Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

Ludwig van Beethoven:
Fidelio

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jan 92

ACT I

The courtyard of the state prison outside Seville

Marzelline, daughter of Rocco, the head jailer, had promised to marry Jacquino, her father's assistant and turnkey, but her love has turned to a new assistant, called Fidelio.

Though pitying Jacquino because she is unable to return his love, Marzelline is filled with joyful hopes of marrying Fidelio. Fidelio is really Leonore, wife of Florestan, a nobleman who had disappeared in mysterious circumstances more than two years previously. Fearing that his outspoken opposition to tyranny may have led to his incarceration, she has disguised herself as a man in order to search for him.

The governor of the state prison is Pizarro, whose tyranny Florestan had criticised, so she has good reason to suspect he may be imprisoned there.

Rocco praises Fidelio for his hard work and promises to reward him with his daughter's hand, but he warns that love alone is not enough. What is needed for a happy marriage is gold.

Embarrassed, Leonore tells Rocco the only reward she seeks is his trust. She wants to help him in the deepest dungeons where the most closely kept prisoners are lodged. Rocco tells her there is one cell which only he is allowed to visit. The prisoner in it has been there for more than two years and Pizarro has recently given orders that he is to be deprived even of bread and water and left to die.

Fearing this must be her husband, Leonore begs to be allowed to help and Rocco promises to ask the governor. He then joins the hands of Marzelline and Fidelio and gives them his blessing. Pizarro arrives to inspect the prisoner. Rocco hands him letters, one of which, from one of his spies, warns him that the Minister of Justice, hearing that he has imprisoned many men unjustly, is on his way to inspect the jail.

Sending the captain of the guard to the top of the tower to give him warning of the minister's approach, Pizarro throws Rocco a bag of gold and tells him he must murder someone. Rocco refuses, and is ordered to dig a grave in the deepest dungeon.

Suspecting Pizarro's evil intentions, Leonore is confirmed in her strength of purpose to save her husband. She asks Rocco to let the prisoners out to enjoy the sun in the courtyard. Although nervous of Pizarro's reaction, he consents. Jacquino and Fidelio open the doors and the prisoners rejoice in temporary freedom.

Rocco reports that Pizarro has given permission for Fidelio to help in the deepest dungeon (and to marry Marzelline). At first overjoyed at the thought that she may be about to find her husband, Leonore is shocked to learn that she is to help dig his grave.

Pizarro is furious to find the prisoners outside and orders them back into their cells.

ACT II

Scene 1. The deepest dungeon of the prison

Heavily chained and weak from starvation, Florestan lies on the floor, reflecting that it was his resistance to tyranny which has brought him here. Delirious, he thinks he sees his wife, in the form of an angel, watching over him, ready to lead him to the peace and freedom of heaven. He sinks back exhausted, as Rocco and Fidelio come in. As they dig, she tries to see the prisoner, but it is dark and it is only when he speaks to Rocco that she recognises him by his voice.

Learning that Pizarro is governor of the prison, Florestan, fearing for his life, asks Rocco to send a message to his wife. Rocco is afraid to do this, but gives permission for Leonore to bring bread and water to the prisoner, for which he is deeply grateful.

Rocco signals that the grave is ready and Pizarro rushes in with dagger drawn, to take his revenge on Florestan. Leonore throws herself between them, reveals her identity and draws a pistol, threatening to kill Pizarro.

The trumpet signalling the approach of the minister is heard and Pizarro leaves in fury, realising it is too late for him to kill Florestan. Leonore and Florestan embrace in the knowledge that their ordeal is over.

Scene 2. The castle parade ground

The minister frees all those unjustly imprisoned by Pizarro. Rocco brings forward Florestan and Leonore. The minister is delighted to find his friend Florestan still alive and Marzelline realises that her love has been misplaced.

Leonore's courage and devotion are praised and Pizarro is led off to await justice for his tyranny.

Vincenzo Bellini:
Norma

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jul 90

The action takes place in Gaul during the Roman occupation, about 50BC.

ACT I

Scene 1. The sacred grove of the druids

The warriors and druids of the tribe of the Sicambri have gathered to wait for the rising of the new moon, when Norma, the high priestess, will perform religious ceremonies and consult the will of the god Irminsul. Inspired by the chief druid, Oroveso, father of Norma, the people express the hope that the god will favor their projected uprising against the hated Romans.

The Gauls go off into the forest and Pollione, the Roman proconsul, and his friend, the centurion Flavio, enter cautiously. Pollione confides that he no longer loves Norma who, although supposed to be a vrigin priestess, has secretly borne him two sons. He is now in love with a temple virgin, Adalgisa, and fears Norma's vengeance when she learns of his perfidy. As the Gauls can be heard returning, the Romans leave, as it is death for them to be found there.

The Gauls reassemble and Norma appears, reproaching them for expressing warlike sentiments in the sacred grove and before the will of the god has been ascertained. She tells them that the time is not yet ripe for rebellion, but prophesies the eventual fall of Rome. She cuts the sacred mistletoe, invokes the moon and prays for peace. The druids and warriors continue to press for war, with the death of Pollione as the first blow. Norma promises them that he will fall, but expresses to herself the hope that he will return to her with all the ardor of his first love, which she has felt to be waning.

Everyone leaves the grove except Adalgisa. Pollione returns and tells her of his love. Revealing that he has to leave for Rome the next day, he begs her to fly with him. Although she returns his love, she is unwilling to break her vows, but eventually allows herself to be persuaded.

Scene 2. Norma's secret dwelling in the forest

Norma is distressed by the presence of her two sons, who remind her of Pollione, and she tells her attendant Clotilde to take them away and hide them safely.

Adalgisa approaches nervously to confess that she is tormented by a love which is stronger than her vows. As she relates the coures of her love, without naming its object, Norma grows more sympathetic, remembering her own similar experiences. She releases Adalgisa from her vows and asks who she loves. To her horror Adalgisa points to Pollione, standing outside. He rushes in, too late to prevent her revelation, and is confronted by Norma, who accuses him of treachery to her and deceit towards Adalgisa, whom she does not blame, but pities.

Pollione prepares to leave and calls on Adalgisa to join him. She, overcome with horror at his perfidy, spurns him, while Norma threatens him with vengeance. The sacred gong is struck, summoning Norma to the altar, and she tells Pollione that it portends his death.

Act II

Scene 1. Inside Norma's dwelling

Norma hovers over her sleeping children with a knife, intending to kill them and then herself, fearing their fate if they are left unprotected. But, even to be avenged on Pollione, she is unable to kill them and tells Clotilde to summon Adalgisa.

Still resolved to die, she tells Adalgisa to marry Pollione and entrusts the children to her, begging her to take them to Rome and protect them. Adalgisa protests that she has no further thoughts of marrying Pollione or leaving her country and begs Norma, in the name of her children, to sapre herself. She promises to plead with Pollione to return to Norma, expressing her confidence that he has already repented of his disloyalty, and Norma is persuaded.

Scene 2. The druids' temple

The Gauls, although still plotting rebellion, are prepared to dissemble for a while longer if necessary.

Norma's hopes that Pollione will return to her are shattered by Clotilde, who tells her that he still plans to take Adalgisa away with him. Impelled by her wish for vengeance, Norma strikes the sacred gong to summon the tribe, and tells them that the time is now ripe for rebellion, urging them to sound their war-cry. Oroveso asks her to complete the necessary sacrificial rites.

Pollione is dragged in, having been caught trying to carry off Adalgisa by force. Norma sends the tribe away, saying she must interrogate Pollione privately. She exults that he is now in her hands, but promises to free him if he will swear to forget Adalgisa. She is so enraged by his refusal that she threatens to punish Adalgisa too, and is triumphant when he is reduced to pleading - not for himself, but for Adalgisa.

Norma calls the druids and warriors back, promising Pollione that she will punish him through Adalgisa. She announces that she has discovered that one of the priestesses has broken her vows and betrayed her country.

When the tribe demands to know the name of the offender, Norma finds herself unable to name the innocent Adalgisa, and names herself, bidding Pollione see what a noble soul he has spurned. He is overcome by remorse at last, declaring that his love for her has returned and he will gladly die with her. Preparing to ascend the pyre which is being constructed for their execution, Norma confesses the existence of her sons and begs her father Oroveso to protect them. His resistance is overcome by her pleading and Norma and Pollione ascend the pyre together.

Vincenzo Bellini:
I Puritani

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 85

ACT I

Scene 1. The courtyard of a fortress at dawn

The soldiers turn out and express their readiness to overwhelm the Stuart cause. Bruno exhorts them to their morning prayer, which is led, from inside, by Elvira, Arturo (although he is not yet supposed to have arrived), Riccardo and Giorgio.

