Between the Lions
'The Play of Daniel' revives the biblical prophet just in time for Christmas?
The connection between Christmas and the Old Testament prophet Daniel may not be immediately obvious, but if you speak with Christopher LeCluyse, who'll be performing the title role in the Texas Early Music Project's upcoming production of The Play of Daniel, you'll feel like you always understood it in the back of your mind. LeCluyse is that articulate, knowledgeable, and engaging.
Austin Chronicle: Why this play at Christmastime?
Christopher LeCluyse: Daniel is a precursor of Christ because he is thrown to the lions, and his facing the lions and overcoming them is similar to Christ being laid in the tomb and coming out unscathed. Like Christ, Daniel is presented as being innocent and framed because of his piety. Also, the Book of Daniel contains some of the earliest prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. It's the first book of the Bible that talks about the Son of Man. In addition, after he survives the lion's den, Daniel predicts the coming of a savior and bang! Christ is born.
AC: This play was written in the 12th century?
CL: That's right. It originated at Beauvais Cathedral, so it's appropriate that we're staging it in a church. The church at University Presbyterian has a three-level dais, which gives us three levels to play on, and we use the whole space. This play came out of the liturgy, so there's lots of processing back and forth. When we're on the dais, we use one level for Balthazar's throne, another level for the writing on the wall, another for the lion's den.
AC: Anything that makes this play stand out from other plays, ancient or modern?
CL: It's entirely sung. And not operatic singing it's chanted in Latin with a few words of French here and there. There's no spoken dialogue at all. There are parts that are chanted or sung without instruments, but we have a small medieval orchestra that provides accompaniment: vielles, which are ancestors to the violin; a rebec, which is a bowed instrument, kind of pear-shaped and still played in the Middle East; an oud, an Arabic instrument that evolved into the lute. We have recorders and shawms, which are like all-terrain ballistic oboes. The shawm was an instrument of war. It was made to be heard on the field of battle.
AC: Does God put in an appearance?
CL: No. But we've got an angel in the choir loft.
The Play of Daniel will be performed Dec. 17-18, Friday and Saturday, 8pm, and a shortened family version, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2pm, at University Presbyterian Church, 2203 San Antonio. For more information, call 371-0099 or visit www.early-music.org.