• Roger Marsh
  • Love on the Rocks (1989)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Vocem with funds from the Arts Council

  • 4 amp fl/tape.live electronics
  • 4 amplified voices
  • 30 min

Programme Note

Roger Marsh: Love on the Rocks


1. Alcestis: On the banks of the Acheron, Alcestis, now a toothless old woman, sits once more waiting for the ferry.

2. Ferry Music 1: Charon and his boat approach accompanied by the yelps and moans of the dead. Only the buried can be ferried.

3. Aeneas: Aeneas is confronted by a priestess who prophesies the terrors awaiting him. He asks her to explain the crowd flocking to the riverbank. Warning him that the path to the underworld is easier than the path back to life, she becomes confused.

4. Odysseus: Odysseus receives instruction from Circe on how to reach the abode of the dead. He attempts to perform the necessary rituals but eventually wonders whether the ferry might not be easier.

5. Ferry Music 2: Charon taunts Odysseus and all who would make the crossing.

6. Dante: Hell and heaven. In a four-way encounter Dante exchanges confidences with Beatrice, Charon and Alcestis. Dante is successfully reunited with Beatrice. But Charon realises his love for Alcestis too late.

The mythological land of the dead, Hades, was separated from the land of the living by a network of rivers - the Styx, Kokytus, Periflegathon and finally, the mighty Acheron, the river of despair. To cross the Acheron, the dead waited at the bank for the ferryboat which plied the river day and night, steered by the aged and fierce eyed figure of Charon. Those souls who left the world properly prepared - that is, with a coin placed carefully in the mouth - paid Charon for his service and reached their final resting place. Those who had not received the proper rites had to wait for a hundred years.

During his long career, Charon also came into contact with a few of the living. Orpheus, Theseus, Perithoos and Heracles he actually ferried to the Underworld, contrary to all the regulations. But there were yet other living persons who reached the land of the dead, among them Odysseus, Aeneas, Dante and Alcestis - though not aboard Charon's boat. Odysseus found a quite different route (how chagrined Charon must have been) after performing the most elaborate of sacrificial rites at the mouth of the pothole which led down to Hades's House. Dante, passing through the infernal regions en route to Paradise, would have been chased off by Charon had not his guide Virgil rebuked the old duffer in no uncertain terms. Alcestis, taken by Death as a substitute for her righteous husband Admetus, was almost aboard the ferry when Heracles wrestled with Death and brought her back to the land of the living.

Although none of the books will tell you this, I have a theory about Alcestis. I believe that the reason she gave herself so willingly for her husband's sake is that, in truth, she found the good Admetus a total wimp and judged that even death must be more fun that life with him. I believe further that when she caught sight of Charon, his eyes ablaze, she judged that, for her, life might be just beginning. Charon too, for his part, was powerfully affected by the striking beauty of Alcestis. In Euripides'play, when Heracles returns Alcestis to Admetus she is strangely silent. My theory accounts for this.
© Roger Marsh