Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

Richard Wagner:
Der fliegende Holländer

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

 

 

 

Aug 96

ACT I

Off the coast of Norway

As Daland's crew makes his ship secure against a raging storm, he goes ashore and discovers that they are only seven miles from home. All retire for the night except the steersman, who sings about his sweetheart as he keeps watch. He dozes, unaware that the Flying Dutchman's ship has suddenly appeared alongside. Seven years have passed since the Dutchman was last on land, and he is again free to search for a faithful woman who will save him from his fate. He has tried in vain to get himself killed by pirates or storms and longs for salvation or extinction.

Daland comes out of his cabin and rebukes the steersman for not keeping good watch. He interrogates the Dutchman, who, learning that Daland's home is nearby, asks for hospitality, promising to pay well, and producing chests of jewels. When he learns that Daland has a daughter, he asks for her as his wife.

Although startled by the suddenness of this proposition, Daland is so impressed by the stranger's wealth that he has no hesitation in accepting him as a prospective son-in-law, while the Dutchman hopes that Daland's daughter will prove the agent of his salvation. The south wind blows up and the ships are able to proceed. The sailors work cheerfully as they think of the joys of home.

ACT II

A large room in Daland's house

Senta sits apart from the other girls who are singing as they spin, and gazes dreamily at a portrait on the wall. Her nurse Mary tries to distract her, while the girls jeer, warning that her sweetheart, the hunter Erik, will be jealous.

Senta sings the ballad of the Flying Dutchman - telling how, battling against a storm, he once swore to sail round a cape if it took him all eternity. Satan took him at his word and he had been cursed to wander the seas forever unless he could find a woman who would be faithful to him till death.The girls echo Senta's prayer that the wanderer will soon find rest and redemption. She hopes she will be the woman chosen to save him. Her prayer that an angel will soon bring him to her is overheard by Erik.

His announcement of the arrival of the ship sends the girls off to greet their sweethearts, but he detains Senta, who is eager to see her father, and begs her to agree to their marriage before her father sails again. When she evades the question, he blames her obsession with the portrait. He is reminded of a dream in which he saw Daland returning from a voyage accompanied by a strange man who resembled the figure in the portrait. In the dream Senta had embraced the stranger and both had vanished over the sea. The only effect his narrative has on Senta is to convince her that the Flying Dutchman has come for her.

The dejected Erik leaves and Daland arrives with the Dutchman, whom Senta recognises with a cry - virtually ignoring her father, who is disconcerted by her lack of welcome. He presents the stranger, stressing his homelessness and his wealth, first asking Senta to give him hospitality, but moving on quickly to offer her the newcomer as a bridegroom. Neither Senta nor the Dutchman speaks so much as a single word and Daland leaves them alone together. They gaze at one another, wrapped in their own thoughts, both feeling that this is the moment they have been waiting for. The Dutchman asks if she consents to her father's choice, and she accepts him, promising to be faithful till death. When Daland returns, they pledge their faith before him.

ACT III

A rocky bay near Daland's house

The Norwegian sailors are singing and dancing, but there is silence on the Dutchman's ship, which is anchored nearby. The Norwegian girls bring food and drink, offering some to the strange ship, but there is no answer. The Norwegian sailors suggest in jest that this must be the Flying Dutchman's ship, and they proceed to taunt the silent crew. The Dutchman's ship suddenly becomes the centre of a storm and the ghostly sailors wake, deriding the Norwegians as they flee below decks in terror.

Senta appears, followed by Erik, who reproaches her with having broken faith with him, though she says she has never promised to marry him. Overhearing this, the Dutchman fears that Senta will be incapable of keeping faith with him and bids her farewell, but assures her that she will not have to suffer damnation as had other girls who had broken faith with him.

He calls his sailors to prepare for departure and when Senta tries to stop him, tells her who he is and what his fate is; but she answers that she knows this, and proceeds to predict that she will save him. Her friends restrain her as the Dutchman boards his ship, but she tears herself away and throws herself into the sea, declaring that she is faithful till death. The ship sinks and the ghostly figures of the Dutchman and Senta are seen rising, embracing and transfigured, from the wreck.

Richard Wagner:
Götterdämmerung

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

 

 

 

Nov 98

PROLOGUE

The Valkyrie's rock at night

The three norns, spinning their rope of fate, relate how the world ash tree has withered since Wotan cut his spear from it and the spring at its base has dried up. He had the tree chopped down and the branches piled round Valhalla, ready for the final conflagration. The norns' rope frays and they cannot see the end of the story of the stolen gold and the curse. The rope breaks and the Norns' wisdom is at an end.

Siegfried leaves Brünnhilde to seek new adventures. He gives her the ring and she gives him her horse Grane. He sets off towards the Rhine.

ACT I

Scene 1. The hall of the Gibichungs on the Rhine

Hagen advises Gunther that both he and his sister Gutrune should marry. He proposes Brünnhilde for Gunther and Siegfried for Gutrune, telling her that Siegfried will be sure to fall in love with her after he has drunk a magic potion, but not mentioning that it is a draught of forgetfulness, necessary to make Siegfried forget Brünnhilde. Siegfried will help Gunther win Brünnhilde, since only he can break through the wall of fire, and will receive Gutrune as his reward.

Siegfried arrives at Gunther's court and is welcomed warmly. Gutrune offers him the drink and he forgets Brünnhilde, falls in love with Gutrune and agrees to help Gunther win Brünnhilde, using the Tarnhelm to make himself look like Gunther. Gunther and Siegfried swear blood-brotherhood but Hagen abstains. Siegfried and Gunther set off to win Brünnhilde and Hagen remains on watch, brooding over his plans to win the ring.

Scene 2. The Valkyrie's rock

Brünnhilde is visited by her sister valkyrie Waltraute. She tells how she has found love and happiness, but Waltraute sadly tells her how Wotan, his spear shattered, has returned to Valhalla and sits there inactive. The only thing that can free the world from Alberich's curse is for the ring to be returned to the Rhinemaidens, but Brünnhilde refuses to surrender Siegfried's parting gift and Waltraute leaves sorrowfully.

Siegfried's horn seems to announce the returning hero, but the man who bursts through the flames is a stranger. The disguised Siegfried drags the ring from Brünnhilde's finger and claims her as Gunther's bride. He follows her into the cave, preparing to spend the night there, with his sword between them, to keep faith with Gunther.

