Schafer began work on Patria in 1966, his original plan calling for a single work in two parts, both of which were to be performed simultaneously on two separate stages. After abandoning this idea and splitting the work into what is now Patria 1 and Patria 2, the composer made plans for a third work and Patria remained a trilogy in conception until the late 1970s. By June 1979, Schafer envisioned 6 works for Patria, and although this number had doubled by 1990, the cycle seemed to have reached its apex at 12 works. Schafer has not composed the works in chronological order and typically is engaged with two or more of the works at the same time. Patria 2, the Prologue and RA have been the only commissioned works in the cycle; however, Schafer often releases as independent compositions sections of Patria works in progress in order to fulfill commissions. Requiems for the Party Girl, for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra, leads a list of over 20 compositions from Patria which have been premiered and published independently. Requiems consists of the solo passages, or 'arias,' for the heroine Ariadne taken from Patria 2: Requiems for the Party Girl, and was commissioned by the CBC for Canada's centennial. It was premiered 21 Nov 1967 on CBC radio by mezzo-soprano Phyllis Mailing and the Vancouver Symphony Chamber Players.
Most of the Patria works have unusual performance settings, reflecting the composer's interest in alternatives to the opera house or indoor theatre. For example, Schafer calls for an abandoned factory, underground mine, or similar setting for Patria 4: The Black Theatre; Patria 3: The Greatest Show takes the form of an actual village fair or carnival; and both the Prologue, Princess of the Stars, and the Conclusion, And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, are to be performed outdoors in wilderness settings, wedding the composer's appreciation of the natural soundscape to his interest in theatre. The works that do call for performance in a theatre, such as Patria 1 and Patria 2, employ unorthodox stage configurations.
The Patria works cannot be called operas, but combine elements from opera and theatre in a hybrid genre Schafer calls the 'theatre of confluence'. Through this medium he works to create a theatre that employs all the arts, but which departs from the traditional Gesamtkunstwerk approach in a number of ways. First, although the theatre of confluence includes the technique of fusing the various art forms, it also allows for their separation (as advocated by Bertold Brecht), or even their direct counterpointing in order to achieve desired dramatic effects. Second, unlike Wagner's music dramas where music reigns supreme, Patria features a flexible hierarchy between the various art forms so either text, music, mise en scène, or any other elements of the work can rise to the foreground to underscore a given dramatic situation; in Schafer's words, 'co-opera rather than opera'. Third, in some Patria works, Schafer extends the number of art forms which are traditionally employed in the theatre by creating experiences which engage the audience's senses of smell, taste, and touch. One of the aspects of the theatre of confluence which most distinguishes it from opera is the importance given to spoken text. In fact, in Patria there are more roles that employ little or no singing (ie, those for actors, mime artists, or dancers) than those for singers, and even roles which are primarily sung usually employ spoken text as well. Because either text or music can dominate a scene in the theatre of confluence, depending on the given dramatic situation, Schafer has found a workable solution to the age-old struggle for supremacy between word and music that has plagued opera since its conception.
Like Wagner, Schafer has used prose to explore his theories on music and theatre. He has written two essays on the theatre of confluence as well as articles on all the completed Patria works, all of which are collected in the book Patria and the Theatre of Confluence. Also like Wagner, Schafer prefers to write his own librettos, although for Patria 6: RA and Patria 5: The Crown of Ariadne, in which ancient languages figure prominently, Schafer worked in cooperation with language scholars - D.B. Redford of the U. of Toronto for the Middle Egyptian used in RA, and Michael Silverthorn of McGill for the ancient Greek used in The Crown of Ariadne. Foreign or invented languages are prevalent throughout the cycle as a whole and are often translated for the audience by characters who act as interpreters. The librettos to Patrias 1, 2, and 3 are noteworthy for their copious allusions and borrowings from a wide variety of literary sources, recalling the technique of Ezra Pound's Cantos or T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Only three works in the cycle are based on pre-existing plot material: Patrias 5 and 7 (the Theseus/Ariadne legend), and Patria 6: RA (ancient Egyptian mythology); however, even these works employ many of Schafer's own additions to, or interpretations of the original myths. Plots to all the other Patria works are original, although they may make use of some pre-existing material, such as the alchemical and Gnostic texts which figure prominently in Patria 4, or the Beauty and the Beast tale which is recounted in Patria 3.
