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Raven King at Banff Arts Festival

John Mitchenson as the Raven, 1999 Banff Festival of the Arts

There is an island that humans have never reached, an island, thanks to the work of the Raven-King and the animals, where peace and prosperity flourish.

It is dark when the opera opens. The Wizard calls up the stars and the moon to illuminate the dark.

As dawn approaches, the crickets and the frogs start to sing, and as the sun comes up Raven and the animals appear at the court of the Raven King, and dance to the new dawn.

Into this gathering strides the Wizard. He points out that in their original agreement, he rules the dark and the coastline at the north of the island, while Raven rules the day and the plains. He also reminds the Raven that they agreed that, when the island was at peace and settled, eventually the Wizard would bring humans onto the island. The animals are not pleased at this, as they like things as they are.

Raven tells the Wizard that another part of the agreement was that the Wizard promised to help making the island a peaceful place, which he didn’t. When the Wizard keeps his promises, then Raven will honour his. The Wizard leaves, saying he will have humans on the island. The animals ask Raven to prevent it. Raven says he will see what he can do, though it may be difficult. They all disperse to get on with the day.

The Wizard, using his magic, brings three humans to the island: Mirelda, a small girl, and her two older brothers/sisters. They are amazed at this new world - everything is wonderful (and new) to them. Mirelda is dazzled by it; her older siblings have that teenage clumsy curiosity about it. They then encounter animals for the first time; the animals have never seen humans before, and vice versa, so there is considerable curiosity and suspicion on both sides. Mirelda's older brother tries to catch one of the rabbits, but the bigger animals turn up, and ask the humans to leave.

The animals report what has happened to Raven, who summons the Wizard to explain himself and to take the humans away. The Wizard will not; instead he starts a great tempest. The Raven and the Wizard try to prevail (through light and sound). The Wizard wins; the Raven is weakened. The day is getting very dark, and the Wizard leaves. Mirelda appears, and encourages the Raven not to despair, but to keep the beauty of the island going - for she would very much like to live there.

The Raven is surprised by this - he is learning that humans are not so bad, after all, and that the Wizard may have brought them there, but he doesn't control them. Raven and Mirelda leave.

Meanwhile, Mirelda's brother and sister are still trying to catch the rabbits, but are themselves caught. The animals do a dance around them, wondering what to do with them. Some argue that they should get rid of them, others caution, but it is clear that both the animals and the humans are frightened of each other.

Mirelda and the Raven enter. Mirelda discovers that her brother and sister have been chasing rabbits, and the Raven that the animals have been chasing the humans. They both suggest that the two sides might get to know each other rather than be antagonistic to each other. Many of the animals are skeptical - so are Mirelda's brother and sister. However, the leader of the big cats, and one of the squirrels, approach Mirelda's brother and sister. Quickly rapport develops between them, and Mirelda's brother and sister begin to realize the importance of living in harmony, and are quite impressed. These animals are not so bad after all - and the animals begin to feel the same thing about the humans.

In comes the Wizard. He is not so happy about the turn of events. He promises Mirelda's brother and sister power over the island, if they will only listen to him. The leader of the big cats asks Mirelda's brother if he really wants that. Mirelda's brother thinks about it for a moment, and then says 'No'. He turns to the Wizard and tells him they don't need him any more.

This is the one thing that can confound a Wizard - that he is not wanted. His power over the humans is lost. He leaves, threatening dire things.

The day is ending. There is celebration, learning about each other between the animals and the humans. The sun sets. It is getting dark. Suddenly, everyone remembers the Wizard - he has power over the stars and the moon. It gets pitch black - no stars, no moon, nothing. Everyone worries what will happen.

Then the Wizard appears in the distance. He is not all bad; he knows when things have to be accepted. He still rules the night. So he produces the stars, and the opera comes to a quiet, magical close.

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