ACT II

In front of the Gibichung hall, near the Rhine

Alberich crouches in front of thie sleeping Hagen, urging the destruction of Siegfried. Hagen swears that his schemes to win back the ring are working. Siegfried suddenly materialises, telling Hagen that Gunther is returning with Brünnhilde as his bride. Hagen summons the vassals and orders them to begin preparations for the wedding feast.

Gunther arrives with Brünnhilde and announces the double wedding. Brünnhilde is aghast to find that Siegfried does not recognise her and astonished to see on his finger the ring she thinks Gunther took from her. Gunther, knowing nothing about this, is puzzled also and Siegfried says he got the ring from Fafner's treasure. Hagen declares that Siegfried must have taken it from Gunther by fraud.

Brünnhilde declares that Siegfried is her husband but he explains that he laid the sword between them, thinking that she is accusing him of usurping Gunther's rights. He swears on the point of Hagen's spear that he did not break faith with Gunther and Brünnhilde swears that he is lying.

Siegfried and Gutrune go into the hall and Hagen offers to avenge Brünnhilde's wrongs. She tells him how Siegfried can be killed: when she made him invulnerable by means of her magic arts she left his back unprotected, knowing he would never turn his back on an enemy.

Gunther, at first objecting because he has sworn blood-brotherhood with Siegfried, is eventually persuaded by Hagen, who adds the lure of the ring to arguments that Gunther's honor is at stake. They plan to kill Siegfried on a hunt and blame a wild boar for his death. Brünnhilde and Gunther vow vengeance while Hagen vows to regain the ring.

ACT III

Scene 1. A valley on the Rhine

Siegfried, unsuccessful in his hunting, encounters the Rhinemaidens and they ask him for the ring. At first he refuses, then yields; but when they warn him that it will bring him ill luck he disdains the threat and keeps it.

The rest of the hunting party appears. Hagen invites Siegfried to tell his history. With promptings from Hagen, he runs through his life story to the point where he killed Mime, when Hagen offers him a drink which contains an antidote to the forgetfulness potion and he goes on to relate his winning of Brünnhilde, to the horror of Gunther. Hagen spears Siegfried through the back. Siegfried addresses a last ecstatic greeting to Brünnhilde and dies. His body is carried away by Gunther's men.

Scene 2. The hall of the Gibichungs at night

Gutrune is uneasy. Siegfried's body is brought in and Hagen tells Gutrune he was killed by a wild boar, but she does not believe him and accuses Gunther. He blames Hagen, who then admits to the deed. They quarrel over the ring and Hagen kills Gunther. Siegfried's hand rises accusingly as Hagen tries to take the ring, and he falls back in horror.

Brünnhilde claims her right as Siegfried's true wife to mourn him. She orders a funeral pyre to be built. All that has happened is now clear to her, and she knows what has to be done, telling the Rhinemaidens to take the ring from the ashes after the fire has burnt down. It will then be purified from the curse. She rides Grane into the flames. The Rhine overflows and the Rhinemaidens take back the ring, dragging Hagen to his death as he tries to stop them. In the distance Valhalla bursts into flames and is consumed, along with the gods.

Richard Wagner:
Lohengrin

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

 

 

 

Nov 92

ACT I

A plain on the banks of the River Scheldt near Antwerp

King Henry of Germany has come to Antwerp to urge the people to join with him in battle against invading Magyars, but he finds the Brabantians locked in civil strife without a leader. Frederick of Telramund explains that on his deathbed the Duke of Brabant had entrusted to his care his two children, Elsa and Godfrey, on the understanding that he would marry Elsa and be guardian to Godfrey. But Godfrey has disappeared, Elsa is suspected of doing away with him and Telramund has married Ortrud, daughter of Radbold, King of the Frisians.

In her name and his own he claims the dukedom and accuses Elsa of fratricide and of having a secret lover. The king agrees to judge the case and Elsa is summoned. Her only answer to the accusations is to relate a dream in which a hero appeared in answer to her need. To him she will entrust her cause. The king decrees trial by combat, and the herald calls for a champion to appear.

A knight appears, in a boat drawn by a swan. He says he has been sent by God to be Elsa's champion. She accepts him as champion and husband, agreeing to his condition that she must never ask his name or lineage or where he came from. Telramund is defeated in the duel, but the stranger knight spares his life and is acclaimed by the populace.

ACT II

The fortress of Antwerp

Telramund blames Ortrud for his downfall, as she had told him that she saw Elsa drown her young brother, but she convinces him that he was defeated by magic rather than divine intervention. She claims that the stranger's magic would fail if he could be made to reveal his name - or even if the tip of a finger were to be cut off.

As only Elsa can ask him to reveal his name, Ortrud plans to undermine her confidence. Elsa appears on the balcony and Otrud, calling to her from the darkness, succeeds in winning her pity, invoking the pagan gods in triumph as Elsa prepares to let her in. Ortrud begs Elsa to intercede for Telramund and suggests that as the stranger arrived by magic, so he may leave by magic, but Elsa's faith is unshaken.

At dawn the herald proclaims the banishment of Telramund and announces that the king has invested the crown of Brabant in Elsa's husband, who will lead the Brabantians into battle. Four nobles mutter their resentment at this decision and Telramund offers to lead them in rebellion.

As Elsa is about to enter the church for her wedding Ortrud claims that she must yield pride of place to her, since her husband has been falsely accused and is of noble birth, whereas no one knows anything about Elsa's husband. Claiming that he would be revealed a fraud if he had to divulge the source of his power, she challenges Elsa to ask the question. Telramund accuses the strange knight of witchcraft and asks his name and lineage, but he is answerable to Elsa alone. Telramund whispers to Elsa that if she were to let him cut off the tip of the stranger's finger his secret would be known and he would never leave her. She rejects the advice and goes into the church with her husband, who orders Telramund and Ortrud to leave.

ACT III

Scene 1. The bridal chamber

Following the good wishes of their attendants, Elsa and her husband are left alone for the first time. Their delight in one another is soon undermined by her regrets that she cannot call her husband by his name and her fears that he may leave her. A hysterical vision of the swan returning to take him away leads to the fatal question. Telramund bursts in with his followers and is killed by Lohengrin, who tells the nobles to bring the body before the king. He calls Elsa's ladies to dress her and tells her he will answer her question before the king.

