRISTIAN & MUSLIM WOMEN IN 1492 SPAIN
A concertplay by Clare Norburn. Spain, 1492. At twilight on her final night in Seville, a Jewish woman, played by Suzanne Ahmet, lights the lamps. She is being forced to leave Spain and set sail for an uncertain future. Her story echoes down the ages to the personal stories of people affected by politics and war today. She tunes into voices of a community of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women from across the Spanish peninsula.
Down the centuries, women’s stories of integration, love, the rich cultural heritage of the Spanish peninsula and racial intolerance are played out to a soundtrack of plaintive Sephardic songs and lively medieval music, with full staging and stunning lighting. Be transported back to 15th century Seville!
“Last night’s performance was so utterly moving - a human story brought to life… a collaborative wondrous experience that touched every part of my being.”
- Audience member (ITMP Tour 2022)
"a very moving experience that captures the imagination, as well as connects the audience to the devastation caused by persecution, exile, and loss... The music is expertly created... The songs are sung exquisitely... There is a strong sense of community woven through this experience, and these stirring voices must be heard"
- The Reviews Hub (May 2023)
Suzanne Ahmet as Blanca
Clare Norburn, singer
Maya Levy / Avital Raz, singer
Joy Smith, harp, percussion
Giles Lewin, oud
Emily Baines, recorders
Directed by Nicholas Renton
Written & produced by Clare Norburn
Lighting Designer Natalie Rowland
THANKS TO OUR FUNDERS
The Into the Melting Pot and The Telling Unchained tour in May 2023 is supported by a grant from Continuo Foundation, Arts Council England and Scops Arts Trust. The South East performances are supported by Angel Early Music.
- Fri, 02 FebArena Theatre02 Feb 2024, 19:30 – 21:20Arena Theatre, Wulfruna St, Wolverhampton WV1 1SE, UK
- Sat, 03 FebVictoria Hall03 Feb 2024, 19:30 – 21:20Victoria Hall, Main Street, Grange-over-Sands LA11 6DP, UK
- Tue, 06 FebAnvil Arts06 Feb 2024, 19:30 – 21:20Anvil Arts, Churchill Way, Basingstoke RG21 7QR, UK
- Wed, 22 MayCorn Exchange22 May 2024, 19:30 – 21:20Corn Exchange, Market Pl, Newbury RG14 5BD, UK
- Fri, 24 MayHallé St Peter's24 May 2024, 19:30 – 21:20Hallé St Peter's, 40 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6BF, UK
- Sat, 25 MayOtley Courthouse25 May 2024, 19:30 – 21:20Otley Courthouse, Courthouse Street, Otley LS21 3AN, UK
- Sun, 26 MayEast Riding Theatre26 May 2024, 19:30 – 19:35East Riding Theatre, 10 Lord Roberts Rd, Beverley HU17 9BE, UK
ABOUT THE WORK - Clare Norburn
Into the Melting Pot is set in July 1492, in the home of a Jewess, Blanca. Time is running out in the face of Ferdinand and Isabella’s edict that Jews must convert to Catholicism or leave.
But in a sense this is the story of any man and woman in anytime. The tools and language of persecution don’t change much down the centuries. And even in the small amount of time since writing this show in autumn 2017, Into the Melting Pot has gained a new resonance in the face of the rise of Anti-Semitism and the stories of individuals from the Windrush generation. Things haven’t moved on that much since 1492 it seems…
In the early 13th century, what we now know as modern Spain was a patchwork of five independent states (Castile, Leon, Aragon, Navarre and Granada). While each region and individual cities had different ethnic and religious allegiances, for much of the period different religious and ethnic communities lived side by side. Jews and Muslims had roots in the peninsula going back to the 7th century.
Blanca’s story echoes down the centuries, with obvious resonances in Nazi Germany – but also earlier - the Pogroms of 1391, when thousands of Jews were killed across Iberia. Yet for centuries, Jews, Muslims and Christians largely lived side by side on the Iberian Peninsula. Many had a fierce loyalty to their homeland, identifying with the rich cultural melting-pot just as strongly as their own faith. For example, many Jewish women took traditional local names (Juana, Leonor, Isabella) rather than traditional Biblical ones.
The music in tonight’s show largely centres around two traditions: Alfonso’s Cantigas de Santa Maria and the Sephardic Jewish tradition which are songs of love and longing. In between are Adalusian/Arabic traditional songs, the earliest song cycle by 13th century troubadour, Martin Codax from Galicia (the NW corner of Iberia) and Christian pilgrim songs from the Llibre Vermell (associated with the monastery of Montserrat).
Sephardic songs are an oral tradition. Many of the songs date back to the period after the expulsion of the Spanish Jewish diaspora as they settled in East Europe and North Africa. Written in Ladino, a Spanish dialect, these songs connect them with the country that they still saw as their homeland.
Alfonso el Sabio (the wise)
When I started structuring the programme, I had an idealised view of King Alfonso X of Castile and Leon (born, 1222, reigned: 1252-1284). I knew about him first and foremost because of his musical legacy: the collection of 427 Cantigas de Santa Maria – songs in praise of the Virgin Mary.
My programme notes of the past refer to him as “a relatively liberal King, whose court included a mixture of Muslim, Jewish and Christian musicians.” The music of the Cantigas is indeed infused by this melting-pot of cultures and musical languages. The fact that Jewish and Muslim musicians were welcome at court was indeed in stark contrast to the rest of Europe who were largely taken up with The Crusades against the Muslims, while Jews were expelled from many European countries, including France, Germany and England.
But Alfonso’s “liberalism” was, in part, a political expediency. He inherited a patchwork land of ethnic and political tensions. But also his tolerance only went so far, insisting that Jews have distinguishing marks on their heads. “You’re different – so wear your difference loudly.” We are within touching distance of Nazi Germany. And what about us here in the UK today. Like Blanca, we try to convince ourselves: “It can’t happen – won’t happen here – not here.” Can we really be that sure?