KNOX – The Majestic Madrigal Group of Emlenton hosted its 24th Annual Madrigal Dinner at the Wolf’s Den in Knox on Friday, Dec. 13 and Saturday, Dec. 14. The madrigal’s performance, which drew its influence from a traditional Boar’s Head Festivals of Renaissance Europe, featured choral music selections within the context of a sometimes interactive Christmas play, all taking place while guests enjoyed a family-style repast presided over by the event’s king and queen.
Each evening’s performance, during which the actors donned period costume, concluded with the Christ story as told via scripture readings and traditional carols.
“It tells the story of Christ, Christ’s birth with songs that match each scripture reading. We have a king and queen. And it starts out kind of fun. We make fun of the king a lot to get the crowd going and then the singers come in. It’s a good mix of three things: humor, great music and the telling of Christ’s birth,” said Julie Findlan-Powell, a member of the madrigal troupe.
She continued, “The Wolf’s Den has a big long room. It looks nice because there’s a huge fireplace. You already feel like you’re in a medieval room. We have a big square or rectangle that we act in. And there isn’t a bad seat in the house because we walk around the tables as well.”
The performances were replete with the pageantry associated with a boar’s head dinner. Explained Norma Baum, another member of the madrigal group, “There’s a boar’s head carol and they (four members of the troupe) bring the boar’s head out on a platform. There’s wassail (a punch) first. There’s the wassail song and they (the audience) drink. Then the boar’s head carol and they (the audience) eat.”
And make no mistake, a real boar’s head, albeit stuffed, was used. “We’ve actually had three boar’s heads over the years. We use our biggest one and it’s all decorated. We also have two smaller ones,” reported Findlan-Powell.
The meal itself, a multi-course, medieval-style feast, was prepared under the supervision of Findlan-Powell, owner of the Little It Deli in Emlenton. Discussing the menu, Powell said, “Since it’s a traditional boar’s head festival we do pork. We do smoked pork that has 15 different medieval spices. And then we do baked chicken with cinnamon and almonds.”
“And we do an Irish dish called colcannon, which is a potato and cabbage dish that has cheese and bacon in it. Honeyed root vegetables are the second dish and then homemade rolls. Finally we do traditional bread pudding with a vanilla rum sauce.”
Because forks were not common during the medieval period, attendees ate with only a knife and spoon. “That makes it a little rough sometimes. We pull the pork and chicken so it’s a lot easier to eat,” Findlan-Powell noted.
Throughout the event, copious amounts of wassail, a hot mulled cider, were consumed, often in response to toasts which members of the audience read aloud when prompted by the actors. Findlan-Powell estimated 12-13 gallons of wassail were consumed each evening.
While eating, guests were treated to an almost continuous performance by the madrigal troupe. “There’s something always going on. There’s caroling during dinner, the group goes around and carols every table. There’s a little bit of downtime for the players, but not much,” said Baum.
Formed in 1993 by 16 singers from Emlenton, St. Petersburg, Knox and the surrounding area, the core performers of the Majestic Madrigal Group remain essentially intact. Baum revealed, “The group’s basically the same. It’s gone through some changes. It’s cute because now we’ve had three generations singing in it. We’re doing the same music and the core group knows it because we’ve been doing it for 25 years. It’s committed to memory for most of us.”
Added Findlan-Powell, “We wrote our own script for it (the performance). It changes a lot. We had a basic one that we did and then we’ve changed. I don’t want to say that we do the same music all the time. We’ve changed the music. We try to keep it fresh.”
Even after almost 25 years, the event continues to remain popular, attracting a capacity audience each night. For some it has become an annual part of the yule celebration.
“We have people that come year after year. People tell me that this just opens the Christmas season for them. It’s just Christmas to them. The story of the birth of Christ to music. That’s just very important to folks,” summarized Baum.