As ladies prepare for Elvira's wedding, Riccardo repines in a corner but is overheard by Bruno who offers comfort. Riccardo explains that he had been granted Elvira's hand by her father and arrived the previous evening for the wedding, only to be told by Valton that he had yielded to Elvira's love for the cavalier, Arturo. Bruno tries to inspire Riccardo with thoughts of honor and patriotism.

Scene 2. Elvira's apartment in the fortress

Elvira, still thinking she is marry Riccardo, is looking forward to the event with foreboding, when her uncle, Giorgio, her 'second father', explains how he was able to appeal to her father's love for her and win his permission for her to marry Arturo. She is hardly able to contain her joy as the inhabitants of the castle are heard to welcome Arturo.

Scene 3. The great hall of the castle

Arturo presents Elvira with gifts, including a wedding veil, while Valton and Giorgio give their blessings. Valton gives orders for the wedding to be celebrated without him, as he has to escort a female prisoner, brought in at that moment by Bruno, to appear before parliament.

Elvira goes to prepare for the wedding. Arturo learns that the prisoner is Enrichetta, widow of the recently executed Charles I, and that she fears the same fate. Elvira returns, dressed for the wedding and carrying the veil which she asks Enrichetta to try on for her. Touched by the girls's simplcity, she agrees.

Elvira goes back to her room again. Arturo persuades Enrichetta to keep the veil on and is preparing to leave with her, confident that the watchman will think she is his bride, when the jealous Riccardo stops them, thinking it is Elvira. During the scuffle, the veil parts and he recognises the prisoner and, to the surprise of Arturo, allows them to go and promises to say nothing till they are outside the walls. By the time the wedding party has appeared and their absence is discovered, they are riding off over the moor. Elvira, thinking that Arturo has deserted her for a rival, goes mad; the soldiers set off in pursuit and the rest curse Arturo.

Act II

A hall in the castle

Giorgio tells the sympathetic retainers of the state of Elvira's mind. Riccardo brings the news that Arturo has been condemned to death by parliament and that Valton has been exonerated from any blame, and Giorgio tells him that the only hope the doctors give for Elvira is that a sudden shock may clear her mind.

She enters, mad, alternating between false joy when she thinks she is about to be married, and despair when she thinks Arturo has left her.

Giorgio, indicating that he suspects Riccardo's part in the escape, tells him he must save his rival, as Arturo's death will mean Elvria's death. Swayed by Giorgio's exhortations to the pursuit of liberty, partriotism and honor, Riccardo yields, though he still seems to harbor the hope that Arturo will be among the soldiers who are expected to attack at dawn.

ACT III

A terrace in a park near Elvira's dwelling

Three months have passed. Arturo arrives in a storm, having been in exile and having just escaped from his pursuing enemies.The storm subsides and he hears Elvira singing a love song he used to sing to her. He takes up the song.

He hides as the pursuers run past, then reappears to express his intention of flinging himself, his repentance and his constancy at Elvira's feet. She listens as he sings again, then comes out and they are reunited. She seems quite sane, though she shows signs of distress when remembering the past; but when he explains that he had saved the queen, her mind becomes clearer and they express rapturous mutual love.

But the sound of military music disturbs her mind again and when Arturo tries to escape with her, she detains him, fearing that he will desert her. So he remains, unwilling to distress her further, and is found by the pursuing soldiers led by Riccardo and Giorgio. Their announcement of the death sentence on Arturo proves to be the shock that restores Elvira completely to her right mind, though she blames herself for causing Arturo's death.

He is prepared to die, but reproaches the soldiers for distressing Elvira. They continue to demand Arturo's death, though even Riccardo and Giorgio beg them to show mercy. Just in time a message is brought that the Stuarts have been defeated and an amnesty granted to all prisoners. Riccardo, Giorgio and the soldiers praise the victorious Cromwell and rejoice that England is free, while Elvira and Arturo rejoice in their prospective happiness.

Vincenzo Bellini:
La Sonnambula

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Nov 97

ACT I

Scene 1. A village, a mill in the background

Lisa, the proprietress of the inn, is consumed with jealousy as the betrothal procession of Amina and Elvino, who had once been betrothed to her, approaches. She spurns the lovelorn Alessio. Amina thanks her friends for their kind wishes and particularly her foster-mother Teresa, owner of the mill, who had adopted her as an orphan. She thanks Alessio, who had composed the wedding song and organised the celebrations, wishing him well in his courtship of Lisa, who continues to reject his advances. Elvino arrives, having stopped on his way at his mother's grave to ask her blessing on Amina. He gives Amina his mother's ring and they exchange vows.

A stranger arrives, asking the way to the castle. Lisa points out that it is getting late and he will not reach it before dark and offers him lodging at her inn. The newcomer, who surprises the villagers by his familiarity with the locality, asks about the celebrations and admires Amina, who reminds him of a girl he had loved long ago. He admits to having once stayed in the castle, whose lord has been dead for four years. When Teresa explains that his son had vanished some years previously, the stranger assures them that he is alive and will return.

As darkness approaches the villagers warn him that it is time to be indoors to avoid the village phantom, but he is not superstitious and assures them that they will soon be free of the apparition. Elvino is jealous of the stranger's admiration of Amina; he is jealous even of the breezes that caress her, but he promises her he will reform.

Scene 2. A room in the inn

Lisa tells the stranger that he has been recognised as Rodolfo, the long-lost son of the count, and warns him that the village is preparing a formal welcome. Meanwhile she will be the first to pay her respects. She is flattered when he begins a flirtation with her, but runs out, dropping a handkerchief, when a sound is heard outside.

It is Amina, who enters the room, walking in her sleep. Rodolfo, realising that her nocturnal wanderings have given rise to the story of the village phantom, is about to take advantage of her helpless state, but is struck by her obvious innocence and refrains. She falls asleep on the sofa and he goes outside as the villagers are heard advancing on the inn to welcome their new lord. Lisa points to the sleeping Amina and Elvino, believing her faithless, rejects her in fury. Only Teresa believes in her innocence.

ACT III

Scene 1. A wood

On their way to ask the count to attest to Amina's innocence, the villagers meet Amina and Teresa, on a similar mission. Elvino continues to reject Amina, even when the count sends a message that she is innocent. Elvino is not convinced and takes back the ring, though he is unable to tear her image from his heart.

Scene 2. The village, as in Act I

Elvino has decided to marry Lisa. They are about to go to the church when Rodolfo tries to explain that Amina is innocent because she had not come to his room awake - she is a sonnambulist, a sleepwalker, but Elvino refuses to believe him.

Teresa begs the villagers to be quiet, because Amina has at last fallen into an exhausted sleep. Learning of the impending marriage, she confronts Lisa, who says that she has never been found alone in a man's room. Teresa produces the handkerchief Lisa had dropped. The Count refuses to comment, but continues to assert Amina's virtue. Elvino demands proof, which is dramatically produced when Amina is seen walking in her sleep across the high, dangerously unstable mill bridge. Rodolfo warns that to wake her would be fatal, so all watch as she relives her betrothal and her grief at Elvino's rejection. When she reaches the other side safely, Elvino calls to her and she wakes to find herself in his arms, to the rejoicing of all.

Alban Berg:
Lulu

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jan 94

PROLOGUE

The animal-tamer shows off his menagerie, reserving till last his prize specimen: the serpent - Lulu in a pierrot costume.

ACT I

Scene 1. The painter's studio.

Dr Schön watches as the painter works on the portrait of Lulu in the pierrot costume. Alwa Schön comes to takes his father to a rehearsal at his theatre, expressing surprise that Lulu's husband, a professor of medicine, is not present - as Dr Schön says, he rarely lets her out of his sight.

Left alone with Lulu, the painter tries to embrace her, but she eludes him by running round the studio. When he catches up with her, she is unresponsive. Lulu's husband, coming to fetch her, realises from the wrecked studio what has been happening, starts to accuse them, but dies of a heart attack.

The painter is appalled by Lulu's apparent lack of concern and by her lack of belief in anything, but remains totally obsessed by her.

Scene 2. An elegant drawing room in the home of Lulu and the painter.Lulu's portrait in the pierrot costume hangs on a wall.

The painter receives news of the sale of another painting of Lulu - he feels that she has brought him luck. They also receive the official announcement of Dr Schön's engagement to a young lady he has been courting for some time. As he goes to work in his studio, the painter admits Schigolch, a shady figure from Lulu's past, whom he takes for a beggar, who is paying her a visit for the first time in her new home. He borrows some money from her and is pleased to find her in such luxury. He leaves as another visitor arrives, Dr Schön, who tells Lulu he is surprised her husband allows Schigolch to visit. He has come to beg her to refrain from visiting him, now that he is officially engaged - he has made a good marriage for Lulu and wants her out of his life. He is surprised that her husband does not keep her in hand, but she answers that her husband is completely unaware of her true nature - Schön is the only man she has ever belonged to, ever since he rescued her from the streets when she tried to steal his watch.

