The King’s River is a newly composed community opera led by professionals in 2 parts, both relating to the story of the discovery of the Sutton Hoo burial ship and the treasure.
The First Part will take place outside at the new development at Whisstocks yard, over-looking the river. This focuses on the burial of King Raedwald, who was the first Christian King of East Anglia. Scholars are 95% certain that he is the King buried at Sutton Hoo. He reigned c599 – 624 AD. Little is known of his Queen, except that she remained pagan. The libretto weaves an imaginative, poetic tale around the King’s funeral, with flashbacks to his life. There are warriors, dancers, healing women, Christian singers, a procession of monks, a dance of the four Elements and there is a central figure of River as the Narrator.
Towards the end Raedwald’s son Eorthwald, is crowned King, and finally Raedwald is carried on a shield and laid to rest on the ship amid songs of lament. Trumpets sound from across the river from Sutton Hoo.
The second part takes place at the Riverside theatre and is set in the 1930’s in Mrs. Pretty’s House, where the burial mounds were found and excavated. Her husband, Colonel Frank Pretty, bought the house in 1926.
When he died in 1934, Mrs. Pretty became interested in Spiritualism. We open with a party, singers and a swing band and River has now become the compere. We follow Mrs. Pretty’s dream about the treasure. In 1937, she decided to organise an excavation of the mounds, helped by Basil Brown, a self-taught archaeologist. We follow the various vicissitudes of the excavation and the arguments between the vested interests. There is a masked ball, using Anglo-Saxon clothing, and Raedwald and the Warriors return. The King and Mrs. Pretty dance. Time passes and we come to the Second World War and watch the evacuation of children. There is a court decision about who should keep the treasure – the King or Mrs. Pretty.
It is awarded to her, and she decided to gift it to the British museum.
We close with images of modern Woodbridge, while River and Raedwald confront each other.
The music in Part 1 is contemporary classical, using Anglo-Saxon instrumentation and folk song rhythms. Part 2 uses a more contemporary musical style and a swing band. The choir will surround the audience in Part 1, when off stage, so there is a permanent visual presence.
In terms of design, we are not aiming at a historical recreation. In Part 1 the design will be a modern interpretation of Anglo-Saxon costumes ad props – a bit wild and hairy! Part 2 will be more historically accurate, apart from the “dream sequences”. The sets for both parts will be simple and stylised.