Scene 2. The banks of the Scheldt

The king thanks the people for their support in defending Germany against the heathen. The body of Telramund is carried in, followed by Elsa and her husband, who tells the king he will not be able to lead the people of Brabant into battle. He is absolved from blame for Telramund's death.

Explaining that Elsa has been tricked into asking the forbidden question, he answers it: he is one of the champions of the Holy Grail, who are sent out into the world to defend the cause of right. But they must leave once their identities are known. He is Lohengrin, son of Parsifal, who wears the crown of the Grail. He prophesies that Germany will never be conquered by the eastern hordes. The swan appears and Lohengrin bids farewell to Elsa, telling her that if he had been able to stay, her bother Godfrey, who is not dead, would have returned.

Ortrud exults at her success in driving Lohengrin away and that Godrey must remain in the form of the swan as a result of her witchcraft. Lohengrin kneels in prayer and when he takes the chain from the neck of the swan, it is transformed into Godfrey. Elsa falls lifeless as Lohengrin leaves, his boat now drawn by a white dove.

Richard Wagner:
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

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

Aug 78

The action takes place in Nuremberg, about the middle of the 16th century.

ACT I

Inside the church of St Katherine.

Walther von Stolzing, a young nobleman, has just come to Nuremberg and fallen in love with Eva, the daughter of Pogner, a rich goldsmith and mastersinger, one of the most important men of the town. After the church service Eva contrives a few minutes with Walther to explain, in answer to his eager questions, that, although she loves him, she is not free to marry. Her father has decided to offer her hand to the winner of a mastersinging contest to be held the next day, for the festival of St John, Midsummer's Day.

Eva's maid and companion, Magdalena, arranges for her sweetheart, the apprentice David, to prepare Walther for the contest, since only mastersingers are eligible to compete. David is horrified to discover that Walther knows nothing at all about the art of mastersinging and that he hopes to reach in one day a stage which requires years of painful study - such as he is undergoing himself as he studies singing as well as shoemaking under Hans Sachs, the greatest of the mastersingers.

Other apprentices are meanwhile arranging the church for a singing test. The mastersingers begin to arrive. First are Pogner and Beckmesser, the town clerk who wants to marry Eva and is trying to urge her father to put in a good word for him. Walther takes Pogner aside and explains that he wants to join the mastersingers guild. Beckmesser eyes him off suspiciously.

When the meeting begins Pogner announces that he intends to give his daughter and her dowry as a prize in the festival song contest. Sachs suggests that the people ought to have some say in the judging, since the contest is to be public, An argument develops between Sachs and Beckmesser, who clearly regards Sachs, a widower, as a rival for Eva's hand. Sachs enrages him by answering that they are both too old for a young girl. Pogner then presents Walther as a candidate for the guild. To prove his suitability he has to sing a song but is failed by Beckmesser, who acts as examiner.

Sachs defends the song and accuses Beckmesser of not being objective, but the other masters also reject the song, finding it too free and not in accordance with the strict rules of their craft. In the ensuing argument Beckmesser complains that Sachs should spend less time on poetry and more on the pair of shoes he has ordered for the next day.

Walther, failed in the test, leaves the church angrily.

ACT II

A street between the houses of Pogner and Hans Sachs, the evening of the same day.

Eva, having learned of Walther's failure to become a master, goes along to Sachs to find out the full story. He, still reflecting on the strange beauty of Walther's song, tests Eva's feelings. She responds so hotly to his disparaging remarks about Walther that he realises she loves him. He is now able to plan how to help the lovers.

When Walther comes along to find Eva he is still very angry with the masters and persuades Eva to elope with him.
She goes inside to change clothes with Magdalena, so that she can escape unnoticed and also so that Magdalena can take her place at the window to listen to a serenade which Beckmesser is supposed to be singing to her that night.

Walther and Eva wait in the street for a chance to slip away but Sachs, inside his shop, has heard their plans and is determined to stop them from taking such a rash step, so he keeps a light shining across the street so they cannot get past unobserved. When Beckmesser begins his serenade Sachs begins to hammer and sing a vigorous cobbling song. To Beckmesser's objections he agrees to stop singing but points out that he has to keep hammering - to finish the shoes Beckmesser has been complaining about.

After some argument it is agreed that Sachs is to act as marker for Beckmesser's song, only hammering when he makes a mistake. But when Beckmesser sings the hammering is so fast and furious that the shoes are finished before the song.
Then David sees Magdalena at the window and rushes out jealously to attack Beckmesser. People open their windows to see what is going on. Apprentices from rival guilds rush into the street and a general brawl develops, only broken off by the appearance of the night watchman.

Sachs manages to bundle Eva into her own house and pull Walther with him into his house just as they are on the point of running away in the confusion.

ACT III

Scene 1. Inside Sachs' workshop, the next morning.

Hans Sachs is in a reflective mood, thinking of the midsummer madness of the night before, but still eager to help Eva and Walther. Learning that Walther has had a dream he encourages him to make it into a song, teaching as he goes along how to frame it so as not to outrage too violently the mastersingers' rules and writing it down himself as Walther sings it. With the final stanza still uncomposed they go into another room to change their clothes, leaving the song on the bench.

Beckmesser comes in and pockets the song gleefully, thinking it is by Sachs. To his surprise, Sachs does not object when he finds out, but makes him a present of it. He is torn between gratitude, feeling certain that a song by Sachs will win him the prize, and distrust that Sachs has something up his sleeve - as indeed he does, though all Beckmesser's guesses are wide of the mark. He goes off to learn the song.

Eva comes in, ostensibly to complain about her shoes. Walther is inspired by her presence to finish the song, which Sachs, putting his own feelings for Eva aside and satisfied with his matchmaking, pronounces to be a mastersong. Eva and Walther are deeply grateful to him for his help. Sachs calls David and Magdalena in to help celebrate the new song and also promotes David to the status of journeyman, which means that he and Magdalena will be able to get married. They all set off for the festival.

Scene 2. The festival meadow.

The apprentices of the different guilds dance and sing while waiting for the arrival of the masters. Then the proper business of the day begins: the townspeople sing an ode of praise to Sachs, who thanks them and makes the public announcement of the prize to be awarded by Pogner, exhorting those who aspire to the prize to be sure they are worthy of it in all respects.