The painter returns from his studio and Lulu leaves angrily, telling him that she has been discarded. The painter is puzzled and Schön decides that he must know something about Lulu if their marriage is to succeed. He reveals that he has known her since she was a child selling flowers in the street and that he had introduced her to her first husband when his own wife died and Lulu's presence was standing between him and the respectable marriage he planned.

The painter realises that the version of her life Lulu has given him is completely false, including the impression she has conveyed that she had never loved anyone and the story that her father had died in a madhouse, whereas, Schön tells him, Schigolch is her father. Lulu's past, he reveals, is far from respectable.

Overwhelmed, the painter staggers into the next room and locks the door. When groaning is heard Schön tries to break open the door. Lulu comes back and he tells her to fetch an axe.

Alwa appears with the news that a revolution has broken out in Paris and no one at his father's newspaper knows what to write. They succeed in breaking down the door, to find that the painter has cut his throat.

Schn rings the police, appalled at Lulu's apparent calm. She answers that he will end up by marrying her.

Scene 3. A dressing-room in a theatre.

Lulu is about go go on stage and dance, to music of Alwa's composition. Schön has got her a job in the theatre in his attempt to be free of her, hoping that she will find another husband. She has succeeded in attracting the interest of a prince, who, she tells Alwa, wants to take her to Africa. Alwa remembers the first time he saw her and how he had even respected her more than his dying mother, so much so that after his mother's death he had told his father that he should marry Lulu. Shortly after she goes on stage there is a commotion and she is carried back. She had fainted at the sight of Dr Schön and his future bride. Schön comes backstage and orders her to go back, but she refuses to dance before his fiancee.

Their quarrel ends in his realisation that he is tied to Lulu and cannot marry another. Lulu triumphantly dictates a letter for him in which he breaks off the engagement. He writes with the conviction that it is his death warrant.

ACT II

Scene 1. A magnificent room in Dr Schön's house. The portrait is there, in a new frame.

Countess Geschwitz, herself in mannish costume, begs Lulu to dress as a man for the female artists' fancy dress ball to which she has invited her that night. Dr Schön, now married to Lulu, feels that his life is in ruins. Lulu wants him to take her for a drive, but he is due back at the stock exchange.

As they leave the room, the countess creeps back in and hides, followed by Schigolch and Rodrigo, who is carrying a schoolboy, who wishes to express his passion for Lulu by reading her a poem. Rodrigo says that he wants to marry Lulu and Schigolch admits that he, too, would have liked to marry her - and that he certainly is not her father. Lulu entertains them, as she does every stock exchange day. Alwa arrives and Rodrigo and the schoolboy hide. Shigolch moves more slowly and Alwa sees him. Lulu hastily explains that he is a friend of his father's. Dr Schön returns unannounced and watches from a gallery as Lulu entertains his son.

She is grateful to Alwa for the way he has always supported her, but when he begins to confess to loving her, she tells him that she poisoned his mother. Dr Schön, now aware of the presence of Schigolch and Rodrigo, makes his own presence known and begins to berate Lulu, becoming more paranoid as he discovers Geschwitz.

He hands Lulu a gun, demanding that she kill herself. She begs for mercy, declaring that she has never tried to appear as other than she really is. As the schoolboy springs from his hiding palce, Schön is distracted, and Lulu turns the gun on him and kills him. Despite Lulu's entreaties and promises to be faithful to him, Alwa calls the police.

During an orchestral interlude, a silent film shows Lulu's trial, condemnation and imprisonment.

Scene 2. The same as the previous scene, but neglected and dusty. The portrait is turned to the wall.

Alwa, Countess Geschwitz, Schigolch and Rodrigo have planned Lulu's escape. The countess, having infected herself and Lulu with cholera so that they were in adjoining beds in hospital, is about to go back and switch places with Lulu. Rodrigo, now pretending to be Alwa's servant, is to marry Lulu, take her with him to Paris and use her in a double circus act.

When Schigolch escorts Geschwitz to the hospital, the schoolboy arrives with a plan to help Lulu escape, but they convince him that she has died of cholera.

When Schigolch brings Lulu back, Rodrigo is so disugusted by her emaciated form that he refuses to have anything to do with the plan. Alwa finds Lulu no less beautiful than before and even her reminders that she shot his father and that they are on the couch where he bled to death fail to quell his ardor.

ACT III

Scene 1. A gambling salon in Paris run by Alwa and Lulu. The portrait is on the wall.

In the midst of gambling and talk of the latest hot shares, one of the guests, a marquis, tries to blackmail Lulu, telling her that he knows of her past, and demanding money if she refuses his offer of a position in a brothel in Cairo.

Rodrigo also tries to blackmail her, so she gets Schigolch to kill him, engaging the devoted Countess Geschwitz, to whom she has just been very unkind, to assist in the project by luring him to Shigolch's lodging on the pretext that she is desperate for him to make love to her. It is discovered that the prized shares are now worthless and Alwa, along with most of the guests, has lost his money.

Lulu changes clothes with a groom and when the police arrive, she has escaped.

Scene 2. London, a dingy attic.

Lulu is now obliged to try her luck as a prostitute to keep herself, Alwa and Schigolch. Her first client is a professor who does not speak.

Countess Geschwitz arrives. She has been trying unsuccessfully to raise some money, but brings the portrait of Lulu which she had cut out of its frame before leaving Paris. Lulu is horrified at this reminder of her past beauty, but Alwa understands again the power which is driving him and hangs it on the wall.

Lulu brings back a negro, but they quarrel about payment. Alwa intervenes and the negro strikes him dead with a cudgel. Schigolch goes to the pub, and Countess Geschwitz is looking at the portrait, trying to find the strength to leave Lulu, when she brings in her last client, Jack the Ripper. He has little money, but Lulu begs him to stay with her, and even pays him. They go to her room, where he kills her. He emerges and kills Geschwitz, whose last cry is one of devotion to Lulu.

Hector Berlioz:
Beatrice and Benedick

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Aug 98

ACT I

In the garden of Leonato

The Sicilians welcome home their army, under the generalship of Don Pedro, victorious against the Moors. Hero, daughter of Leonato, Governor of Sicily, hears with pleasure of the success of her beloved Claudio, while her cousin, Beatrice, asks scornfully after the fate of Claudio's best friend Benedick, with whom she wages a constant battle of wits. Hero looks forward to Claudio's return and Beatrice and Benedick trade insults.

When Don Pedro and Claudio ask Benedick if he is ready to follow Claudio's example, he waxes derisive about the charms of marriage, declaring that if they find him taking so foolish a step, they can out a placard on him: "Here you may see Benedick the married man." They resolve to try and make a match between him and Beatrice.

Somarone rehearses his choir in an epithalamium and Benedick continues to reflect on what he considers Claudio's fallen state, from bachelorhood to marriage. Making sure that Benedick is within earshot, Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio discuss Beatrice's supposed infatuation with him. He determines that he will be in love with Beatrice. Hero and Ursula reflect on the coming of night and the joys of love.

ACT II

A grand apartment in the Governor's palace

The wedding banquet is in progress. Somarone sings a drunken song in praise of Sicilian wine. Beatrice, who has overheard Hero and Ursula discussing Benedick's supposed love for her, is moved and prepared to admit to herself that she loves him, but when the two meet, they are awkward and tongue-tied.

The wedding of Hero and Claudio is celebrated and the notary reveals the existence of a second contract. After some hesitation Beatrice and Benedick are persuaded to admit their love. Benedick happpily accepts his placard, declaring him Benedick the married man. They sign the contract, though promising that hostilities will resume tomorrow.

Hector Berlioz:
Les Troyens

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jul 94

ACT I

The site of the abandoned Greek camp on the plains of Troy

The Trojans are rejoicing that the Greeks have departed after 10 years of war and they prepare to drag into the city the great wooden horse which the Greeks have left behind.

Cassandre alone, daughter of King Priam, gifted with prophecy, fears the fall of Troy. She knows that her marriage to Chorèbe is doomed, and grieves that he thinks she has lost her mind since, along with the gift of prophecy, she carries the curse of never being believed. Chorèbe urges her to join the rejoicing, while she begs him to leave her and the doomed city before it is too late, but he refuses.

The royal family of Troy joins the people in thanking the gods for their deliverance. They are interrupted by Énée with strange tidings of the fate of the priest Laocon who, fearing Greeks bearing gifts, had been trying to urge the people to destroy the wooden horse when two serpents had emerged from the sea and devoured him.

Fearing the wrath of the gods who, it is concluded, must have punished Laocon for sacrilege, Priam orders the horse to be taken into Troy at once and the people prepare to make offerings to appease the gods. Cassandre watches, helpless, crying out that the city is doomed.

ACT II

Tableau 1. A room in the palace of Énée

The ghost of Hector warns Énée to flee the city and take the gods of Troy to Italy, where he is destined to found a great nation. The priest Panthée runs in wounded, carrying the sacred images, with the news that the Greeks have burst out of the horse and are destroying the city. King Priam is dead. They prepare to fight, joined by Ascagne, the young son of Énée, and Chorèbe.