Musically, much of the cycle is unified by a 12-tone, all-interval row which Schafer uses in a very free manner. The row is pervasive in Patrias 1, 2, 4, and the Prologue, but is used less frequently in Patria 3: The Greatest Show, a work which features an eclectic mix of musical styles. For RA, in which Schafer attempts to create the ambiance of ancient Egypt, the row can be found in one number only (Amente Nufe's aria); and for the world of ancient Crete explored in Patria 5, it is used only sparingly.
Each Patria work employs the forces of a chamber orchestra, often with unusual instrumentation. Choruses are important throughout the cycle both musically and dramatically. Many of the solo vocal numbers are written so they can be performed by actors, while most of the numbers which require trained singers feature the female voice.
Patria has been very successful in performance: all of the completed works have been premiered and several have received repeat performances. (Given its mammoth size and varying performance settings, however, Schafer does not entertain expectations for the entire cycle to be performed on consecutive days.) Patria 2 was the first work in the cycle to be premiered, receiving 3 performances at the Stratford Festival's Third Stage, beginning 23 Aug 1972. The production was directed by Michael Bawtree and conducted by Serge Garant, with Phyllis Mailing performing the title role of Ariadne. (Patria 2 was actually first heard in a radio version under the title of Dream Passage, 27 May 1969. Commissioned by CBC radio, Mailing sang the lead role, with Norman Nelson conducting the Vancouver SO Chamber Players and Cortland Hultberg conducting the University of British Columbia Singers.) Princess of the Stars, a commission from NMC, was the next Patria work to be premiered, and was given 2 performances under the direction of the composer 26 and 27 Sep 1981 at Heart Lake, near Brampton, Ont. (In Princess, the characters are ferried about on the water in canoes, with the orchestra and chorus placed around the shoreline invisible to the audience.) Conducted by Robert Aitken, the premiere featured Kathy Terrell as the 'Voice of the Princess,' with sound poets Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery, Raphael Barreto-Rivera, and bp Nichol playing Wolf, the Three-Horned Enemy, the Sun Disk, and the Presenter respectively. Princess received a second set of performances at Two-Jack Lake near Banff, Alta, 10-12 Aug1985, with Eleanor James as the Voice of the Princess, James Howley as the Three-Horned Enemy, and Nichol, Dutton, and Barreto-Rivera reprising their roles from the premiere. Co-directed by the composer and Brian Macdonald, and conducted by Michael Century, the Banff production featured spectacular echoes of the voices and instruments off the surrounding Rocky Mountains. RA was premiered at the Ontario Science Centre (Toronto) in 1983 by COMUS Music Theatre and received a second set of performances at the 1985 Holland Festival in Leiden. Patria 1 was premiered in 1987 at the Tanenbaum Opera Center in Toronto as a co-production of the COC and the Shaw Festival. Directed by Christopher Newton and conducted by Robert Aitken with actor Peter Millard playing the role of D.P, it received 6 performances beginning 21 Nov 1987.
In 1986 Schafer formed the Patria Music/Theatre Project with director Thom Sokoloski and designers Jerrard and Diana Smith, all veterans of previous Patria productions. Dedicated to the realization of the Patria works, the Project's first venture was a workshop version of Patria 3: The Greatest Show in cooperation with the Peterborough Festival of the Arts at Peterborough's Crary Park, 6 and 8 Aug 1987. The official premiere of Patria 3, also directed by the Project, was given the following year at the same location with a 10-night run beginning 25 Aug 1988. Patria 4: The Black Theatre received its premiere under the Project's direction at the Festival de Liège (Belgium), with 10 performances beginning 9 Mar 1990, and a cast which employed both Belgians and Canadians, including Eleanor James and Theodore Gentry. (A workshop version of The Black Theatre directed by the composer was given at the California Institute of the Arts in Valentia, Cal, 10 Mar 1984). A workshop version of Patria 5: The Crown of Ariadne was produced at the Premiere Dance Theatre in Toronto 11 Nov 1990. A concert presentation of the revised 1991 version of Patria 5 was given in the Jane Mallett Theatre of the St Lawrence Centre, 2 Mar 1992.
