Did you know that the Boskednan Nine Maidens circle in Cornwall is the subject of an opera, written early in the 20th century? The opera is “Iernin”, the tragic story of a woman of the Small People. The opera in three acts is set against the backdrop of a soon-to-be occupied Cornwall and the struggle of its leader and people to retain their independence from the Saxon overlords.
In this legend-turned-opera, Iernin is a fairy who was turned into stone by a priest. When she inexplicably awakens from her petrified slumber she encounters Gerent, a 10th century Celtic nobleman she sees riding out near the circle. He immediately falls in love with her despite his engagement to the princess, Cunaide. Gerent’s friends tear him away from her, insisting that she is a witch, but she finds him again at his wedding procession. When the villagers and priest threaten her, Gerent protects her and is cursed with her. They run to the hills, but Cunaide follows them and rebukes Gerent for forgetting what he owes the people of Cornwall. Iernin, seeing that their worlds are incompatible, uses her power to turn back into a stone. Cunaide and Gerent return to town together.
It was written on the top floor of Trewey Mill, at the Wayside Museum, Zennor, in 1933, by father and son team William and George Lloyd (William write the libretto, and George, who was only 20, wrote the music, which is memorable in places). The opera was first performed at the Pavilion, Penzance, during the week of November 5-10, 1934. Subsequently it ran for a short season at the Lyceum, London, during June 1935, and a recording by the BBC is available for purchase. It was never performed again until the Surrey Opera revived it with three performances in Croydon in October 2013 before transferring to St. John’s Hall, Penzance, Cornwall for two more performances on 1st and 2nd November 2013, effectively taking the opera home.
Grateful thanks to Craig Weatherhill for introducing us to this story.