Tableau 2. A room in Priam's palace

Cassandre tells the praying Trojan women that Énée will escape and found a new Troy in Italy. Chorèbe is dead and she prepares to kill herself and exhorts the women to join her. As the Greeks burst in Cassandre and the women kill themselves.

ACT III

A hall in the palace of Didon in Carthage

Surrounded by her people Didon celebrates the seventh anniversary of the founding of Carthage - after her husband had been killed she and her people had been forced to flee from their home in Tyre. Her sister Anna tries to encourage her to think of loving again; but she calls down a curse on herself if she is ever false to the memory of her husband, symbolised for her by his ring which she wears.

The poet Iopas announces the arrival of storm-tossed travellers seeking refuge, which she grants in memory of her own trials. nÈe is disguised as a sailor and it is Ascagne who asks for asylum, offering the riches of Troy in return. Panthée tells Didon their leader is Énée, whose destiny it is to find a glorious death in Italy, and she welcomes the Trojans.

Didon's minister Narbal brings news that Iarbas, fierce king of the Numidians, whose suit had been refused by Dido, is attacking Carthage, which is not strong enough to withstand him. Énée throws off his disguise and offers assistance. He leaves Ascagne in Didon's protection as he prepares to lead the Carthaginians into battle.

ACT IV

Tableau 1. An African forest

The pantomime of the royal hunt and storm, with the word Italy punctuating the tumult.

Tableau 2. Didon's gardens by the sea

Narbal is worried that now that the Numidians have been defeated, Didon no longer attends to affairs of state, but spends the time hunting and feasting. When Anna explains that Didon loves Énée, he is concerned, knowing that fate calls Énée to Italy. But Anna sees no problem, feeling that Énée is equally bound to Carthage. She is delighted by her sister's happiness.

Didon, Énée and other Trojans appear and are entertained by songs and ballets, but Didon dismisses them and asks Iopas for something simpler. He sings a hymn to the goddess Ceres, but even that Didon finds not to her taste.

She asks Énée to tell her of the fate of Andromache, widow of Hector and is horrified to learn that Andromache has married her captor Pyrrhus, who had killed Priam and whose father Achilles had killed her husband Hector; but Didon also feels in some way absolved for her own love for Énée.

Unheeded by her, Ascagne playfully removes her former husband's ring from her finger. All leave except Didon and Énée, who confess and consummate their love. As they leave the moonlit garden the god Mercury appears, strikes the shield of Énée and shouts "Italy!"

ACT V

Tableau 1. The sea shore

Hylas, a young Trojan sailor, sings of his lost homeland as he falls asleep.

Panthée and other Trojan leaders prepare to leave: the ghosts of Hector and other dead Trojans have been seen along with other portents warning them they must be on their way. They expect that Énée will be strong minded and leave Didon. Two Trojan sentries have no desire to leave, having found girls and comfort in Carthage. Énée has told Didon he must go. Though grieved by her suffering, he remains firm in his resolve and prepares to bid her a last farewell, his resolve being strengthened by the appearance of the Trojan ghosts urging him on to Italy. When he tries to answer Didon's reproaches with explanations about his duty, she curses him and his gods.

Tableau 2. A room in Didon's palace

Didon begs Anna to plead with Énée. Anna feels guilt at having encouraged Didon to love Énée, but assures her that he loves her. They learn that the Trojans have already sailed.

The distraught Didon announces her intention of sacrificing Énée's gifts as an offering to the gods of the dead, intending to kill herself at the same time.

Tableau 3. A garden by the sea

The pyre has been built and the offerings placed on it. When the fire is lit, Didon mounts the pyre and stabs herself.

A vision of the glory of Rome appears, invisible to the bystanders, and Didon dies, prophesying that Hannibal will avenge the wrongs of Carthage on the Romans. The Carthaginians curse the race of Énée.

Leonard Bernstein:
Trouble in Tahiti

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 96

As a jazz trio praises the joys of suburbia, Sam and Dinah, who have been married for 10 years, quarrel over breakfast, as they are unable to prevent themselves from doing every day. Dinah accuses Sam of being excessively interested in his secretary and he denies it angrily.  She reminds him that they are due to attend a school play in which their son has the leading role, but he says he can't come, as he is due at the gym, where he hopes  to win a gold cup in the handball tournament.  She accuses him of being selfish.

As he leaves for the office he suggests they try to stop brawling and talk things over that night, but he becomes angry when she asks for money to pay her analyst, whom he accuses of being "an out-and-out fake." He goes to the office and she to the analyst.  He is pleased with a firm business decision and an act of generosity and the trio sardonically hails him as a genius and an angel.

On the analyst's couch, Dinah describes a dream in which she was unable to get out of a garden gone to seed and full of weeds and unable to find a beautiful garden, a quiet place, promised by the voice of a singer. Checking with his secretary, Sam finds she remembers an occasion, which he has forgotten, on which he made a pass at her. Dinah remembers falling in love with Sam at the age of 17 and the feeling that love would lead to the quiet place.

Sam and Dinah meet in the street and each pretends to have a prior engagement.  They wonder why they felt the need to lie to avoid spending an hour together, where the mystery and delight of their marriage have gone and why they can't find the garden, the quiet place. Dinah goes to a film, Trouble in Tahiti, but as she reflects on its stupidity, she finds herself caught up in a song from it, Island Magic, then snaps out of it, declaring once again that it was a terrible movie. Sam has won his cup, but reflects that he now has to pay for it with another domestic scene.  The trio accompanies Sam and Dinah's attempt to discuss things which degenerates into trivia.  Dinah admits that she too failed to attend the school play.  As a way of escape from one another, Sam suggests they go to a movie.

Although they went to a film the night before and she has seen this one, Dinah accepts the suggestion, and they set off to see Trouble in Tahiti, seeking on the silver screen a substitute for the happiness they are still unable to find together.

Harrison Birtwistle:
Bow Down

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Feb 92

The text consists of a series of variants of an old ballad, current in Northern Britain, Scandinavia and America.

The basic scenario presents two sisters (usually royal or at least noble) and a suitor, who seems to court the elder ("dark sister"), but prefers the younger ("fair sister"). The elder pushes the younger into a river/the sea and turns a deaf ear to her entreaties and offers of rewards if she will pull her out.

The younger sister's body is washed down to a mill, where it is found by the miller's daughter, who thinks first it is a white swan. In one version, she is still alive and begs the miller to pull her out, offering a gold chain, but he pushes her back in and takes the chain. In other versions he either makes a harp out of her body or, joined by his servant, who eyes the body lustfully, removes portions as precious stones (e.g. nipples as rubies).

In yet another form of the ballad, it is a minstrel who makes the harp, which is then played at the court at the wedding of the dark sister and accuses her of murder. She is tortured and confesses, and is then buried alive by the shore where her sister was drowned.

Harrison Birtwistle:
Down by the Greenwood Side

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Feb 92

 

The text consists of two strands interwoven, one dealing with the ballad of the "Cruel Mother," sung by Mrs Green, enacting the killing of her newborn child (or children) by a mother to conceal the births. The children engage in a reproachful dialogue with her.

Unconnected with this is the main story, a traditional mummers' play, with Father Christmas (a more primitive figure than the present-day version) as the master of ceremonies, in which Saint George fights twice with Bold Slasher and is killed both times, being brought back to life once by Dr Blood and once by a magical figure, Jack Finney.

Georges Bizet:
Carmen

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Nov 94

ACT I

A square in Seville, with a guardhouse and cigarette factory

Micaela looks for Don José, but he will not be there till the guard is changed. Urchins mock the soldiers at the changing of the guard. The girls from the cigarette factory mingle with the soldiers, but Carmen remains aloof: she can only love one who flees, not one who loves her. Since Don José is ignoring her, she flings a flower in his face and runs off.

He hides it inside his tunic as Micaela returns, bringing a letter from his mother and a kiss, which he returns.

There is a disturbance in the factory, Carmen has stabbed another girl and Zuniga orders Don José to take her to prison, but she bewitches him into letting her escape.

ACT II

The tavern of Lillas Pastia

Carmen rejects the advances of Zuniga. She is waiting for Don José, who is about to be released from prison (he had been demoted and imprisoned for letting her escape). She also seems unimpressed by the toreador Escamillo, who makes advances to her.

As all leave except Carmen and her gypsy friends, Zuniga promises to return, despite her discouragement. She refuses to join the smugglers because she is in love. Hearing Don José's voice, she tells the others to leave. He is jealous when he learns that she has danced for the officers, so she dances for him, but is interrupted by the bugle sounding the retreat. When Don José insists that he must return to barracks she accuses him of not loving her. He produces the faded flower, telling her it has stayed with him through his imprisonment.

