'Origen' on the road: an elephantine journey
Abul-Abbas was an elephant. Not just any old elephant, but a gift from the Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, to the Emperor Charlemagne. To mark the RhB's anniversary, Giovanni Netzer and his 'Origen' ensemble will tell the tale of the pachyderm's onerous journey from Baghdad to Aachen – long before the Alpine railway existed.
It must have been a difficult journey for Abul-Abbas. The elephant – the first, mark you, to be recorded in annals north of the Alps – is said to have made its way from Baghdad to Aachen in 801 AD, accompanied by Isaac, Charlemagne's emissary, and a small delegation. In October of the same year they reportedly stayed at La Spezia in Italy. They spent the winter in Vercelli, not far from Lago Maggiore, before Abul-Abbas finally arrived at his new home on 20 July 802. The proud Emperor henceforth took the elephant with him on this travels. But Abul's existence was not to last much longer. According to the Royal Frankish Annals, he died 'suddenly' in the summer of 810 after crossing the Rhine at Lippenham.
'The Emperor's Elephant' tells how this mighty beast was transported over the Alps – from the viewpoint of the elephant itself, to whom everything is new and strange: the onset of winter, the gorges and slopes, the decadence of the royal court, the foibles of the Emperor, creating a musical report that combines absurd, dramatic and entertaining elements. The audience joins the elephant on its trip through the mountains of Graubünden: the creature is still in good health at Le Prese, believes he is going to die as he climbs the Bernina, loses his footing in Preda, wades across the Albula in Filisur and longs for a bridge strong enough to bear an elephant.
World premiere: 6 June 2014 in the Landquart assembly shop.
Further performances: 7/8 June 2014