Although Patria moves through the exotic settings of ancient Crete and Egypt, and the arcane world of medieval alchemy, it contains many nationalist elements as well. The cycle explores the experience of the North American immigrant in Patria 1, and with the natural environment settings of both the Prologue and the Conclusion, Patria begins and ends in the Canadian wilderness. As might be expected with works as unconventional as those in the Patria cycle, some premieres have met with mixed reviews; generally, however, the various works have received high praise in performance, in particular for their scores. Whatever can be said about Patria, its mammoth scope, wealth of detail, original approach to theatre, and well-crafted music make it one of the most intriguing works to emerge from the later half of the 20th century. Scores to six of the completed works had been published by 1990, and although no commercial recordings yet exist of a complete performance of any of the works, Centrediscs has issued an album of excerpts from RA, and individual sections of many other works are available on a number of recordings. A film adaptation of The Greatest Show, based on its 1988 premiere in Peterborough, was made by Rhombus Media and is entitled A Carnival of Shadows.
Prologue: The Princess of the Stars (Schafer). 1981 (Heart Lake, near Brampton, Ont 1981). 4 sound poets or actors, soprano, chorus, 6 dancers, fl, clarinet, brass quartet, 4 percussion, canoeists, small lake. Arcana 1986
Patria 1: Wolfman (formerly The Characteristics Man) (Schafer). 1974 (Toronto 1987). Mezzo, mime, actors, 32-v chorus, orch, elec guitar, elec bass, organ, accordion, tape. Ber 1978
Patria 2: Requiems for the Party Girl (Schafer). 1972 (Stratford, Ont 1972). Mezzo, actors, dancers, 12- to 32-v chorus, chamber ensemble, tape. Ber 1978
Patria 3: The Greatest Show (Schafer). 1987 (Peterborough, Ont 1987, workshop; 1988, official premiere). Approx 120 perf (actors and singers), chamber orch. The Greatest Show: (script) Arcana 1987; Miscellaneous Music Arcana 1987; other music published separately
Patria 4: The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos/Le Théâtre Noir d'Hermes Trismegistos (Schafer, various alchemical and Gnostic tests). 1988 (Valencia, Cal, 1984, workshop; Liège, Belgium 1989, official premiere). 11 actors, 7 singers, 2 dancers (optional), 8- to 16-v chorus, chamber ensemble. Arcana 1988 (score contains parallel English and French texts)
Patria 5: The Crown of Ariadne (Schafer), 1991 (Toronto 1990, workshop; Toronto 1992, concert presentation)). 6 actors, 4 dancers, 6 child mimes (boys), various extras (all dancers), 8-v men's chorus, 8-v women's chorus, orch (20 winds, 6 strings, harp, accordion, 4 percussion). Arcana.
Patria 6: RA (Schafer, The Litany of Re, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, et al). 1983 (Toronto 1983). 7 singers, 4 actor-singers, 8 dancers, dwarf actor, belly dancer, various extras, 8-v male chorus, violin, harp, percussion, ud, qanun, darabukkah and other Middle Eastern percussion, tape and elec sounds, and a participatory audience of 75 members. Arcana 1989. (selections) Centrediscs CMC-1283
Patria 7: Asterion (formerly Theseus) in progress.
Patria (8): The Enchanted Forest, in progress.
Patria (9) : The Spirit Garden, in progress.
Patria (10): The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix, in progress.
Conclusion: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, in progress.
Author Kirk MacKenzie
Adams, Stephen J. 'Murray Schafer's Patria: the greatest show on earth?' J of Canadian Studies, 23, Spring-Summer 1988
Dutton, Paul. 'The broken thread: Ariadne in the works of R. Murray Schafer,' Descant, vol 19, no. 3, Fall 1988
Schafer, R. Murray. Patria and the Theatre of Confluence (Indian River, Ont 1991); repr in Descant, vol 22, Summer 1991
MacKenzie, Kirk. 'A twentieth-century musical/theatrical cycle: R. Murray Schafer's Patria (1966),' PH D dissertation, U of Cincinnati 1991