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This report is taken from PN Review 164, Volume 31 Number 6, July - August 2005.

Letter from Nottingham Peter Davidson

It would have been worth negotiating a road system even more rebarbative than the A52 to hear the operas which I heard in Nottingham this spring. A fine performance of Dido and Aeneas was preceded by a fabulous rarity, never performed in Britain before, the opera San Francisco Xavier, composed in the remote 'reductions' or Jesuit mission towns of Spanish America.

By the determination and enterprise of the Hispanists of Nottingham University, scores were obtained, and two able and sweet-voiced Englishmen were coached in an arduous text sung entirely in Chiquitana, the Amerindian language of the region where the opera was composed. The director of the Jesuit Institute at Boston College came in person to lecture on the re-discovery of the musical riches of those distant settlements, the whole repertory of 'rainforest baroque'. Thousands of pages of score, many of them preserved in a chest of scented wood in the private rooms of the Bishop of Sucre, are being transcribed, edited and performed. The aromatic wood kept the ravages of climate and insects to some degree in check, so that after two centuries and more, it is possible to decipher the music produced in the Jesuit towns of Spanish America, those settlements into which the missionaries gathered the indigenous people to protect them from the slave-raiders, the SanPaulistas, the kidnappers who hunted on the frontiers.

The juxtaposition of the two operas, one Amerindian, one English, brought ...


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