If he loves her, she says, he will follow her to the mountains, but he is still resolved to leave. He is still there when Zuniga returns and disobeys Zuniga's order to leave. They come to blows and are separated by the smugglers. Don José now has no choice but to desert and join the smugglers.

ACT III

A pass high in the mountains

The smugglers make camp. Don José regrets his present way of life, particularly as Carmen is disenchanted with him. As Mercédès and Frasquita lightheartedly tell their fortunes, Carmen consults the cards and reads her death in them.

Don José is left on guard as the girls go down to beguile the customs officers while the men take the goods through. Micaela has come in search of Don José. She hides. Escamillo has come in search of Carmen and is discovered by Don José. They fight, and only the return of the smugglers saves Escamillo, as Carmen restrains Don José.

Micaela is discovered. She has brought Don José a message from his dying mother and Carmen scornfully tells him to go. He swears that he will return.

ACT IV

Outside the bullring in Seville

Escamillo arrives for the bullfight, accompanied by Carmen. Warned by her friends that Don José is looking for her, she refuses to beware, but waits outside to confront him. As she continues to resist his entreaties and threats, he kills her as the crowd acclaims the victorious Escamillo. Having killed his beloved Carmen, Don José surrenders to the law.

Georges Bizet:
Les Pêcheurs des Perles

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Nov 88

ACT I

A wild beach in Ceylon

The pearl fishers are dancing, feasting and drinking in anticipation of the diving season. They choose Zurga as their chief, promising him absolute obedience.

Nadir, a former fellow diver who has spent some years hunting, is welcomed on his return to the village. Zurga is particularly glad to see him as they had been close friends. They remember a trip they had made to a temple in Kandy, where both had fallen in love with the presiding priestess, and renew a vow they made at the time, not to let this love come between them, and swear to remain friends until death.

A canoe arrives bearing an unknown veiled woman who has been chosen by the elders to pray for the success of the pearl harvest and the safety of the divers. The villagers welcome her and Zurga reminds her that her task is to pray alone on a steep and inaccessible cliff above the beach. If she is faithful to her task she will be given the best pearl they find, but if she fails, death is the penalty. Although disturbed by the sight of Nadir, she swears to be steadfast and to remain veiled and have conversation with no one and is led away by Nourabad, the high priest.

Nadir is startled by the sound of her voice, but convinces himself that it is an illusion, such as he has often experienced since, false to his oath to Zurga, he had sought out Leila, the priestess from Kandy, and love had blossomed between them.

When Leila begins her incantations to the gods, he realises that it really is the woman he loves, while she is inspired by the consciousness of his nearness.

ACT II

The ruins of an Indian temple

Nourabad tells Leila that her task is over for the night as the boats have returned safely. She is momentarily afraid when he proposes to leave her alone on the cliff, but he assures her that she will be safe as long as she keeps her promise. She comforts herself by remembering that when she was only a child she had kept her word and remained steadfast in the face of death when she saved a man who was pursued by enemies by hiding him in her family hut and keeping silent when questioned, in return for which he had given her a necklace.

When Nourabad has gone, she is again nervous, until she remembers that Nadir is near her; but when he scales the cliff and appears beside her, she is terrified on his account, as he has incurred the penalty of death if discovered. Although she returns his passion and assures him that her love has not grown cold, she is still afraid for him and persuades him to leave, promising that they will meet the next day; but they are discovered by Nourabad, who rouses the village.

A storm breaks out and the villagers blame Leila and Nadir for sacrilegiously provoking the wrath of the gods. Zurga intervenes as they are about to be sacrificed, and orders the villagers to spare them, but when Nourabad tears off Leila's veil and he recognises her, he leads the renewed call for their deaths.

ACT III

Scene 1. Zurga's tent

Zurga reflects that although the storm has abated, his tempestuous feelings have not. He is grieved that he has condemned to death both his friend and the woman he loves.

Leila is brought in by two divers. Ready to die herself, she begs for mercy for Nadir, but her declaration of love for Nadir only inflames Zurga, who refuses to spare him. As she is taken away, Leila gives a necklace to one of the divers, asking that it be given to her mother when she is dead.

Scene 2. A wild place

The villagers are waiting for sunrise, when they will sacrifice Leila and Nadir. A red glow appears, but Zurga runs in to warn them that it is not the dawn, but their huts which are burning.

As they run off to rescue their children, he frees Leila and Nadir, telling them that he lit the fire himself. He had recognised Leila's necklace, as it was he whom she had saved.

The lovers escape and Zurga is left alone, waiting to die in the fire he started.

Benjamin Britten:
Billy Budd

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

May 93

PROLOGUE: Vere

Captain Vere's recollections as an old man frame the action of the opera. As he looks back over a long life of study as well as action, he muses that he has seen much evil and good, though the latter has never been perfect. Meant to lead others, he feels that he has lived in a state of confusion and wonders who has blessed him. In 1797, shortly after the mutiny at the Nore by British seamen, he was in command of the Indomitable, fighting against the French.

ACT I

Scene 1. Early morning on board the Indomitable

Sailors are scrubbing the deck. The Novice accidentally falls foul of the Bosun, who orders Squeak, a corporal, to give him 20 lashes. The cutter which had been dispatched under the command of Mr Ratcliffe, the Second Lieutenant, to board a merchant vessel, The Rights o' Man, to impress men, arrives back with three sailors.

Under the supervision of Mr Redburn, the First Lieutenant, and Mr Flint, the Sailing Master, John Claggart, the Master-at-Arms, examines the recruits. Red Whiskers is old and unco-operative, Arthur Jones is younger, but not promising, but it is the third man, Billy Budd, who attracts instant admiration, even from the sardonic Claggart, who describes him as a "King's bargain," despite his defect - an intermittent stammer. He knows nothing of his antecedents, having been a foundling, is unable to read, but can sing.

He is assigned to the foretop and accepts eagerly, bidding a cheerful farewell to his old ship, whose name, Rights o' Man, arouses suspicion in the minds of the officers that he is a potential mutineer. They warn Claggart to keep an eye on him, but he, aware that Budd is no danger, reflects that he knows more of men's weaknesses than they do. He orders Squeak to wage a campaign of petty irritation against Billy, promising to stand by him if he is caught, but warning him against Billy's temper and fists.

The Novice, barely able to stand after his punishment, is supported by his friend. Claggart is umoved by his plight, but Billy, who has never seen blood shed for no reason, is appalled. Dansker, an old sailor, warns Billy against "Jemmy Legs" - Claggart. Learning that the Captain's name is nicknamed "Starry" Vere, and that he is admired by the men, Billy swears to serve him loyally.

Scene 2. Captain Vere's cabin

Vere invites the First Lieutenant and Sailing Master to join him in a drink. They toast the king and drink confusion to the French. They discuss the ever-present danger of mutiny, which looms large in their minds after the recent uprisings at Spithead and the Nore. Vere, while admitting that there may have been legitimate grievances in the first instance, regards the Nore incident as an example of the spread of seditious French revolutionary ideas.

Still influenced by Billy Budd's farewell to "the old Right o' Man, " the two officers consider him a potential danger, but Vere assures them that this was simply high spirits. He listens with satisfaction to the men singing below decks. The second Lieutanant reports that Cape Finisterre has been sighted; the ship is now in enemy waters.

Scene 3. The berth-deck

The men off watch are singing shanties. When Dansker expresses the wish for a plug of tobacco, Billy offers to get him one and discovers Squeak interfering with his kit. They struggle and Squeak draws a knife, but is soon felled by Billy. When Squeak tries to claim Claggart's protection, he is put in irons and gagged. Claggart commends Billy: "Handsomely done my lad. And handsome is as handsome did it, too." But he lashes out at a boy who stumbles against him, and reveals in a soliloquy his hatred of Billy because of his handsomeness and goodness, vowing to destroy this being who shines such light into the darkness of his own natural depravity.

Squeak having failed him, he browbeats the Novice into trying to suborn Billy into mutiny with two gold guineas. The Novice's fear of further punishment gets the better of his reluctacne to betray Billy. The Novice approaches the sleeping Billy, begging him to be the leader of a supposed party of discontented impressed men, but Billy, stammering in his rage, drives him away. He tells Dansker what has happened, and the old sailor, identifying the source of the trouble, warns him that "Jemmy Legs" is down on him, but Billy declares that Claggart, like everyone else on board, likes him.

ACT II

Scene 1. The main-deck and quarter-deck, some days later

The ship is surrounded by mist as Claggart approaches Captain Vere to make a complaint about a danger to the ship. He is interrupted by the cry that a French ship has been sighted. The men, who have been impatiently waiting such a chance, prepare to chase it - Billy, Dansker, Red Whiskers and another sailor, Donald, volunteer for a boarding party - but it is too fast, and the crew subsides into grumbling. Claggart again approaches the impatient Vere, accusing Billy of mutiny and producing the two gold coins as evidence that he had been trying to recruit followers. Although sceptical, Vere has to question Billy and has him summoned quietly to his cabin.