The first competitor is Beckmesser, who makes a hopeless mess of Walther's song. In the face of general derision he defends himself by claiming that the song is by Sachs. Sachs denies this and tells them that the song is beautiful but has been ruined by Beckmesser. To prove his case he calls on the real composer to sing the song, thus giving Walther a chance to be heard - which otherwise, as an outsider, he would not have had.

With the unfair assistance of a full orchestra and chorus to back him, compared to Beckmesser's solitary lute, he sings his song, to general acclaim. Eva crowns him with the victor's garland and Pogner offers him the chain of a mastersinger. He rejects it angrily, but Sachs reproves him, telling him to honor the masters because their care has kept the art of poetry alive.

Richard Wagner:
Parsifal

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

 

 

 

May 95

ACT I

A forest near the castle of the Grail

Amfortas, the custodian of the grail, has been seduced by Kundry and wounded by Klingsor. The wound remains unhealed; no herbs do more than briefly alleviate the pain, as does bathing in the holy lake. Amfortas and the knights of the grail hope for the advent of the promised healer, a pure fool, made wise by pity. The squires abuse the strange, wild woman, Kundry, and Gurnemanz, the oldest of the grail knights - not knowing that it was she who was responsible for Amfortas' wound - reproves them for their lack of charity; she may be, as they say, accursed, but she now lives under the protection of the grail. She was found almost lifeless in that place by Titurel, father of Amfortas, when he built the grail castle of Monsalvat.

Gurnemanz tells how angels brought the grail and spear to Titurel, to be guarded only by the pure in heart. Klingsor, although aspiring to the grail, was sinful and his self-castration made it impossible for him to serve the grail, though it did give him magic powers, which enabled him to transform the wilderness into a luxuriant garden in which beautiful women ensnared the knights. Parsifal is brought in carrying his bow and arrows, having killed a swan. He does not know who his father was, or even his own name, only that of his mother. Kundry explains that his mother had tried to bring him up cut off from the world, to save him from being killed in battle like his father. He remembers having seen knights and followed them and Kundry tells him that his mother had then died of grief. Hoping that Parsifal may prove to be the pure fool of the prophecy, Gurnemanz takes him to the castle, as the scene changes around them. The covered grail is carried before Amfortas and the voice of Titurel, entombed in the wall, is heard demanding that Amfortas unveil it and allow its powers of renewal to sustain him, but these powers also prolong Amfortas' life and suffering. He obeys reluctantly and blesses bread and wine which are distributed among the knights. Titurel is refreshed, but Amfortas suffers. Parsifal, who has watched in silent pity, is chased away angrily by Gurnemanz for not having understood anything of what he has seen.

ACT II

Klingsor's magic castle

Klingsor summons Kundry and orders her to seduce Parsifal. He derides her for clinging to the knights of the grail, as if to atone for the wrong she has done them. Klingsor hopes soon to possess the grail himself. He summons his knights to defend the castle against Parsifal, but laughs when they are defeated.

His tower disappears, replaced by a magic garden, in which girls lament their lovers' wounds and reproach Parsifal. Enchanted by their loveliness, he offers to play with them and they throng around him with a different kind of play in mind, until they are driven off by Kundry, now transformed into a beautiful woman.

She calls Parsifal by his name and gains his confidence by relating how she had known him in his childhood, reminding him of his mother's love and death, going on to describe his father's love for her and to promise him similar delights, kissing him passionately. At once he feels the pain of Amfortas' wound and realises that Kundry had seduced Amfortas. He is also consumed with guilt for his own youthful folly. He recoils from Kundry, who reproaches him with feeling for the sufferings of others, but not for hers, relating how she had laughed at Christ, begging him to bring her redemption by yielding to her; but he explains that her salvation will only be ensured by his refusal.

She curses him to a life of wandering like her own and calls on Klingsor for help. He appears on the tower, throwing the spear at Parsifal, who seizes it and makes the sign of the Cross, causing the tower to crumble and the garden to wither.

ACT III

Pleasant spring landscape in the domain of the grail

Gurnemanz, now old and grey, is living as a hermit. He finds Kundry, almost lifeless in a thicket and no longer wild. Parsifal returns, incurring Gurnemanz's reproaches (before he recognises him) for being armed on Good Friday. With joy he recognises Parsifal and the spear, and Parsifal explains that he has found his way back through great suffering to relieve the torment of Amfortas.

Amfortas has refused to unveil the grail, so Titurel, deprived of its life-prolonging refreshment, has died. Parsifal's guilt weighs heavily on him and he seems about to faint, but Kundry brings water. She washes his feet and Gurnemanz bathes his head. Parsifal baptises Kundry and Gurnemanz leads him to the grail castle, as the scene gradually changes. The knights carry the body of Titurel and call on the unwilling Amfortas to unveil the grail once more. Parsifal cures him with a touch of the spear and unveils the grail, of which he is now the ruler, as the knights rejoice and Kundry falls lifeless.

Richard Wagner:
Das Rheingold

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

 

 

 

Nov 98

Scene 1. At the bottom of the Rhine

The dwarf (Nibelung) Alberich is charmed by the sight of the three Rhinemaidens playing in the water, but they repulse his advances and tease him. The sun lights up the gold which they are supposed to be guarding.

Unwisely, they let Alberich know that a ring forged from the gold will give its maker power to rule the world, the only condition being that he must forswear love. The frustrated Alberich is easily able to fulfil what they regard as an impossible condition; he seizes the gold, pronounces a curse on love and disappears, leaving the Rhinemaidens bewailing their loss.

Scene 2. An open space on the mountain tops

Wotan is admiring his new castle, Valhalla, built for the gods by the giant brothers Fasolt and Fafner, but his wife Fricka is concerned about the price he has promised them - the goddess Freia, who runs in, pursued by the giants, claiming her as their reward. Wotan laughs at them, saying that he never had any intention of handing her over; but the terms of the agreement have been inscribed on the shaft of his spear, the symbol of his power, and Fasolt warns him that his power will be undermined if he fails to abide by his own treaty.

Fasolt wants Freia for her own sake, but Fafner is more interested in the practical aspect: the giants will gain an advantage if the gods are deprived of the youth they derive from Freia's golden apples. Freia has called on her brothers, Donner and Froh, for help, but Wotan restrains Donner from attacking the giants with his hammer, as he hopes that Loge, the cunning god of fire, will find a solution.

