Based on the 13th century Icelandic saga Brennu-Njáls Saga, Njála calls into question themes of masculinity and gender roles. The original saga in Icelandic details a blood feud between highly respected lawyer Njáll Þorgeirsson, skilled warrior Gunnar Hámundarson, and their respective families. The feud, instigated by Gunnar’s wife Hallgerður Höskuldsdóttir, results in the slaying of many servants from each family. The feud is further complicated by a deep relationship between Njáll and Gunnar, which some scholars have theorized could have been homosexual.
Gunnar sought Njáll’s advice on how to best negotiate the blood shed between the two families. Blood repayment to defend a man’s honor was widely accepted in Iceland during this time period; however, because of the deep bond Gunnar and Njáll held, settlements were made with large sums of silver instead. Njáll’s wife, Bergþóra Skarphéðinsdóttir, and Gunnar’s wife scorned these monetary compensations in lieu of blood repayment, and continued to seek revenge through hired slayings of the opposite family’s servants. The saga concludes with the slaying of Gunnar and the burning of Njáll and his family inside their estate.
In this scene, we witness Gunnar inform Njáll of the third slaying (instigated by Hallgerður) between their families. Both Gunnar and Njáll acknowledge the importance of justice for such an act, and remind each other that they should defend their respective family’s honor. While the accepted repayment would be blood, the two men decide to instead honor their friendship, and depart from the meeting peacefully.
This sets up a conflict for what is conceivably a much larger musical work, one which I intend to see through to completion as a chamber opera.