Scene 2. The Captain's cabin, a few minutes later

Billy, having heard rumors that he is to be promoted, is all eagerness, begging to be allowed to be the Captain's coxswain. Vere, though even more convinced of Billy's innocence and suspicious of Claggart, is obliged to confront Billy with his accuser.

When Claggart accuses Billy of mutiny, he is struck by his stammer and, in frustration at his inability to answer, strikes Claggart on the forehead and he falls dead.

Vere calls a drum-head court-martial, presided over by his officers (he has to be a witness). Billy answers that he is loyal to his king and ship, but has to admit striking Claggart. He begs Vere to save him, and is sent out as the court deliberates. The officers ask Vere for counsel, but he is unable to help them and reluctantly they sentence Billy to hang from the yard-arm at dawn. Vere, fully aware of the anomaly of having to execute a good man for the inadvertent killing of an evil one, goes to break the news to him.

Scene 3. A bay of the gun-deck before dawn

In irons, Billy prepares tranquilly for his fate. Dansker brings him food and drink and advises that the men are prepared to mutiny on his account, but Billy warns that they will hang without saving him. Billy reflects that fate had ordained his killing of Claggart and his own death.

Scene 4. The main-deck and quarter-deck, four o'clock in the morning

The first Lieutenant reads the Articles of War, by which Billy has been condemned, and the sentence. Billy calls out "Starry Vere, God bless you!" echoed by the crew. As he is hanged, a murmur arises among the men, but they disperse when ordered.

EPILOGUE: Vere

Years later, Vere reflects that he could have saved Billy, whose goodness he feels has in some way blessed him.

Benjamin Britten:
Death in Venice

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Oct 89

ACT I

Scene 1. Munich

The famous writer Gustav von Aschenbach finds his inspiration failing in his 50s. Walking past a cemetery he meets a mysterious traveller who puts into his mind the idea of travel to exotic foreign parts. He yields to the impulse to go south in the hope of spiritual refreshment.

Scene 2. On the boat to Venice

A rouged elderly fop pesters Aschenbach with his conversation and insinuations that Aschenbach is in search of a "little darling," and Aschenbach finds that the approach to Venice does not give him the joy he was expecting.

Scene 3. The journey to the Lido

In a gondola on the way to his hotel Aschenbach wakes from a reverie about "ambiguous Venice" to find he is being taken the wrong way. Despite his protests, the old gondolier refuses to change course, saying that "the signore will pay."

At the quay the gondolier disappears without waiting to be paid, leaving Aschenbach to compare his strange voyage with the journey across the Styx with Charon the ferryman.

Scene 4. The first evening at the hotel

The hotel manager welcomes Aschenbach effusively and shows him his room, with a view of the beach. Aschenbach reflects ironically on the contrast between his distinguished career and his present experiences, where everything is strange and "out of focus."

Watching the cosmopolitan guests preparing for dinner, he is particularly struck by a young Polish boy, whose mysterious beauty is in marked contrast to his two plain sisters. Aschenbach reflects on the artist's "treacherous proneness to side with beauty."

Scene 5. On the beach

The weather is oppressive. Aschenbach is unable to work and fears he may have to leave. He watches children at play and buys some strawberries from an itinerant vendor and begins to find peace in the scene, seeing in the sea a form of the perfection he has always striven for.

The beautiful Polish boy joins the children, and assumes the position of leader. Aschenbach hears his name - Tadzio - and feels a father's pleasure in the boy's beauty which it seems he might almost have created himself. He reflects that his life has become too detached and solitary.

Scene 6. The foiled departure

Aschenbach crosses to the city in a gondola and strolls through the streets, where he is pestered by would-be guides, beggars and street vendors. Oppressed by the weather and the crowd he feels the need for fresh mountain air, and rushes back to the hotel to announce his departure, to the fulsome regret of the manager.

Although finding the air fresher and regretting the shortness of his acquaintance with Tadzio, he sets off by gondola, but finds that his luggage has been put on the wrong train. He decides to return, glad that his hand has been forced and feeling invigorated, for once, by the disruption to his normally orderly way of life.

Seeing Tadzio again, he realises that the boy is the reason for his reluctance to leave.

Scene 7. The games of Apollo

Aschenbach sits in a chair on the beach watching Tadzio and the other children playing. They work their way through the five sports of the Greek pentathlon, with a commentary by the chorus and the voice of Apollo, so that the games are transformed into a ritual.

Tadzio wins everything and the voice of Apollo proclaims that "beauty is the mirror of spirit."

Aschenbach feels his inspiration renewed by Tadzio - he will be set free by beauty. He wishes to congratulate Tadzio, but even though the boy smiles as he passes, Aschenbach is strangely tongue-tied, only able to stammer "I love you" after Tadzio has gone.

ACT II

Aschenbach broods on the fact that he could find only those hackneyed words to express his emotion.

Scene 8. The barber's shop (i)

The hotel barber mentions "the sickness," but changes the subject when Aschenbach asks him to explain.

Scene 9. The pursuit

Crossing to the city Aschenbach finds notices giving warnings about infection. No one will answer his questions, but he buys a German newspaper and learns that cholera is suspected in the city.

Seeing the Polish family, he resolves that they must learn nothing that may make them leave. He follows them into St Mark's and is sure that Tadzio is aware of him. He follows their gondola back to the hotel - first reproaching himself for his weakness, then bowing to the power of Eros.

Scene 10. The strolling players

Three singers perform for the hotel guests. When the leader takes his hat around Aschenbach questions him about the plague, but is answered evasively.

The players sing a mocking song and Aschenbach is pleased because Tadzio does not join in the general laughter, but remains aloof like him.

Scene 11. The travel bureau

An English clerk is trying to deal with a crowd of people wanting to make arrangements to leave Venice. He tells Aschenbach the truth about the cholera, describing its progress westwards from the delta of the River Ganges.

Warning of the chaos to come, he advises Aschenbach to leave while he can.

Scene 12. The lady of the pearls

Aschenbach tries to bring himself to warn Tadzio's mother, but finds himself tongue-tied. He realises that he is beginning to welcome the general disintegration and toying with the idea that only he and Tadzio might be left alive.

Scene 13. The dream

Aschenbach dreams a debate between Dionysus (indulgence and unreason) and Apollo (restraint and reason). The victory of Dionysus reflects his demoralisation and he is resigned to let the gods do their will with him.

Scene 14. The empty beach

Aschenbach repeats his surrender: "Do what you will with me."

Scene 15. The hotel barber's shop (ii)

Aschenbach allows the barber to dye his hair and paint his face.

Scene 16. The last visit to Venice

Aschenbach follows the Polish family around the city. Seeing Tadzio waiting for him, he turns away. He loses the family. He buys strawberries, but this time they are over-ripe.

Tired and ill, he rests, meditating on the words of Socrates to Phaedrus: "Beauty leads to wisdom but through the senses ... and senses lead to passion and passion to the abyss."

Scene 17. The departure

The hotel manager prepares to farewell guests and Aschenbach learns that the Polish family is to leave after lunch.

He goes out to the beach where Tadzio is playing with other boys. For the first time Tadzio is dominated and his friend Jaschiu grinds his face into the sand.

As the others run off, Tadzio walks far out to sea, seeming to beckon to Aschenbach, who slumps in his chair - dead.

Benjamin Britten:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Apr 94

ACT I

A wood near Athens

A gathering of fairies, attendants of Tytania, Queen of the Fairies, is interrupted by Puck, the servant of Oberon, King of the Fairies. Tytania and Oberon have quarrelled because she refuses to give him one of her attendants, an Indian boy, to be his page. Because of the quarrel, they have neglected their duties, and nature is in disarray. Determining on revenge, Oberon orders Puck to fetch him a magic herb, whose juice, dropped on a sleeper's eyelids, causes him to fall madly in love with the first creature he sees on waking. Oberon intends to use this on Tytania.

Lysander and Hermia are fleeing from the Athenian law which insists that Hermia obey her father and marry Demetrius, but they have been followed by Demetrius, who is in love with Hermia. He in turn is followed by Helena, who loves him so much that she has betrayed her friend Hermia's plans to him. Observed by Oberon, Demetrius spurns Helena and runs off. When Puck brings back the magic herb, Oberon tells him to anoint the eyes of an Athenian youth - Demetrius - to make him return Helena's love.

A group of Athenian tradesmen come to the wood to rehearse a play about Pyramus and Thisbe, which they hope to perform for the wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen. The parts are assigned by Peter Quince, though not without some difficulty, as Nick Bottom wants to play every part, in addition to his proper role of Pyramus. They separate to learn their lines, agreeing to return to the spot for a rehearsal.