The giants are about to carry off Freia when the anxiously awaited Loge appears. He reports that his world-wide search for something the giants might accept in place of Freia was in vain: he found no one who did not prize the love of woman above everything - with one exception: Alberich, who had forsworn love to make a ring from the gold he stole from the Rhine. Wotan brushes aside the Rhinemaidens' request, relayed by Loge, for their gold to be returned.

The giants demand the gold as their payment instead of Freia, whom they carry off as a hostage until the gold is handed over. Deprived of Freia's apples, the gods begin to grow old and feeble. Wotan and Loge set off to find Alberich and obtain the gold.

Scene 3. Nibelheim, the home of the dwarfs, deep under the earth

Alberich has used the power of the ring to enslave his fellow Nibelungs, even his brother Mime, who has been ordered to make him a magic helmet (the Tarnhelm) which will enable the wearer to change his shape or make himself invisible. Mime tries to keep the helmet, but Alberich seizes it and beats him, as he laments to Wotan and Loge.

Alberich is suspicious of the visitors and warns them that he means to use his new power against the gods. Loge persuades him to show off the helmet. He changes himself into a dragon and they pretend terror, flattering him into showing how small he can make himself. He changes into a toad and is easily captured.

Scene 4. The same as Scene 2, except that all is hidden by mist

Wotan tells Alberich that the price of his freedom is the gold, including both the helmet and the ring, which he had hoped to retain. Seizing the ring, Wotan proclaims himself the mightiest of all lords. Set free, Alberich invokes a fearful curse on the ring: it will bring death and destruction on all who wear it.

The mists clear, revealing the waiting gods. The giants bring Freia back, but refuse to part with her until the gold has been heaped up in such a way that she is no longer visible. Like Alberich, Wotan had hoped to retain the helmet and the ring; but both are demanded to cover cracks through which Friea is still visible. He gives up the helmet, but refuses to part with the ring.

The earth goddess Erda appears and warns him to give up the ring to escape its curse, proclaiming that the doom of the gods themselves is at hand. Wotan wishes to know more, but she disappears. Wotan hands over the ring. Freia is free and the gods' youth is restored, but the giants quarrel over the gold and Fafner kills Fasolt. Wotan now realises the power of Alberich's curse.

Donner disperses the clouds with a blow of his hammer, which causes a thunderclap, and the rainbow bridge appears, leading to Valhalla. The gods cross it, with Loge unsure whether to throw in his lot with them. The Rhinemaidens can be heard lamenting their lost gold and the faithlessness of the gods.

Richard Wagner:
Der Ring des Nibelungen

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

 

 

 

 

 

Please see:

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre

Siegfried

Götterdämmerung

Richard Wagner:
Siegfried

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

 

 

 

Nov 98

ACT I

Mime's forge in the forest

Mime tries in vain to forge a sword strong enough for Siegfried to kill the dragon Fafner. Siegfried returns from the forest with a bear with which he terrifies Mime. He easily breaks the latest sword on the anvil. Mime reproaches him with ingratitude, reminding him that he has brought him up from childhood. Refusing to believe that Mime is his father, Siegfried manages to extract from him the information that his mother, Sieglinde, had died giving birth to him, leaving the fragments of his father's sword, Nothung. Siegfried demands that Mime reforge this sword and storms out, hoping he may soon be free of the dwarf.

Mime knows he cannot forge the sword, but when the Wanderer (Wotan) appears and offers to answer any three questions on pain of forfeiting his head, Mime asks him only useless questions (about the races of dwarf, giants and gods). When the Wanderer demands a reciprocal question test, Mime is able to answer the first two questions but fails on the third: who will reforge Nothung? The Wanderer tells Mime that his head is forfeit, but he leaves it to be claimed by one who knows no fear.

Mime realises that this is one lesson he has failed to teach Siegfried and tries vainly to make up this omission, but Siegfried is unmoved, even by the mention of the fearsome dragon. Mime has to admit that his skill is unequal to the task of forging Nothung and Siegfried takes to the task himself, breaking all the rules of smithing, but succeeding, while Mime brews a potion he plans to administer to Siegfried when he has killed Fafner, so that he can kill him and seize the ring.

ACT II

Deep in the forest, near the entrance to Fafner's cave

Alberich waits near the cave, hoping that someone will kill the dragon and give him the chance to take possession once more of the ring. The Wanderer appears and, to Alberich's surprise, professes no interest in the ring, but warns him that Mime is bringing Siegfried to kill the dragon. The Wanderer summons Fafner, who rejects Alberich's offer to protect him from Siegfried in exchange for the ring.
Mime brings Siegfried to the spot, promising that here he will learn fear. Siegfried wonders about his mother and listens to the murmurs of the forest, in particular a bird, whose warbling he tries to imitate on a roughly improvised reed pipe. He gives up and blows a call on his hunting horn, which wakens Fafner. Siegfried kills the dragon; when he pulls out his sword, his hand is splashed with blood. As he sucks it clean, he finds himself able to understand the woodbird, which tells him to take the ring and Tarnhelm from the hoard.

Mime and Alberich meet and quarrel, watching with horror as Siegfried emerges with the ring and Tarnhelm. The woodbird warns Siegfried of Mime's intended treachery and when Mime offers him the drugged drink, he is able to understand Mime's thoughts and strikes him dead. The woodbird tells Siegfried of a bride awaiting him on a rock surrounded by fire and he sets off, following the bird.

ACT III

A wild spot at the foot of a mountain

The Wanderer summons the sleeping Erda, once more seeking the benefit of her wisdom, but she answers that she now knows nothing, suggesting first that he ask the Norns (fates) and then Brünnhilde. She is horrifed to learn about Brünnhilde's punishment. The Wanderer then says that he has no need of her advice as he has decided to accept gladly the end of his power; he will leave the world to Siegfried, and Brünnhilde will perform the redeeming deed.

But when Siegfried appears, he is impatient to find yet another old man standing in his path. His youthful brashness arouses the Wanderer's anger and as Siegfried tries to go past, he interposes his spear, pointing out that the sword Siegfried carries has already been shattered by it. Believing that he has found his father's enemy, Siegfried breaks the spear with his sword.

The Wanderer withdraws, no longer able to oppose Siegfried, who climbs the mountain and passes through the ring of flame which surrounds Brünnhilde. After some hesitation he kisses her awake and she greets him ecstatically by name. At first, however, she shrinks from his embrace, reluctant to lose her divine powers, but eventually responds to his passion and they triumphantly proclaim their love.

