A perennial Holiday Season favorite, The Madrigal Dinner Theatre, returns for two evenings, December 8th and 9th, to Foxburg’s candlelit Lincoln Hall. Come join us for a Holiday Wassail Toast, Medieval Feast and holiday entertainment fit for a King and Queen!
The Madrigal Dinner Theatre has been a sell-out each year. Be sure to reserve your spots early since only 79 seats are available for each performance. You may buy tickets online here or reserve by calling 724 659-3153.
Lincoln Hall is transformed into a candlelit Medieval banquet hall with banners and coats of arms reminiscent of England in the Middle Ages. This re-creation of a Medieval period Boar’s Head Festival dinner is replete with choral musical selections – madrigal songs and holiday carols – woven within a Christmas play with pageantry and costumes, all while enjoying a multi-course medieval feast and wassail toasts to the season.
Madrigal Dinner Producer Cathy Powell was inspired to create the event after experiencing a medieval dinner at Bunratty Castle near, Limmerick, Ireland in 1992. The Medieval Madrigal Dinner is based on the Boar’s Head Ceremony. It is the oldest continuing ceremony of the Christmas season, presented as early as 1340 at Queen’s College in Oxford, England and in time becoming part of Christmas celebrations in the great manor houses of England.
The king and queen arrive in grand flourish and invite all in attendance to share in a festive dinner. A prayer is offered by a monk to bless the meal. The Madrigal Singers, adorned in period costumes, entertain with madrigal songs and traditional holiday carols. They serve each course of the holiday feast, unfolding at the same time the Christmas story set to music. Think of it as an ancient form of dinner theatre.
You’ll believe you’re experiencing musical Yuletide cheer and conviviality as if living for a moment in a bygone era. The ancient Boar’s Head Festival being reenacted around the Christmas story is not one of times past and gone – but rather is a living story told by modern day minstrels, echoing within each of us the spirit and love of the Season.
ABOUT THE CONCERT
The Madrigal Dinner has become a Foxburg Christmas Tradition since it moved from Emlenton’s First Methodist Church to Lincoln Hall nine years ago! This year the Madrigal Dinner marks its 21st Performance Season.
Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts and the Madrigal Singers transform Lincoln Hall into a grand banquet hall reminiscent of Medieval England. Candlelit tables, banners and coats of arms give one a sense of the majesty enjoyed by a select few.
The king and queen arrive in grand flourish and invite all in attendance to share in a festive dinner. A prayer is offered by a monk to bless the meal. The Madrigal Singers, adorned in period costumes, entertain with madrigal songs and traditional holiday carols. They serve each course of the holiday feast, at the same time unfolding a story set to music. Think of it as an ancient form of dinner theatre.
The menu for each night is representative of typical medieval dinner fare of the time and is yours to enjoy–spoon in hand! Last year the menu created and prepared by Julie Findlan Powell of Little It Deli includes from 15th century England “Pullus Iuvenis” (stuffed chicken with bread pork stuffing with raisins and eggs) and “Brawn en Peuerade” (pulled pork in wine sauce) and from 16th century Ireland “Colcannon” (mashed potatoes with cabbage, bacon and cheese). Finishing the meal were cooked carrots with cinnamon and butter, fresh baked bread, and for dessert bread pudding with vanilla rum sauce. Of course, no meal back then was complete without continuous goblets of wassail and this beverage flows freely.
The meal is divided into courses and each is heralded with a traditional song. A play is performed between courses and a concert of choral music concludes the festivities. The dinner is intended to imitate a meal that might have been served during the Middle Ages.
Madrigal Dinner producer Cathy Powell is grateful to all who have helped created this popular holiday event: “What started as an idea to add entertainment to a long forgotten event, “Christmas in Oil Country”, has become a tradition in its own right. The Madrigal Dinner could not have happened without the dedication and participation of many people. I feel so much gratitude for my family and friends (who also feel like family because they’ve participated for so many years) for taking time out of their busy lives to rehearse, perform, make costumes, cook, and serve this dinner. Words can’t express the love I have for these wonderful talented people. While my son Jeffrey Powell has been a singer and my daughter Jennifer Lowrey has served as musical director since its inception, most gratifying is that some of my grandchildren also have joyously embraced this tradition and now sing in my place. I couldn’t be happier.”
Jump start your family’s Holiday enjoyment with this Foxburg Christmas tradition presented by the Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts!
The Madrigal Dinner has been a sell-out each year. Be sure to reserve your spots early for these 20th Performance year events — because only 70 seats are available for each performance.
Madrigal Dinner ticket prices will be announced soon. You may buy tickets online here or reserve by calling 724 659-3153.
The History of Emlenton/Foxburg’s Madrigal Dinner
The First performance of the Madrigal Dinner was held in The Emlenton United Methodist Church Social Hall in November 1994 providing entertainment for an annual Emlenton event begun the year before called “Christmas in Oil Country”.
The Madrigal Dinner, sponsored by The Emlenton Civic Club and The Emlenton United Methodist Church, was conceived by two owners of Bed and Breakfasts in Emlenton, Terry Johnson-Cooney (owner of Apple Alley) and Cathy Powell (co-owner of The Barnard House). Cathy Powell had been inspired by a medieval dinner that she experienced at Bunratty Castle near, Limmerick, Ireland in 1992.
