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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What the Heck is a “Knight Errant”?

"I want you to know, Sancho, that the famous Amadís de Gaula was one of the greatest knights-errant. No, I’m wrong in saying ‘one of,’ he was the only one, the best, he was unique, and in his time the lord of all those in the world… He was the guiding light, the star of all brave and enamoured knights, and all of us who fight under the banner of love and chivalry should imitate him… I want to imitate Amadís…"
Don Quixote I, chapter 25 by Miguel de Cervantes

Amadigi di Gaula is a Baroque “magic opera” based on a Renaissance story about a Medieval knight. It is also an Italian opera written by a German composer for an English audience, based on a French play, based on a Spanish book. The fictional knight, Amadigi (or Amadís) of Gaul, was first featured in a collection of stories about chivalry, written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo and published in Spain in 1508. Amadís later became the model for Cervantes’ great knight of the woeful countenance, Don Quixote. Amadís is a Chrisian knight errant; courteous, gentle, sensitive, but invincible in battle.

According to the dictionary, a knight errant is a wandering knight traveling in search of adventure. A knight is originally a person of noble birth trained to arms and chivalry. The term “knight errant” was first used in a late 14th-century Middle English poem called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Characters fitting this description are found in literature and history from around the world. In French Medieval history they were called the Paladins of Charlemagne (Amadigi and Dardano are Paladins); in Japan, disenfranchised Samurai warriors were called Ronin; in Russian literature Bogatyrs served as protectors of their homeland.

The term “Medieval” refers to the Middle Ages, a period that lasted from the 5th to the 15th century B.C.E. During the High Middle Ages in Europe (the period in which Amadigi is found), Christian-oriented art and architecture flourished and Crusades were mounted to recapture the Holy Land from Muslim control. The codes of chivalry and courtly love developed during this time. Chivalry was a moral, religious and social code of knightly conduct. The virtues of courage, honor, and service were emphasized as well as the idealization of women.

A series of famines, plagues and constant warfare brought the Middle Ages to an end, followed by the Renaissance, a cultural movement that began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe by the 16th century. The Renaissance emphasis on knowledge gained by studying past history (especially Greek classics) profoundly affected European art, literature, philosophy, politics, science and religion, producing such famed personages as Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli. The costumes and sets you will see in Amadigi di Gaula are inspired by Renaissance paintings and architecture.
Venus and Mars by Botticelli
Central City Opera’s AMADIGI DI GAULA (2011). Pictured (L to R): Christopher Ainslie (Amadigi), Katherine Manley (Oriana). Photo by Kira Horvath.
This article is included in the 2011 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide) - pdf created by Central City Opera's Education & Community Programs Department. Check it out for insider interviews and background on all of the main stage operas this summer. 

The North American premiere of Amadigi di Gaula opens this Saturday, July 2nd, and runs through August 6th. Watch the video trailer with the London-based artists of the production.

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