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The knight had been riding on the dusty road for long days but he didn’t know where he was heading. However, he was sure he had to find the deepest forest of the Ancient Kingdom of Navarra, where something had been waiting for him. He knew that the Ancient Kingdom of Navarra was the place where the legends and myths were still alive; as he had been riding, he felt it in the air, on the stones of the old Romanian road, and in the high trees beside them. During the last three days he was astonished when he saw the beauty of the countryside; cloudy high mountains, dry brown fields, meadows with flowers crossed his road and tempted him to stop but the knight did not obey but went along on his way. Then suddenly, an enormous forest appeared in front of him. He felt instantly that among the tress the magic and enchantment were alive. “Who live here? The Shiny Ones” asked from himself.

As he was heading towards the heart of the forest, the rich sunlight disappeared, the canopies of the ancient trees let only a pale semidarkness go through the branches. However, it was not scary at all. It was mystic and inviting. As his eyes got used to the dim lights, he could see wild hares jumping at the bushes, foxes running through the clearings and roes walking slowly to the brook to drink its crystal clear water. Then came the butterflies. Plenty of them can be seen circling around him, their shiny blueish-white wings were sparkling. He felt that these tiny creatures led him somewhere. After several minutes of walk he arrived to the the clearing surrounded by ancient yew and oak trees. He felt he was not alone. Then suddenly, from the dark shadows, a figure appeared and headed towards him. A tall, shining female, a fairy, was walking slowly and his legs were rooted to the ground. Her white dress was like silver, her dark long locks covered her eternal face. She was timeless; the ancient lore could be seen on her cheeks. She stopped at the knight who started to hear her voice in his head. Then the world seemed to stop. Nothing was there; only him and the White Queen of the Secret Forest. Her voice was high and calm and the knight felt the power of her magic. He didn’t want more but stay there for ever.  Time and space disappeared, there was nothing else but their song. This feeling was the most beautiful he ever felt. The end of the road. He was at home now.

Nowadays we can find fairies and fantasy stories not only in books but we can also tumble on them in music, especially Neofolk. This genre was born in Germany in the 1980s alongside with Gothic music, however, its golden age started during the next decade. Neofolk is more a crossover style than a pure one because many attributes of other musical ways melt into each other in this genre. It has been extremely popular due to bands like for example, Blackmore’s Night and Faun. After their breakthrough many new bands appeared in the music scene who renewed Neofolk. The variety of formations are rich, they differ from each other due to their cultural background, their history and their inspirations as well. We can find some interesting ways that they compounded with folk; we can find the features of Metal, Rock, Electronica, Orchestral ways, New Age and Ambient melting into Folk, besides, they are able to create a timeless and unique environment together.

Elfenthal photo and album covers courtesy of © Elfenthal/Maite Itoiz & John Kelly.Elfenthal portrait: Hörnchen Hörn

While the home country of Neofolk is Central Europe, there is a unique formation from Navarra, Spain. It is called Elfenthal. Founded by the opera singer Maite Itoiz and his husband, John Kelly, who can be familiar from The Kelly Family. The elements of Celtic, Basque and Spanish folk, the Classical and Medieval music can also be heard in their music as well as the characterizations of rock and metal music. They have released two studio albums, a live double CD, and several DVDs so far. They have toured in Europe, contributed in other artists’ records, and taken part in different non-musical projects.

As a matter of the fact, the band Elfental divides two sides; one is the rock- and folk-oriented stage production with orchestral and theatrical elements, the other one is an Early Music consort. In order to get more information about the band, I got in touch with Maite Itoiz, who kindly answered my questions with the help of the Internet

Both of you have been in the musical industry for long years. What pathways were needed to meet in order to create Elfenthal?

As you know, I come from the opera world, but before that, in my early youth I was a member of big symphonic choirs and sang amazing repertoire with the best orchestras of the world. Besides, I also performed early music, which I absolutely love. My father is a flamenco guitar master and my mother a singer whose voice and style reminds a lot to Mercedes Sosa. All this blending makes you just love all kinds of quality musical expressions. John's case it's obvious; His unique family background made him enter the music world in many levels. He started singing in the streets in the beginning, than many years later The Kelly Family started to fill up huge stadiums. This has influenced him a lot. He is humble and kind, he gives the same importance to sing for one person that for 250.000 people, as he has experienced both extremes. Elfenthal was born out of our passion for music and scenic arts. We are both very open-minded about the blending of genres and disciplines. We are also big fans of the classical ballet and we thought that its elegance would give an extra punch of expression and meaning to the compositions on stage.

Your first record, ‘Tales from the Secret Forest’ is an important milestone in your career. What inspirations were needed for it?

This was an album with a lot of different subjects and styles, inspiration came from many sources, though our symphonic-rock touch was still not really present as much as the Neoclassical/cinematic touch. It was the first time I composed and wrote for symphony orchestra, but it worked out. They played great. Beside it, we were drawn to the Faerie image which worked well. I can say I believe in Faeries. I think and believe that the four elements could certainly be related to non-touchable entities and that there could be different forms of life strongly linked to nature, non-noticeable for the too intellectualized human eyes of nowadays. Maybe quantum physics will drop an answer to all this, one day.

Elfenthal photo and album covers courtesy of © Elfenthal/Maite Itoiz & John Kelly.Maite portrait: Nestor photorapher 

Maite, you are a multi-instrumentalist and it is a huge surprise for many listeners and concert attendants. How many of them do you play?

