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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 and also 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!

"Past and present, truth and fantasy, real and imagined come together in a tightly knit and intimate drama. The personal narrative is embedded neatly within historical, cultural and political contexts...”

Opera Today

on a concertplay by Clare Norburn

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? 


  • Into the Melting Pot
    Mon, 25 Jul
    St Mellitus Church Hall, Finsbury Park
    25 Jul, 20:00 – 21:55
    St Mellitus Church Hall, Finsbury Park, Tollington Park, London N4 3AG
    Stroud Green Festival
  • Into the Melting Pot
    Tue, 26 Jul
    Mount Hotel Great Hall, Wolverhampton
    26 Jul, 19:30 – 21:25
    Mount Hotel Great Hall, Wolverhampton, Mount Rd, Tettenhall Wood, WV6 8HL
  • Into the Melting Pot
    Wed, 27 Jul
    The Coro, Ulverston
    27 Jul, 19:30 – 21:25
    The Coro, Ulverston, County Square, LA12 7LZ
  • Into the Melting Pot
    Thu, 28 Jul
    St Mary & St Michael's Church, Mistley
    28 Jul, 19:30 – 21:25
    St Mary & St Michael's Church, Mistley, New Rd, Manningtree CO11 1ER
  • Into the Melting Pot
    Fri, 29 Jul
    St Mary & St Eanswythe's, Folkestone
    29 Jul, 19:30 – 21:25
    St Mary & St Eanswythe's, Folkestone, Church St, CT20 1SE
  • Into the Melting Pot
    Sat, 30 Jul
    St Michael in Lewes
    30 Jul, 19:30 – 21:25
    St Michael in Lewes, 158 High St, Lewes BN7 1XU
  • Into the Melting Pot
    Sun, 31 Jul
    Lympstone Parish Church
    31 Jul, 19:30 – 21:25
    Lympstone Parish Church, 1 Church Rd, Lympstone, Exmouth EX8 5JU


Suzanne Ahmet as Blanca

The Telling:

Clare Norburn, soprano

Second singer TBC

Joy Smith, harp, percussion

Giles Lewin, oud

Emily Baines, recorders

Directed by Nicholas Renton

Written & produced by Clare Norburn

Lighting Designer Natalie Rowland



The Empowered Women tour (Vision, Into the Melting Pot and Unsung Heroine) is funded by Arts Council England, The Golsoncott Foundation, Unity Theatre Trust and The Marchus Trust.

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