Richard Wagner:
Tannhäuser

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

 

 

 

Feb 98

ACT I

Scene 1. The Cave of Venus

Naiads, sirens, bacchantes and pairs of lovers take part in a wild orgy, are bombarded with arrows by cupids, then collapse in exhaustion as Tannhäuser, who has been reclining with his head in the lap of Venus, starts up. He has dreamed of the world outside: the sun, the seasons, the birds, which he misses.

Venus reproaches him for not appreciating the delights she offers. She orders him to take his harp and celebrate the joys of love. He obeys, but three times begins in praise of Venus and three times ends on a different theme - his longing for the real world, rather than a life of continuous bliss, for nature and for freedom, even if it brings pain and death - and begs to be allowed to leave. Finding anger, blandishments and entreaties equally unavailing, Venus orders him to go, but warns that his search will be in vain and that he will soon long to return to her realm; all mankind will be cursed if he does not come back. But he is firm in his determination never to return - he will repent and be saved by the Virgin. At this name, the Venusberg vanishes.

Scene 2. A valley near the Wartburg in Thuringia

Tannhäuser finds himself in the valley. A shepherd boy sings a song in praise of Holda, goddess of spring, and a band of pilgrims passes by singing, on the road to Rome. Tannhäuser falls to his knees in prayer, where he is found by the Landgrave of Thuringia and his band of minstrels, Tannhäuser's former companions.

With the exception of Wolfram, who greets him warmly, they treat him with reservation, expecting renewal of the strife and pride in which he had left them. He assures him that he has no belligerent intentions and does not plan to remain. They then beg him to stay, but he refuses until Wolfram mentions Elisabeth, niece of the Landgrave. Wolfram tells him that since his departure, Elisabeth, who had previously listened joyfully to their song contests, has withdrawn in sadness and Tannhuser is persuaded to return to the court.

ACT II

The hall of the minstrels in the Wartburg

Elisabeth, rejoicing in Tannhäuser's return, joyfully greets the hall of song from which she and he have been so long absent. Wolfram leads in Tannhäuser who falls at her feet. He tells her that he has been far away in strange lands, only able to return to her by a miracle. She wonders why his songs had such power over her that she was so delighted by them and so desolate at his absence, and he replies that the god of love must have touched his strings and then brought him back to her. Seeing their joy at being reunited, Wolfram realises that all hope of Elisabeth is over for him.

The Landgrave is glad to see Elisabeth back in the hall, and asks her to confide in him. She is unable to speak out, but, suspecting her love for Tannhäuser, he hints that the forthcoming song contest will fulfil her wishes.

The court and the minstrels enter and the Landgrave, looking back on former times of peace and war, when the minstrels' songs had gladdened their hearts, offers the theme of love for the song contest and, believing that Tannhäuser will be the victor, promises that Elisabeth will crown the winner - with his heart's desire. Wolfram opens with a song in praise of the cool refreshing stream of love at which the lover must not drink, but only worship. All praise the song, except Tannhäuser, who breaks in with the view that one must drink at the spring, which is eternal and inexhaustible. Elisabeth seems to approve, but the rest of the company shows its disapproval by silence.

Walther takes up the same line as Wolfram - the spring will be defiled if the lover drinks. The company applauds, but Tannhäuser again objects that love is not distant reverence, but something to be held close. Disapproval is expressed more strongly this time and Biterolf angrily declares his readiness to defend women's honor against him with the sword. Tannhäuser answers that Biterolf knows nothing of the soft emotion of love.

The Landgrave intervenes to stop the strife and Wolfram again proclaims his lofty conception of love, provoking Tannhäuser to sing that only one who has dwelt in the arms of Venus knows true love. At his revelation that he has been in the Venusberg, all the ladies except Elisabeth run out of the hall. The angry knights draw their swords on Tannhäuser, who stands as if dazed. Elisabeth runs between them, declaring that although he has wounded her to the heart, he must be spared and allowed to repent. They become calm and Tannhäuser, grieved at what he has done to Elisabeth and at his sin with Venus, accepts the Landgrave's command to join the pilgrimage to Rome.

ACT III

The valley of the Wartburg

Wolfram comes upon Elisabeth praying at a shrine. She is waiting for the return of the pilgrims and he hopes that she will not be disappointed. Pilgrims return, rejoicing at having received absolution from the Pope, but Tannhäuser is not among them and Elisabeth, begging the forgiveness of the Virgin for having once turned from heavenly things to an earthly love, prays for death so that in heaven she may be able to pray for Tannhäuser's soul. Wolfram begs to be allowed to accompany her, but she indicates that she must travel alone, and climbs up the mountain to the Wartburg as Wolfram prays to the evening star to watch over her.

Tannhäuser returns seeking the way to the Venusberg. He tells Wolfram that although he mortified himself with hard penances on the way to Rome, the Pope had refused him absolution, declaring that one who had sinned as he had could no more be forgiven than his staff could bear leaves. In despair, Tannhäuser calls on Venus, who appears in answer to his summons. Wolfram's entreaties are in vain, till he reminds Tannhäuser of Elisabeth. Tannhäuser comes to his senses, crying Elisabeth's name, and Venus vanishes. He kneels as Elisabeth's body is carried by, begging her to pray for his soul, and dies as more pilgrims return with the news that the Pope's staff has borne leaves.

Richard Wagner:
Tristan und Isolde

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

Feb 90

To free Cornwall from paying tribute to Ireland, Tristan, nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, had killed Morold, the champion of Ireland, in single combat. Severely wounded in the battle, Tristan had made his way to Ireland where, under the assumed name of Tantris, he had been healed by the magical arts of Isolde, daughter of the king.

Isolde, who had been betrothed to Morold, recognised Tristan (a piece broken out of his sword matched the fragment in Morold's head), but spared his life. On his return to Cornwall, to satisfy jealous courtiers that he was not aspiring to the throne, Tristan had persuaded his uncle to ask for the hand of Isolde.

ACT I

On board Tristan's ship returning from Ireland to Cornwall

Raging at her fate, Isolde laments that she has not her mother's magic art of calling up a storm to wreck the ship. She is angry that Tristan keeps apart and sends her attendant Brangäne to summon him. Tristan answers mildly that he must steer the ship; but his retainer Kurwenal answers roughly that Tristan is not Isolde's vassal, singing a vigorous song, taken up by the sailors and clearly audible to Isolde, celebrating Tristan's killing of Morold.