The Medieval Madrigal Dinner is based on the Boar’s Head Ceremony, which is the oldest continuing ceremony of the Christmas season, having been presented as early as 1340 at Queen’s College in Oxford, England. In time the Boar’s Head Ceremony became part of Christmas celebrations in the great manor houses of England.
The Derrick article and photo below show former ARCA Board member “Lady” Roberta Newton, “Sir” Terrence Johnson-Cooney, “Lady” Jenny Powell and the Boars’ Head.
Producing the first Madrigal Dinner took intensive planning as well as the cooperation and hard work of many Emlentonians. Cathy Powell served as Producer for the event, lining up the singers and organizing all details of the first Boars Head Celebration. Cathy provided the music and background material on the event used to develop a script following the customs of the medieval boars head dinner.
Terry Johnson-Cooney also contributed background literature and an abundance of brocade fabric from drapes hanging in his residence prior to its transformation into Apple Alley Bed and Breakfast. There was enough fabric to make many of the costumes used in the first performance. Cathy’s future daughter-in-law, Julie Findlan, who at the time was obtaining her master’s degree in costuming at Penn State University, took charge of costuming the group; she used the donated fabric and borrowed some items from the university. Under Julie’s guidance, several volunteers helped sew the costumes. Area resident and pianist, Roberta Newton, took charge of instrumental music which in the first season was harpsichord and brass. Roberta engaged instrumentalists from Clarion University and played her own harpsichord.
Over 100 people attended the first Madrigal Dinner in Emlenton in 1994. Because of its popular success and the considerable efforts of so many, it was decided to make it an annual event.
This article from the Derrick in 1996 – the third year of the Madrigal Dinner – shows Jeff Powell making one of the toasts to the evening. Even to this day Madrigal Dinner attendees raise their glasses of wassail throughout the evening to celebrate the season as audience members and singers make toasts to the season.
This photo Progress News article from 2007 – its last year in Emlenton’s United Methodist Church – shows the richness and detail of the costumes worn by the Madrigal Singers, which began more than twenty years ago as costumes refashioned from brocade drapes.
Terry Johnson-Cooney was the first Lord hosting the dinner and Debe Southworth was the first Lady. In 1994 ten singers provided the vocals for the first madrigal dinner: Sopranos; Carrie Morrison Armogost Jennifer Powell, Cammy Werkheiser, Altos: Norma Baum, Cathy Powell, Kristin Baum, Tenors; Dick Carr, Jeff Powell, basses; Jerry Baum, Bruce Donaldson. The group always has been under the vocal direction of Jenny Powell Lowrey.
The first boar’s head used was made of paper machete as seen in the photo above – and not very realistic. Since then the Madrigal Dinner has had three authentic boar’s heads. One was purchased on e-bay and another resulting from a boar hunt in the west provided by singer Ken Hanby’s son-in-law, Dr. Michael Evancovich. The third also was acquired by Dr. Evancovich.
Food for the first dinner was prepared and provided by the members of the Emlenton Methodist Church, eaten without the aid of a fork to follow the customs of medieval times. The meal also has changed over the years. Julie Findlan-Powell initially researched medieval recipes, from which group members prepared dishes and then voted on their favorites. After tweaking the recipes to appeal to the contemporary pallet, the Madrigal Dinner meal served in ARCA’s Lincoln Hall is derived from those original recipes. For many years dinners were catered by Cindy and Rod Morrison, parents of madrigal singer Carrie Armogost. In recent years dinners have been catered by Little It Deli, restaurant owned and operated by Jeff Powell, Julie Findlan-Powell, and Kristie Palmer.
Early decorations were traditional greens and candles on the tables. Throughout the years, many decorative effects have been created to enhance the madrigal experience. The colorful flags emblazoned in Lincoln Hall are based on authentic family crests of many of the singers and were designed and sewn by former singers, Alice Shoup and Cathy Powell.
Over the year costumes also have changed. A second more complete group of costumes were designed by Julie Findlan-Powell. The costumes worn today have been purchased from a costume company. A tambourine and an Irish drum have been acquired. In 2000 the madrigal group made a CD of songs sung at the dinner, which were made available for sale at the dinner. Because in 2006 no dinner was held, the Madrigal Dinners of 2015 mark the Twentieth Anniversary Performance Season.
All of the madrigal singers in the group reside or have roots in the Allegheny-Clarion River Valley or Knox area. Over the years the group has been blessed with many talented instrumentalists, some of whom sing and perform brass fanfares. It truly is remarkable that in such a sparsely populated area a group of talented and accomplished people have come together, providing harpsichords, lutes, and Irish drums; contributing their talents to costume and cater; and creating and maintaining the excellent quality of entertainment which this event provides. Some of the younger singers are third generation and even more passionate about singing in this group than their parents; one young woman returns from her college in Berea, Ohio to participate.
Most wonderful is that so many attendees have traveled long distances to attend the Madrigal Dinner since its inception. Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts is proud to be celebrating the group’s Twentieth Anniversary Performance.
Become one of the devoted Madrigal Dinner participants who have treasured this experience and returned year after year to experience its wonder and magic. We invite you to open your 2015 holiday season with us on either Friday or Saturday, December 8 or 9, 2017 at 7:00 PM in Lincoln Hall. We look forward to toasting the evening and celebrating the Season with you.