Lysander and Hermia reappear, exhausted from their wanderings, and lie down to sleep. Puck, mistaking Lysander for the Athenian youth mentioned by Oberon, puts the juice of the flower into his eyes. Demetrius runs through, pursued by Helena, who is too exhausted to follow him further. Seeing Lysander, she fears he may be dead, and wakes him up. Under the influence of the magic flower he falls madly in love with her, but she thinks he is mocking her and runs away. He follows her, abandoning Hermia, who wakes up to find herself alone. She sets off in search of Lysander.

Surrounded by her attendants, Tytania falls asleep, but Oberon creeps up and anoints her eyes with the magic juice, bidding her to "wake when some vile thing is near."

ACT II

The tradesmen start their rehearsal. Puck slips up behind Bottom and puts an ass' head on him. This frightens the others, who run away. Bottom is singing to himself to keep up his spirits, when Tytania wakes up and falls in love with him. She orders fairies to attend to his every wish. He is tired and goes to sleep.

Hermia meets Demetrius and accuses him of having killed Lysander. She continues her search and he lies down to sleep. Oberon, who is watching and has realised Puck's error, sends him to bring Helena to the spot so that she will be on hand when Demerius wakes, and puts the juice in Demetrius' eyes.

But when Helena appears, she is accompanied by Lysander,who is still protesting his devotion. When Demetrius wakes up and also expresses his sudden love, she is unable to believe that he is genuine. Hermia comes on the scene, to find that both men now love Helena, who accuses Hermia of having conspired with them to deride her. The two girls quarrel and Lysander and Demetrius prepare to fight over Helena. Angry at Puck's mistake, Oberon orders him to create a mist and lead the men astray so they cannot harm one another and then put them to sleep and anoint Lysander's eyes with an antidote. When this has been done, Puck brings the girls and puts them to sleep too.

ACT III

Tytania has given the Indian boy to Oberon, who now takes pity on her and undoes the spell. She is horrified to see the creature she has been in love with. Oberon orders Puck to remove the ass' head and Oberon and Tytania are reconciled.

The four young people wake up, paired off properly, wondering about what they have experienced.

Bottom wakes up to find himself again, but he has a strange intimation that something wonderful has happened to him. He is reunited with his friends and they learn that their play has been chosen. Theseus and Hippolyta are preparing for their marriage. The two pairs of lovers explain that their differences have been resolved and Theseus agrees that Hermia can marry the man of her choice. The "tedious brief scene" of Pyramus and Thisbe is performed and the three couples retire to bed. The fairies invoke a blessing on the palace and its occupants

Benjamin Britten:
Peter Grimes

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 92

PROLOGUE

Inside the Moot Hall

An inquest is conducted by the lawyer Mr Swallow into the death of Peter Grimes' apprentice. Swallow accepts Grimes's account of how the boy died at sea when they ran out of water, bringing in a verdict of "accidental circumstances," but warns Grimes not to get another apprentice. Grimes protests that he must have an apprentice and complains that the people of the Borough will blame him, despite the verdict. The widowed schoolteacher Ellen Orford tries to comfort him and they leave together.

ACT I

Scene 1. A street by the sea; the Moot Hall and the Boar both visible

The people of the village are going about their business. Grimes comes back from fishing but no one is willing to give him a hand to pull his boat ashore until Captain Balstrode and Ned Keene help him. Keene tells Grimes that he has found another workhouse boy to be his apprentice, but Hobson the carter only agrees to pick up the boy when Ellen offers to go with him.

Mrs Sedley is anxious about her supply of laudanum and accepts with ill grace Keene's instructions to meet him in the Boar, where he will hand over the drug when Hobson brings it. A storm is rising and Bob Boles, who has turned Methodist, calls on all to repent.

Balstrode asks why Grimes does not try his luck elsewhere, but, outcast though he is, he is too rooted to the Borough to leave. He intends to make money - the only thing the Borough understands - and then marry Ellen. He is too proud to take up Balstrode's suggestion that he marry her now. As the storm begins to rage he wonders if life holds any peace for him.

Scene 2. Inside the Boar

The raging storm is apparent every time someone opens the door. Mrs Sedley is ill at ease as she waits for her laudanum. Boles, who is drunk, accosts one of Auntie's "Nieces," and has to be restrained by Balstrode, who enunciates the basic rule of pub conversation: "We live and let live, and look, we keep our hands to ourselves."

Grimes comes in and sits lost in contemplation, unaware of the hostile reaction of the company. When Boles starts to harangue Grimes, Balstrode calls for a song. Everyone strikes up a round, Old Joe has gone Fishing, but Peter, joining in with disjointed recollections of the death of his apprentice, thows it out of kilter.

The carter arrives with Ellen and the boy, cold and wet, and Grimes drags the boy away without even a warm drink, to the disapproval of everyone.

ACT II

Scene 1. As Act I, Scene 1; a sunny Sunday morning, some weeks later

The church service proceeds as Ellen and the boy sit by the quay. He does not reply to her questions and she is horrified to discover a bruise on his neck. Grimes comes to take the boy fishing, brushing aside Ellen's request for his day of rest to be respected, and says that he got the bruise "out of the hurly-burly." Unable to sway him, Ellen cries out: "We have failed," and he strikes her, answering roughly: "So be it! And God have mercy upon me!"

As Peter and the boy leave, Auntie, Keene and Boles, who have been watching from various windows, approach Ellen, expressing little sympathy, on the grounds that she has brought it on herself. The service over, the church-goers join in, ignoring Balstrode's protests.

Ellen explains how she and Peter had planned for a new life and how she had ried to care for the apprentice, but feeling against Grimes mounts. At the rector's suggestion a vigilante party sets off, to the accompaniment of a drum, to visit Grimes in his hut.

Scene 2. Grimes' hut

Grimes, rough but not brutal, orders the boy to take off his Sunday clothes and get ready for fishing. He still clings, though less hopefully, to his dream of catching enough fish to become rich , marry Ellen and silence the gossips.

Hearing the approaching procession he accuses the boy of telling tales, and orders him to climb down the cliff at the back of the hut, their usual way to the boat. Despite Grimes' warning to be careful, as the storm had washed away some of the cliff, the boy falls with a cry. Grimes follows quickly and the people find the hut empty, but tidy. Swallow urges less interference in people's private lives.

ACT III

Scene 1. As in Act I, Scene 1; a summer evening

There is a dance in the Moot Hall and the Boar is also doing good business. Somewhat the worse for drink, Swallow makes a pass at one of the Nieces, while Keene chases the other. They escape and Mrs Sedley accosts Keene, accusing Grimes of murdering his apprentice, as neither has been seen for some days.

He does not believe her, saying that her wits are addled by laudanum, so she hides near a boat and overhears a converstion between Ellen and Balstrode, who reports that Grimes's boat is back but there is no sign of the boy. Ellen shows him the boy's jersey which she has found washed up on the shore. Armed with this knowledge, Mrs Sedley renews her accusation, this time to Swallow, and a posse is organised to search for Grimes.

Scene 2. As in Scene 1; some hours later

Demented, Grimes broods on the deaths of the apprentices and his blighted dreams. As the voices of the searchers are heard, he echoes their shouts of "Peter Grimes." Ellen and Balstrode come to him and Balstrode advises him to take his boat out of sight of land and sink it. He helps Grimes push the boat out and leads Ellen away.

EPILOGUE

Dawn breaks and the searchers return to the Borough, which resumes its daily round. The reported sight of a boat sinking far out to sea arouses little interest.

Benjamin Britten:
The Rape of Lucretia

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Dec 80

ACT I

Scene 1.

Male and Female Chorus are seated on either side of the stage, reading from books. They explain the events against which the action of the opera takes place.

By murder and treachery, the Etruscan Tarquinius Superbus has become King of Rome and rules in a reign of terror. His son Tarquinius Sextus leads a Roman army against the Greeks, to distract attention from conditions in Rome, "and treats the proud city as if it were his whore."

A curtain rises to reveal the army camp outside Rome with the generals' tent where Collatinus, Junius and Tarquinius are drinking. It is night. They discuss the events of the previous night when some of generals had ridden back to Rome to check up on their wives and found most of them unfaithful, including the wife of Junius. Collatinus tells them they were foolish to go and the others comment that he has no need to worry since his wife Lucretia was the only one found virtuously at home.

Tarquinius taunts Junius with the faithlessness of his wife and they quarrel acrimoniously. Collatinus calms them and Tarquinius proposes a toast to the chaste Lucretia. Junius bursts out of the tent, unable to bear the comparison between Lucretia and his wife. Male Chorus comments, remarking how lucky Collatinus is to have chosen a virtuous wife.

Collatinus comes out and reproaches Junius for venting his rage against his own wife in bitterness against Lucretia and, and Junius apologises. When Tarquinius joins them and resumes his taunting of Junius, Collatinus reproves him and makes peace between the two. Satisfied with his work he retires to bed.

Tarquinius reveals his obsession with Lucretia, claiming that she is "as chaste as she is beautiful" and declaring that he will "prove Lucretia chaste." Junius leaves him with an admonition that he will not dare. As Tarqunius paces up and down Male Chorus utters his thoughts:

Tarquinius does not dare,
When Tarquinius does not desire;
But I am Prince of Rome
And Lucretia's eyes my Empire.