Isolde tells Brangäne how she had spared Tristan's life when he was in her power and complains bitterly that he has repaid her by seeking her as a bride for his old uncle, an insult that no one would have dared if Morold were alive and Cornwall still owed tribute to Ireland. Brangäne reminds her of the love potion which her mother has given her, but Isolde thinks only of the poison which is in the same chest. When Kurwenal announces their imminent arrival in Cornwall and tells her to prepare to land, she gives him a message for Tristan: he must make amends for an unatoned wrong. She orders Brangäne to pour the poison into a golden goblet.

When Tristan arrives, she reproaches him with having avoided her during the voyage. He replies that he intended no discourtesy, but rather greater respect by keeping his distance from his uncle's bride. Isolde claims that Morold's blood still lies between them, as she was not party to any reconciliation. He offers his sword for her to kill him if Morold was so dear to her, but she says King Mark would hold it against her if she killed him. Instead she offers a drink of atonement. Understanding her intention, he drinks and Isolde seizes the goblet and drinks the remainder.

But Brangäne has substituted the love potion and they fall into each other's arms, oblivious of all around them, as the ship reaches land and King Mark approaches to claim his bride.

ACT II

A garden outside Isolde's chamber in King Mark's castle in Cornwall

Isolde waits for Tristan as King Mark and his court leave on a hunt. She brushes aside Brangäne's warning of danger, particularly from Melot, answering that he is Tristan's friend and has arranged the hunt so that Tristan can meet her. Brangäne, suffering pangs of remorse for her part in the love between Tristan and Isolde, begs her to defer the meeting. Isolde says that not Brangäne, but love itself (Frau Minne) was responsible for their love. She gives the signal by extinguishing a torch, telling Brangäne to keep watch.

Tristan arrives and the lovers embrace, praising the night as the friend of their love, as opposed to the inimical day. Night, as Tristan explains, is equivalent to death and death will not part them, but unite them forever: only in death can their love be truly fulfilled. Brangäne's warning of the approach of day goes unheeded and they are taken by surprise when Kurwenal rushes in, followed closely by King Mark, Melot and the court.

King Mark rejects Melot's claim to have saved him from shame, as nothing can remove the deep wound of Tristan's betrayal. He asks why Tristan, his dearest friend, has betrayed him, recalling that when his wife died he refused to marry again for Tristan's sake, intending him as his heir, bowing only to the wishes of his people whenTristan added his voice to theirs. Tristan had found him a peerless bride and his joy in her had made him more vulnerable than before.

Tristan replies that he is unable to offer an answer that his uncle would understand. He asks Isolde if she will follow him in death. She consents and he kisses her on the forehead, arousing the wrath of Melot, who draws his sword. Tristan draws his sword to defend himself, but lets it fall and is wounded by Melot.

ACT III

Tristan's ancestral castle in Brittany

Tristan, his wound still unhealed, lies under a tree as a shepherd plays a mournful tune while keeping watch for a ship which is bringing Isolde. Tristan wakes, but is unsure where he is. Kurwenal tells him that he has been brought home to recover from his wound. Tristan replies that he has already been in death's kingdom and only returned to find Isolde, who still tarries in the realm of light.

Kurwenal explains that Isolde has been sent for, as the only one able to heal his wound, as she had done before. In delirious excitement, Tristan thinks he sees the ship approaching. Finding this is not so, he is reminded by the shepherd's mournful tune of the same song which accompanied the griefs of his childhood, when he learnt that his father had died before he was born and his mother on giving birth to him. He curses the potion, bearing both love and death, which he himself had brewed. The shepherd's tune changes to a cheerful strain -the ship has been sighted. As Kurwenal goes to the shore to meet Isolde, Tristan tears off the bandage from his wound. He is only able to murmur Isolde's name, before dying at her feet. As she reproaches him for dying before her, another ship is sighted.

Kurwenal tries to bar the gate as King Mark and Melot arrive with Brangäne. Kurwenal kills Melot and is killed by Mark's men, falling at his master's feet. The king grieves to find this carnage. He had been told of the potion by Brangäne and had not only forgiven Tristan and Isolde but had come to unite them. Isolde, oblivious of her surroundings, is transfigured as she joins Tristan in death.

Richard Wagner:
Die Walküre

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

 

 

 

Nov 98

ACT I

The interior of Hunding's dwelling

A storm is raging. Siegmund stumbles in exhausted. Sieglinde, Hunding's wife, gives him a drink and he explains that he has had to run from his enemies because his weapons failed him. Hunding arrives and extends hospitality to Siegmund, noticing the resemblance between him and Sieglinde.

When asked his name he explains that a sad life qualifies him to be called Woeful. When he was young he and his father Wolf had returned home to find his mother murdered, the house burnt and his twin sister carried off. He and his father had lived homeless in the forest, until one day his father vanished. Seeking human company he had found only misfortune. His present predicament arose when he tried to rescue a girl who was being married against her will. He killed her brothers but was unable to save her from death before fleeing from overwhelming odds.

Hunding reveals that these were his kinsmen and declares his intention of avenging them on Siegmund in the morning, though he grants him hospitality for the night, retiring with Sieglinde.

The weaponless Siegmund remembers that his father had promised that he would find a sword when he most needed one. Sieglinde returns, telling him she has drugged Hunding and urging him to flee. She shows him a sword, embedded in the tree growing through the centre of the house, and tells him how it came to be there. When she was being married against her will to Hunding an old one-eyed man had appeared (the music identifies him as Wotan) and plunged the sword into the tree. No one has been able to move it but she is sure she knows who it is meant for.

Siegmund and Sieglinde embrace. The door flies open, revealing the spring night. Siegmund compares their love to the union of love and spring. They recognise the resemblance between them and Siegmund reveals that his father's real name was Wälse. Sieglinde greets him by his true name. He draws the sword and they embrace as brother and sister and as lovers.

ACT II

A wild rocky pass

Wotan orders the valkyrie Brünnhilde, his favorite daughter, to give victory in the forthcoming fight to Siegmund.

