Stories about Baba Yaga have been told for a thousand years; she comes from the tangled darks woods of what is now Eastern Europe. We call her 'Russian' but there was no Russia at the time, only tribes, huts and paganism.
There are many versions of this particular tale. In some, Baba Yaga traps twin children, in others she flies around on a mortar or in a bowl. In yet other versions, the skulls on the fence light up at night. (We wish we had thought of that earlier!) For variants see http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/babayaga/other.html.
The house that the girl and her father share, and Baba Yaga’s hut, are based on typical 19th century Russian houses which made of wood and were embellished with ornate carvings. Here is a collection of similar houses, from the Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/related/?q=Houses--Russia%20%28Federation%29--2000-2010.&fi=subjects&co=brum. The plate on which the skull rests is made in the traditional manner of “Khokloma”, a traditional handicraft, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khokhloma.
Music: Valenki, sung by Lidia Ruslanova, who was born in Russia in 1900 and rose to national fame by popularizing traditional folksongs.
This ancient folk tale from France is presumed to be based on a real person, and was written down in 1695 by Charles Perrault. Perrault brought us several other well-known folk tales like Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, but Bluebeard, with its more terrible psychological weight, was never picked up and popularized by Disney. It is better known in France, and our reader, Bouchra, gasped in terror when we asked her to make the recording for our version, for she knew the story from childhood. A number of old folk tales, when read in their original form, don't really add up; Bluebeard is one of them. Bluebeard wants a wife, or at least lacks one since he has killed all the others. Is his only secret the accumulation of corpses in the little room, or was there an original secret discovered by the first wife? We never learn. Bluebeard gives his wife a key to a room he does not want her to open, and, for reasons that are never explained, she cannot resist the temptation. The key betrays her and she must die--for her disobedience, let's say. She is saved by her sister, who might easily have been in her place, and the fortuitous arrival of her armed brothers, who take in the situation at a glance and resolve it with alarming efficiency.
That this story is hardly appropriate for children almost goes without saying, itscontent is brutal and its construction amateurish. Yet it was preserved orally and in writing for hundreds of years because...well, it contains themes we cannot escape. The girl is innocent, the noble is corrupt,the castle is magic. A call-and-response with the sister for help, and the arrival of long-delayed justice--the story contains everything a child's mind hungers for.
Reader: Bouchra Welch Hooper
In Greek Mythology Hermes is trickster, the god of travelers and merchants--and of thieves. More generally he acts as a guide, escorting mortals to the unearthly domains; he escorted killed soldiers to Hades during the Trojan War. Trickster, guide of souls, co-inventor of fire--if we add it all up we see he is, in essence, the god of intelligence. He is a precocious baby, super-intelligent but in need of firm guidance. He brings musical grace to the world in the form of the lyre, which went on to become integral to Greek life and celebrations. In the opening music we simulate the ancient Greek aulos, a crude reed instrument, to represent the unenlightened world Hermes is born into. The adult gods have never heard anything like the lyre and they are enraptured.
Reader: Ted Theodosopoulos
Aulos: Peter Velikonja
Lute: Hermann Platzer
Text: Based closely on the 1870 version by John Payne Collier
Reader: Brian Carson