Royal Hunt of the Sun, The
- Hugo Cole
Opera in three acts by Iain Hamilton to his own libretto after Peter Shaffer’s play; London, Coliseum, 2 February 1977.
The opera is set in the early 16th century, at the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru. Pizarro (bass), leader of the Spanish expedition, entices men to follow him by displaying Peruvian gold. His expedition is blessed in Panama Cathedral. The Inca sovereign Atahuallpa (high baritone) welcomes the Spaniards. When he refuses to acknowledge the white God the priests authorize Pizarro to massacre the Indians. Atahuallpa is spared and is promised his freedom if a room is filled with gold, but the promise is broken. Pizarro and Atahuallpa form a strange friendship. When Atahuallpa again rejects Christianity, he is garrotted. Pizarro, half-converted to the Inca faith, waits in vain for the miracle which will restore his friend to life.
The Royal Hunt of the Sun stands as close to music theatre as to conventional opera. The music is largely illustrative, and the more vigorous and picturesque aspects of Shaffer’s play are so powerfully presented that dramatic urgency is never lost. Spaniards and Peruvians are sharply characterized through the music, which however makes no use of traditional material. Similarly, the priests, the joyless villains of the opera, are given music which is ecclesiastical in tone but far removed from any known church music. There is much declamatory writing and one outstanding lyrical episode, the ‘Song of the Little Finch’....