I have both opera singer and classical guitar superior degrees hanging on the wall, but I can play the piano which is needed if you are a classical-trained singer. I am also able to play the Celtic harp, the Renaissance lute, the electric guitar, some recorders and even the bagpipes. In general, I am keen on trying every instrument that I meet. I think it is essential for a musical producer.

When I listened the second Elfenthal album, it was fantastic to see how professional it was. I mean, it is very authentic Medieval music, which is getting more and more fans nowadays.

An Ancient Story’ is a compilation of historical works starting from XII Century. Several names need to be mentioned; we play songs, for example, from Hildegard von Bingen, Llibre Vermell, Alfonso X, and Codex Calixtinus. When we recorded it in the studio, I arranged some of the scores and I added my personal interpretation and arrangement to them, which made the songs more cinematic, more lively. It was a different approach, however, we recorded the whole album with live instrumentals which were widely known and used in the Middle Ages. The live feeling of the recording is awesome and I am very proud of it because it comes from the love that I feel for Early Music.

© Elfenthal/Maite Itoiz & John Kelly

The way you combine classical music with folk and metal is very unique, very cross-overish. If somebody goes to your live shows, they will be astonished because many of your songs use Metal and Hard Rock instrumentation. How does a singer based on Folk and Vlassical music arrives to Metal?

As you know I was trained as a purely classical performer, but inside of me the composer part of me always wants to do something different. I feel that I need to create my own world of music and naturally, other styles come to colour the directions. That's why rock and metal give the extra punch to my Neoclassical compositions; the Celtic and Basque elements and the Medieval musical ways sound fine with strong and raw guitar riffs. Overall, they are together sound like the echoes of the mysterious past. I am happy that neofolk and the folk rock styles are getting more and more fans in the world. Most bands in these circumstances do play because they want to give the fans something special, the profit and the media things are only secondary.

How easy is working with John?

John is indeed a man of peace. His patience edge is very high and his mind is clean. He does not think bad about others. He is a real king and it can be felt on the stage as well. He tried different musical fields with his family band and with Elfenthal, nevertheless, he shines truly and clearly when he uses the middle range of his fantastic velvety in the ballads.

© Elfenthal/Maite Itoiz & John Kelly

It is a well-known thing that both of you likes collaborating with other artists. How did you make friends with Leaves' Eyes?

We casually met "Leaves' Eyes" in the backstage of Metal Female Voices Fest, where we went to sing as guests with our friends of "Diabulus in Musica". We exchanged CDs and both of us listened to them while we were on our way back to Germany, we fell in love with each other. Then the next day Liv and I were already on the phone making plans. The result was our collaboration on their album ’Meredead’ in 2011. John sang and I play Baroque guitar on the song ’Tell–Tale Eyes’ and I also provided vocals for the title track and ’Étaín’. It was a fantastic thing, a fantastic memory.

Several years ago you went to Brazil to visit the Amazonian rainforests How did you get there?

Through a manager we had. The thematic of our show ’Tales from the Secret Forest’ was connected to nature, forests and elemental beings, therefore, the relation with their Amazonia's project was more than perfect. We got named ambassadors of Juruena's National Park, a great honour for both of us. We got the chance to talk about it in different media and we could travel all the way to Brazil with a ZDF team to see the whole process and the results of WWF's work to block deforestation in the area by the creation of a belt of National Parks. It was a wonderful event, if a little heart-breaking when we saw the deforested areas there.

Last year was also special because you were asked to join the Excalibur rock opera and you performed it alongside with many famous musicians throughout Europe.

Yes, it was also an important event for us. We were asked to work with Alan Simon, the composer of "Excalibur" Rock-Opera. I played the role of Guinevere, while John starred as Lancelot. We toured a lot during the last months of last years and it was a huge honour to be on a stage with stars like Moya Brennan from Clannad, Eric Fish from Subway to Sally, the fabulous Maggie Reilly and some band members from supergroups like Asia, Supertramp and Jethro Tull. Currently we have been working on the music material, and I am excited to see the results.

Elfenthal photo and album covers courtesy of © Elfenthal/Maite Itoiz & John Kelly.John portrait: Michael Swartz.Maite portrait: Nestor photorapher 

Maite, you are interested in books also besides playing and composing music. During the last few years you were involved in several book projects of Spanish authors. Can you tell me about these ones?

During the last few years I have been part of several book projects with Bernhard Hennen and Toti Lezea. I have toured with them and met the media. Moreover, I am also interested in writing. Actually I have been writing a book on my own. I started it in my childhood, but only recently, cheered by a friend author, I decided to re-write it properly. This book is an epic-fantasy story and it is based on all my latest compositions and show numbers. I like reading very much, for me immersing in a book means stepping into a totally new world. I like all the genres, however, well-written epic-fantasy novels are one of my weaknesses.

How do you spend your day in the Elfenthal empire?

Our everyday professional life starts with a tea or a coffee in some cosy café, where we discuss our office work day schedule and then we go straight to our respective offices or the studio and spend the day making all kinds of business, phone calls, mails and so on.  Otherwise we are getting ready for next concerts, rehearsing, or very often, I always lock myself in the studio while I am working on some production, for me or for others, or creating new material for our own shows. I like to listen to singers like P. Jaroussky, R. Andueza or C. Bartoli, voices like theirs are able to light up something strong in my chest with their inspired interpretations. The English Baroque period is one of my favourites, but I really absorve everything that makes my inner self activate and burn. My taste depends a lot on the situation. For example, I love to write while listening to composers like Ramin Djawadi or Jeremy Soule, I like to cook with Dave Brubeck's music and I love to have a night relaxing party at home with the groovy and elegant bass sound of Simple Red.

Maite y John, muchas gracias!

Magyarul itt olvashatod.

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