Tarquinius breaks in in his own voice calling for his horse.

Interlude

Male Chrous relates Tarquinius' ride to Rome.

Scene 2. The hall of Lucretia's home

Lucretia, her nurse Bianca and her maid Lucia are sewing and spinning. Joined by Female Chorus, they sing of a woman's fate.

Lucretia starts up, thinking she hears a knock and hoping it might be a messenger from Collatinus - even though, as Bianca reminds her, she has already had two letters from him that day. But there was no one at the door. Lucretia laments her separation from her husband.

It is late and they begin folding linen while Female Chorus reflects on the lot of women. They prepare to go to bed while Male and Female Chorus alternate, she describing the sleeping city and he the approach of Tarquinius.

(In the scene that follows they continue to describe what is happening while the characters mime the actions described, only occasionally uttering lines of their own.)

Tarquinius knocks at the door and is admitted. He claims hospitality, alleging his horse is lame. Lucretia is unable to refuse him but the two servants mutter suspiciously. Bianca in particular fears danger and resents his presence. They all bid one another good night and depart for bed.

ACT II

Scene 1.

Male and Female Chorus read from their books a commentary on the character of the Etruscans and are interrupted by the off-stage mutterings of Collatinus, Junius, Bianca and Lucia about the corruption of Rome under their rule. The Choruses discard their books and explain that they are viewing the action from the standpoint of the present day and according to Christian standards.

The curtain rises, showing Lucretia asleep with a candle beside her. Tarquinius approaches steathily, described by Male Chorus. He wakes Lucretia with a kiss and she reveals her deep-seated fear of him: "In the forest of my dreams you have always been the Tiger."

He begs for her love and when she refuses siezes her forcibly. She struggles free and he threatens her with his sword, the Choruses commenting the while. As Tarquinius beats out the candle with his sword the curtain falls quickly.

Interlude

The Choruses lament the triumph of sin and pray for relief.

Scene 2. The hall of Lucretia's house the next morning

Bianca and Lucia greet the lovely day and collect flowers to adorn the house. They leave the orchids for Lucretia to arrange as they are Collatinus' favorite flowers. Bianca says that she thinks she heard Tarquinius gallop away before dawn. She is glad that Lucretia is still asleep because she is so often wakeful, pining for Collatinus.

Lucretia appears and tells Bianca that she slept "as heavily as death." When Bianca gives her the orchids her calm is suddenly shattered and she cries out in horror at them. She tells Lucia to send a message to Collatinus with one of the flowers. The message is wild and distraught: "Give him this orchid and tell him a Roman harlot sent it."

Lucretia then takes the flowers but twines them into a wreath. Bianca is perturbed at this, but Lucretia reminds her how she had taught herself to weave garlands when she was young. Lucretia goes and Bianca remembers her in happy former days. When Lucia comes back Bianca tells her the message must not be sent, even though Lucretia had ordered it: "Sometimes a good servant should forget an order."

But it is too late: Collatinus has already come, accompanied by Junius who had heard Tarquinius leave the camp and return at dawn and warned Collatinus "too late", as Collatinus tells him as Lucretia approaches dressed in purple mourning garments.

Collatinus and Lucretia speak of the intensity of their love: "To love as we loved was to live on the edge of tragedy." Lucretia tells him how Tarquinius had raped her and thus violated the integrity of their love. Collatinus tries to comfort her with the argument that there was no shame since she had not consented, but she feels too deeply shamed and stabs herself.

Collatinus, Junius, Bianca and Lucia utter a lament in which Male and Female Chorus join. The Choruses too conclude by contemplating the tragedy, the suffering and the pain in Christian terms and proclaiming their faith in Christ's forgiveness.

Benjamin Britten:
The Turn of the Screw

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

May 87

The action takes place at Bly, a country house, about the middle of the last century.

PROLOGUE

The narrator describes the circumstances surrounding the engagement of a young governess to a new post in a country house.

Moved by the persuasion of the young and handsome uncle of two orphan children, their guardian, she accepts the appointment and the conditions that she is not to worry him at any time.

ACT I

Scene 1. The Journey

As she travels to Bly, the governess wonders about what the future will hold.

Scene 2. The Welcome

Miles and Flora excitedly await the governess' arrival, with Mrs Grose, the housekeeper. When she arrives, the governess is impressed by the charm of the children and warmly welcomed by Mrs Grose, who feels the children need someone young and cleverer than she as a companion.

Scene 3. The Letter

The governess receives a letter from Miles' school, announcing his expulsion because of his bad influence on his fellows.

Mrs Grose assures her that she has never known him to be bad and they watch him playing gently with his sister, unable to believe any evil of him, so the governess decides to say nothing to him about the letter.

Scene 4. The Tower

Walking in the grounds and reflecting on occasional feelings of something wrong about the house, the governess catches sight of a figure on the tower. At first she thinks it is her employer but then realises it is a stranger, and the figure vanishes.

Scene 5. The Window

Miles and Flora play a nursery game and run off as the governess calls them. When she comes into the room she sees the strange figure at the window. It disappears and Mrs Grose identifies the apparition as Peter Quint, the master's valet, who had had an evil influence on everyone at Bly, including the children. He had seduced Miss Jessel, the previous governess, who had left to die, while Quint had been killed in an accident.

The governess is sure he has come for Miles, and Mrs Grose, though uncomprehending, declares her intention of standing by her.

Scene 6. Lessons

Miles recites mnemonic lines of Latin grammar rules, including one new to the governess, involving four meanings of the word malo:

Malo: I would rather be
Malo: in an apple tree
Malo: than a naughty boy
Malo: in adversity.

Scene 7. The Lake

The governess and Flora are by the lake. As Flora sings a lullaby to her doll, Miss Jessel appears across the lake, and Flora turns her back in such a way as to convince the governess that she is aware of Miss Jessel. She feels powerless to protect the children against the malign influence of the ghosts.

Scene 8. At Night

Miles is in the garden in his nightgown while Quint on the tower sings an enticing song about mysteries and enchantments to which he holds the key.

Miss Jessel calls from the lake to Flora, who appears at her window, and she and Quint try to lure the children. As the governess finds Miles and Mrs Grose appears behind Flora, the ghosts vanish.

Miles says to the governess, "You see, I am bad, aren't I?"

ACT II

Scene 1. Colloquy and Soliloquy

Miss Jessel accuses Quint of having seduced her and he answers that she has only herself to blame.

They agree that they need the children to share their damnation. They vanish and the governess bemoans that she has become lost in a labyrinth.

Scene 2. The Bells

On the way to church the children improvise variations on a Magnificat, but the governess feels that in spirit they are with Quint and Miss Jessel. She rejects Mrs Grose's advice to write to their uncle, still resolved to spare him the worry and to fight on alone.

When Mrs Grose and Flora go into church Miles asks when he is to return to school, in such a way that the governess feels he knows the answer and has issued a challenge.

She feels unequal to the situation and decides to leave.

Scene 3. Miss Jessel

The governess finds Miss Jessel seated at her desk and challenges her, but Miss Jessel, lost in her own woes, does not hear and then vanishes. The governess, resolving to stay, writes to the uncle, begging to see him and tell him what is happening.

Scene 4. The Bedroom

She tells Miles she has written to his uncle and he comments that she is always watching. Quint's voice is heard summoning Miles and the governess tells Miles that if he wants her to help him, he must tell her how to help and save him.

The candle goes out and Miles says he blew it out.

Scene 5. Quint

Miles follows Quint's instructions to take the letter.

Scene 6. The Piano

Miles is practising, admired by the governess and Mrs Grose, while Flora plays at cat's cradle. Mrs Grose goes to watch her and Flora lulls her to sleep.

The governess becomes aware that Flora has slipped away while Miles was practising and Miles seems to celebrate his success in distracting them by a wild pianistic outburst.

Scene 7. Flora

They find Flora sitting by the lake. Mrs Grose scolds her, but the governess asks where Miss Jessel is. She then sees her across the lake, but Mrs Grose can see nothing and Flora says she can see nothing, accusing the governess of being cruel and nasty.

Mrs Grose takes Flora back to the house and the governess feels that she has failed, losing her innocence and causing Flora to hate her.

Scene 8. Miles

Mrs Grose is taking Flora away from Bly, now convinced that the governess is right, having heard terrible things from Flora in her sleep. Mrs Grose says that the letter was never sent, and must have been taken by Miles.

When the governess and Miles are left alone, she tries to get him to confide in her, but Quint's voice can be heard warning against her, Miles admits that he took the letter to see what she said about them, and Quint warns him not to betray their secrets.

The governess tries to get him to break the spell by naming Quint, but the effort is too much and he dies as he does so, leaving her to mourn: "What have we done between us?"


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