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43d Christmas Revels transports us to Galicia, and the ‘end of the earth’
The swirling of men’s capes, the twirling of ladies’ skirts, the skirling of Galician bagpipes.
¡Sí, sí! The Christmas Revels has alighted in yet another previously-unreveled-in corner of the globe, inviting us to explore the region’s customs, costumes, and, above all, its music. This time Revels takes us literally to the end of the earth.
For its 43d production, the Cambridge-based tradition-fostering company whisks packed houses at Sanders Theatre and its huge cast to northwest Iberia, which, like all its previous destinations, seems exotic yet strangely familiar; exotic in that it honors Galicia, a region that preserves its own language, songs and traditions; familiar because we can partly decipher the lyrics of carols from our knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese, and because fans of the Celtic bagpipe instantly recognize its long-lost cousin in the gaita galega.
Like many previous editions, this Revels production follows characters on a journey to find the meaning of life while it uses the specifics of one region to celebrate universal themes and practices. Here the immediate inspiration is El Camino de Compostela, the ancient pilgrimage trail winding from central France across the Pyrenees to the cathedral town of Santiago de Compostela, burial place of the Apostle James. The 2010 indie film “The Way” excited renewed secular interest in this, the world’s third most popular pilgrimage route.
Artistic Director Paddy Swanson has pieced together a serviceable script to accommodate the exquisite choices of Music Director George Emlen, who’s marking 30 years with Revels. Swanson interweaves bits of the quintessential morality play “Everyman” with pieces of John Bunyan’s Christian allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” and Cervantes’s masterpiece “Don Quijote de La Mancha.”
When the Revels trio of no-so-intrepid travelers finally arrives at the cathedral, there’s a brief display of the pageantry of the Catholic Church with cardinalate finery and the famous huge swinging censer. But this journey continues on to Cape Finisterre, the rock-bound peninsula that juts into the Atlantic with a name that means “end of the earth.”
Internationally acclaimed storyteller Jay O’Callahan heads the gloriously voiced cast. Admittedly the plot requires him to take a couple of on-stage siestas, but much of the time the 75-year-old doesn’t compel interest quite the way he once did, except in his two storytelling turns. Refraining with all their might from upstaging O’Callahan, his sidekicks Billy Meleady (star of last year’s Irish Revels) and Mexican actress Angélica Aragón (star of the Meso-American Revels) nevertheless scamper away with the show.
But the overarching pleasures of any Revels are Emlen’s scrupulously researched musical selections rendered in stirring harmonies by variously configured choruses and by masterful instrumentalists and vocalists, including the ever-jovial David Coffin, who leads the signature sing-along segments, which this time feature a pair of Catalan carols, including the crowd-pleasing “Fum! Fum! Fum!” as well as “A Rianxeira,” honoring the region’s Virgin of Guadalupe.
Begging to have its every page pored over is the program book, sprinkled with intriguing annotations and reproductions of the “visa” stamps of an actual Compostela passport. Best of all for those who want to remember the production, or kick themselves for missing it, is the “Road to Compostela” CD, featuring guitarist/vocalist Salomé Sandoval and Christa Patton on gaita and harp.