Line of Terror (Judit och Holofernes) (1987)
Duration: 55 minutes
Libretto: Iwar Bergkwist
But Lord, it's been so long
This brash and exotic evocation of the ancient near east is based on the famous bible story of the beheading of the general by the Jewish heroine. It was originally commissioned by the Swedish Vadstena Academy as part of a triple bill but Ian McQueen hopes to extend it with a further Act into a satisfying evening's entertainment. Its initial success was instantaneous and the British premiere led to Rodney Milnes describing McQueen as "a born opera composer".
At present there are three roles: dramatic/lyric soprano, countertenor and bass-baritone, plus an important chorus from which small roles are extracted. The eight-piece instrumental ensemble (flute, bassoon, trumpet, harp, violin, cello, double bass and keyboard) contains an important part for synthesiser to characterise the Voice of God.
The Assyrian general Holofernes (baritone) threatens the hilltop town of Bethulia. He has been besieging the place for weeks and the opening Chorus of Citizens articulates their interminable waiting for something to give and move the situation on. Suddenly Holofernes approaches the walls, kicking the bound and bloody figure of Akior (countertenor), one of his generals, into the dust in front of him. Akior is left there to his fate because he has dared to his leader that the Jews trusted in the help of their one God to save them.
Left alone, she asks her God to give her the gift of seduction. Her prayer is answered and she descends the valley to the enemy camp. Holofernes is so impressed by her courage that he calls for a feast to celebrate what he thinks is her conversion to his side. Judith's response to her enemy is intense, as he becomes drunk and vulnerable before her. In her mind, however, she hears the voices of Akior and the chorus of her fellow-citizens urging her to murder Holofernes, and at last she relents and hacks off his head.
MP3 audio extract (1'33"):