The Tale Behind the Tale of…
Not the most likely story for a musical
When I told people I was going to adapt Hans Christian Anderson’s story of “The Nightingale’ into a musical for young audiences, I received some pretty strange reactions. People who were familiar with the story often commented, ‘But it’s such a sad and depressing story’. Like a lot of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories, “The Nightingale” is dark at times, but the positive themes outweigh the sad moments in the story. When I looked at the core messages of the story, I saw so much to love. The Emperor learns not to judge someone by how they look, but instead by their talent, honesty, and integrity. Another reason I love this story was expressed in a video by Henrik Lübker, the Administrator of the new Hans Christian Anderson House Museum in Odense. He points out that a so many of the characters in Anderson’s stories reach a point of absolute despair, but it’s at that very moment they find self-realization and hope. In “The Nightingale”, the Emperor feels is utterly distraught by both the loss of the real nightingale and his music box. At that moment he realizes what he’s been looking for all along is friendship and someone or something to love – even if that love doesn’t last forever. Those elements of this story were what attracted me to it initially and what I focused on when I began writing my adaptation.
Hans Christian Anderson Biography
I’ve written about Hans Christian Anderson before, but there is always more to tell about him. He was a fascinating, resilient, temperamental and, at times, arrogant man. But he was also one of the world’s most prolific and talented storytellers. You might wonder what the difference is between a storyteller and an author. In some ways they are interchangeable, but a storyteller is not always the original author of a story. Hans Christian Anderson was occasionally the author of a new story, but many of the stories he penned were his reinterpretations of much older stories that he collected during his travels throughout Europe. It’s something I do myself, so I mean no disrespect for someone who takes an old, perhaps nearly forgotten, tale and breathes new life into it with their own style. It’s an important way to keep wonderful stories vibrant and reintroduce them to new audiences.
Throughout his life, Hans Christian Anderson loved listening to stories. When he was a young boy in the city of Odense on the island of Funen in Denmark, he would listen to the old women tell stories in the marketplace. Whenever traveling groups of actors came to perform at the local theatre, Anderson was one of the first children to buy a ticket. He had something in common with L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz series, and other storytellers. Both wanted to become actors early in their lives and pursued a career in the theatre before they became well known for their writing.
That’s why 14-year-old Hans left home and traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital. He tried his hand at being a professional dancer first. That didn’t work. Then, he tried acting. He didn’t have the skills to get himself enough work as an actor. Desperate to continue to be involved in theatre, he began writing plays. Anderson attracted the attention of some of the producers at the Royal Theatre who became his sponsors. They gave him the funding to finish school and go to the University to study writing. It was these same sponsors who invited Hans Christian Anderson to join them and their families as they took trips all over Europe. Like a sponge, Anderson absorbed the cultures and stories he heard during these travels. Later he’d write the stories down – retelling them in his own voice.
While he visiting Germany in 1835 Hans Christian Anderson wrote several stories including, “Thumbelina” and “The Princess and The Pea”. In the eight succeeding years he wrote some of his most familiar stories including “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Wild Swans”, and “The Nightingale”.
Hans Christian Anderson wrote over 212 folk tales and fairy tales plus numerous travel journals before his death at age sixty-nine. He died in Copenhagen in August of 1875, just a few months shy of his seventieth birthday.
A new museum opened in Summer of 2021 in Odense, Denmark, the site of Hans Christian Anderson’s house. It offers guests an interactive experience spotlighting both the author’s life and the magic of his stories.
The Nightingale in the podcast sounds very different from a real nightingale. Listen to the Nightingale from the our podcast.
YouTube video of a real nightingale
Making a podcast in a pandemic
Many thanks to the Winking Kat Tales cast for this episode. Creating theater in a pandemic isn’t easy. But, thanks to our sound engineer Steven Bell and his amazing studio set up, we were careful to keep isolated and stay safe.
Or you can listen to our musical version of “The Nightingale” on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or any of your favorite podcast apps
Are There Nightingales in China?
Nightingales are very common birds in Europe, North Africa, and as far east as Mongolia. But nightingales are not found in mainland China – especially not near Beijing. So why did Hans Christian Anderson set his story, “The Nightingale” in China?
Denmark has had a long history of trade with China ever since the first Danish ship landed along the southeast Asian coast in the late 1600’s. Especially during Anderson’s time, many exotic and wonderful things arrived from China every day – tea, silk, porcelain bowls and plates, etc. Tales about the wealth and majesty of the Emperor’s palace in China were likely shared by merchants who had visited there. Plus, the Emperor of China was rarely seen and was basically isolated from the world. This situation totally fit the scenario for the main character of the story. And, if nightingales aren’t normally found in China, it makes sense that the Emperor might never have heard one before.
RECIPE FOR THIS PODCAST EPISODE
Chinese Chicken Salad -perfect for hot summer lunch or dinner
Just like Hans Christian Anderson’s story, this recipe is not authentically Chinese. But we tried to capture some of the delicious flavors and textures of China and made it as simple as possible to prepare on a hot summer day.
Ingredients (for 4 servings)
1 head of iceberg, red leaf, or green leaf lettuce.
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb ground chicken breast
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 clove of minced garlic (or 2 tsp minced garlic from a jar)
1 red pepper (chopped)
1/2 cup Hosin sauce
1 cup grated raw carrot
1 11 oz can of mandarin oranges
2 green onions, sliced julienne for garnish
3/4 cup Chinese Chow Mein noodles (crunchy or ‘hard’ noodles)
Salt & pepper to taste. Also, if you like things hot, you can sprinkle red pepper flakes over the chicken
PREPARING YOUR PLATES:
- Wash and dry lettuce leaves. Break them into manageable pieces (nothing bigger than the palm of your hand). Lay them across each plate so they overlap and form a nice nest for what is to come.
- Grate the carrots, chop onions and red pepper, mince garlic and set aside
- Place large skillet pan on heat and let it set for no more than a minute – just so the pan is a little hot.
- Add the oil to the pan and swirl it around so it’s distributed evenly over the surface.
- Add the chopped onions and red pepper to the pan and sauté them until the onions become transparent
- Add the minced garlic to the mix. Make sure the garlic doesn’t burn
- Place the ground chicken into the pan with the garlic, onion, and pepper. Brown the chicken thoroughly. You can add salt and pepper as you stir.
- When the chicken is thoroughly cooked, add the Hosin sauce and mix into the chicken & veggies. Be sure the chicken is completely covered in the sauce. Remove from heat.
- To finish plating, Spread some of the grated carrot over the lettuce on the plate
- Divide the chicken mixture into four parts (or as much as you would like for each serving) and place on the bed of lettuce and carrots. Be sure some of the carrots are still visible.
- Place several mandarin orange slices around each plate.
- Add a handful of Chow Mein noodles on top of each serving of the chicken mixture.
- Garnish with the julienne green onions