RA

RA. A dusk-to-dawn musical/theatrical ritual by R.

RA

RA. A dusk-to-dawn musical/theatrical ritual by R. Murray Schafer scored for 7 singers, 4 actor-singers, 8 dancers, belly dancer, dwarf actor, various extras (actors and singers), 8-voice male chorus, violin, harp, percussion, ud, qanun, darabukkah, and other Middle Eastern percussion, tape and electronic sounds, and a participatory audience of 75 members. Commissioned by the COMUS Music Theatre, RA was premiered by COMUS in Toronto at the Ontario Science Centre in 1983, receiving an 8-night run beginning 6 May (with two preview dates May 4 and 5). The premiere featured Donald Bell (Osiris), Kathy Terrell (Isis), Janet Smith (Nephthys), Eleanor James (Hasroet/Maat/Seker), Maureen Forrester (Amente Nufe), Theodore Gentry (the King or pharaoh), Jan Filips (Hierophant/Anubis/Thoth), Charles Gray (Bes), Donald Carr (Ra), and Mary Lou Basaraba, Donnie Bowes, and Maureen Webb (the Hierodules). Schafer devised many of the details of RA's structure in conjunction with a creative team during the actual writing of the work; the team included Thom Sokoloski (stage director), Jerrard and Diana Smith (designers), Sallie Lyons (choreography), Bentley Jarvis (electronic music), George Sawa (Middle Eastern music consultant), and Billie Bridgman (executive producer). RA was given a second set of performances at the 1985 Holland Festival in Leiden, 17-22 and 24-29 June as a co-production of COMUS Music Theatre and the Holland Festival. Directed by Thom Sokoloski, it featured a mixed Dutch and Canadian cast, including many of the performers from the Toronto premiere.

Schafer constructed a text for RA in consultation with University of Toronto Egyptologist D.B. Redford from ancient Egyptian sources, principally The Litany of Re and The Egyptian Book of the Dead. RA enacts the nightly journey of the Egyptian sun god (Ra or Re) through the perils of the underworld ending in his triumphant resurrection with the coming of dawn. Audience members, referred to as 'initiates,' are given special robes to wear and play an active role in the ritual. For logistical reasons their number is limited to 75 (which also corresponds to the 75 magic names of Ra). RA most completely realizes the synaesthetic possibilities available in Schafer's proposed new theatrical genre, the 'theatre of confluence,' by employing music, dance, drama, and various olfactory, tactile, and gustatory experiences for the participants. Throughout the course of the ritual, the initiates are guided through 29 different performance sites which involve a variety of experiences ranging from dramatic scenes, an 'incense walk,' a ritual meal, and a period of rest and/or meditation. Schafer attempted to approximate what might have been the sound of ancient Egyptian music in various sections of the score by using Coptic chants with new texts or by composing new chants in this style. Bentley Jarvis created all the electronic effects and music used in RA, George Sawa was responsible for the Middle Eastern music segments, and all other sections of the score were freely composed by Schafer. RA's duration is determined by the time between sundown and sunrise and will thus vary from 9 to 11 hours depending on the time of year and the latitude at which it is performed. After the 1983 premiere, Schafer added RA to the canon of his 12-part musical/theatrical cycle, Patria, where it takes its present place as Patria 6. The cycle's hero, Wolf/Theseus, appears in RA as the jackal god Anubis who acts as a guide for the initiates through the underworld.

Reviews of the Toronto premiere were mixed due to a critical misunderstanding of the nature of the work, which is a participatory theatrical ritual rather than a standard msucial theatre work. The reception of RA at the Holland Festival, however, was very strong, and its 12-night run was completely sold-out. The score to RA is visually stunning with its many exquisite illustrations by the composer and is published through Schafer's Arcana Editions.


Further Reading

  • Schafer, R. Murray. 'Patria 6: RA,' Descant, vol 21, Spring 1990; repr in Patria and the Theatre of Confluence (Indian River, Ont 1991) and Descant, vol 22, Summer 1991

    Pearson, Tina 'Beyond RA: R. Murray Schafer in conversation,' Musicworks 25, Fall 1983

    Conlogue, Ray. ' RA's rhythms up and down with the sun,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 9 May 1983