As guardian of marriage Fricka demands vengeance against Siegmund. Wotan tries to answer that an enforced marriage is less sacred than the love felt by Siegmund and Sieglinde; but she objects also on the grounds that they are brother and sister, as well as the fruit of Wotan's adulterous union with a mortal woman.

He tries to explain that his purpose was to create a free hero able to carry out a task forbidden to the gods, but she points out the fallacies in his arguments: Siegmund is not free, being protected by Wotan; even the sword has been left for him. He agrees unwillingly to her demands and agrees not to protect Siegmund but she demands that he also order Brünnhilde not to protect him, sweeping aside his claim that Brünnhilde is free to act as she chooses. He agrees dejectedly.

Wotan explains to Brünnhilde how he had committed the wrong of paying for the building of Valhalla with Alberich's ring, instead of returning it to the Rhinemaidens. He sought further knowledge from Erda, after which she bore him the eight valkyries, their task being to assemble an army of heroes to help the gods in battle against Alberich, in case he should regain the ring, now guarded by the dragon (ex-giant) Fafner. Wotan is powerless to take the ring because of his treaty with Fafner, so he needs a free hero to perform the task, but he has been forced to admit that Siegmund is not free.

He has learnt that Alberich has sired a son. In deep despair and revulsion he gives the unborn child his blessing, bequeathes to him the vain pomp of the gods and commands the reluctant Brünnhilde to award the victory to Hunding.

Brünnhilde watches as Sieglinde and Siegmund arrive in flight. Sieglinde is wild with terror and faints. Brünnhilde tells Siegmund he must die and follow her to Valhalla, where he will find the company of other fallen heroes, as well as Wotan and his own father (he does not know that they are one and the same) and be served by valkyries; but when he learns that Sieglinde may not follow him he refuses to go. When Brünnhilde tells him that he has no choice, that even his sword will fail him, he threatens to kill Sieglinde and the unborn child Brünnhilde tells him she is carrying. Moved by his love and distress she promises to protect him.

As he looks for Hunding. Sieglinde wakes up in terror. Brünnhilde shelters Siegmund with her shield, but Wotan thrusts his spear in front of Siegmund, whose sword breaks on it, leaving him to be killed by Hunding. Wotan strikes Hunding dead with a word and prepares to pursue Brünnhilde.

ACT III

The summit of a rocky mountain

The valkyries gather on the mountain, bearing heroes on their horses to take to Valhalla. Brünnhilde appears with Sieglinde and begs their protection against Wotan. But first she must save Sieglinde, whose wish for death changes to joy when she learns that she is carrying Siegmund's child, who will grow up to be a mighty hero named Siegfried. She agrees to flee, taking the fragments of the sword entrusted to her by Brünnhilde.

As Wotan appears, Brünnhilde tries to hide among her sisters, but steps forward when he accuses her of cowardice. When he pronounces her banishment from Valhalla and her doom to be locked in sleep and forced to become the wife of the first man who finds her, the other valkyries are horrified; but when he threatens them with a similar fate they flee in terror.

Brünnhilde pleads with Wotan that she had really carried out his secret wish, knowing that he loved Siegmund, and tells how she had been moved by his pleading and his love for Sieglinde, but Wotan reproaches her for yielding to the claims of love while he has been forced to follow the stern path of duty. She begs that if she must become mortal she should not be left prey to the first comer but be given only to a hero - pointing out that Sieglinde will bear Siegmund's child and has the fragments of the sword.

Wotan is finally moved and agrees to surround her with a wall of fire which only a man who knows no fear can cross. He kisses her to sleep, bids her a sad farewell and summons Loge to create a blaze around the rock, declaring that no one who fears his spear will be able to cross the flames.

William Walton:
The Bear

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

 

 

 

Dec 79

A drawing room in Madame Popova's country house

Popova sits in her drawing room in deep mouring, gazing at the photograph of her dead husband. When her servant Luka reproaches her for not taking more interest in life she declares her intention of staying in mourning all her life although her husband was brutal and unfaithful.

There is a knock at the door and despite Popova's instruction to Luka tha she will see no one, Smirnov forces his way in. He is after repayment of a huge debt owed to him by Popova. He must have the money the next day or he will be bankrupt. Popova does not have the money and tells him her bailiff will pay at the end of the week. When Smirnov becomes abusive she leaves the room. He rages about the evils of his debtors and the illogical nature of women.

When Luka brings him the message that Popova will not see him, he prepares to settle in for a long wait and calls loudly for vodka. At this Popova reappears and reproves him for shouting. He continues to demand the money and she attacks him for his lack of manners and ends up calling him a bear - an insult so great he challenges her to a duel. She accepts eagerly, but he has to show her how to use the pistols.

By this time he is so overcome by her beauty and spirit that he cannot fire and has to confess that he likes her, in fact almost loves her. As she threatens to shoot him he falls on his knees and begs her to marry him. She hesitates, orders him to leave, then to stay. Eventually they fall into each other's arms, to the great astonishment of Luka.

Martin Wesley-Smith:
Boojum

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

 

 

 

Mar 86

 

A fantasy loosely based on the story of Lewis Carroll's 'The Hunting of the Snark'.

Taking up where Carroll's story ends, a new a motley search party sets out again in search of the Snark:

He had softly and suddenly vanished away,
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

Gillian Whitehead:
Bride of Fortune

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

 

 

 

Feb 91

PROLOGUE

A flat in Collingwood, autumn 1952: Grazia is writing a letter to her sister Fiorina, conveying a decision she has made about whether to return to Italy or stay in Australia. She is interrupted by the landlord who is showing the flat she is about to leave to a Greek family.

ACT I

Scene 1. The Letter

Grazia's home in Calabria, before Christmas 1951: Grazia receives a letter from Vito, a widower living in Australia whom she has never met, asking her to marry him.

Scene 2. The Dress

Grazia's home: Angela, the village seamstress, is helping Grazia, her sisters and her mother, too poor to afford her a new wedding dress and trousseau, to make over the cast-offs of the local rich woman. Grazia reads from one of Vito's letters enthusiastic descriptions of life in Australia. Despite her sisters' forebodings, she looks forward to her new life with confidence. Angela is angry that her husband Mario, working in Australia, finds wives for his mates but has yet to send for her.

Her brother Ennio is angry that Grazia is being dressed in rags like a peasant. He is bitter at their poverty and the necessity of sending his sister to marry a stranger in a strange land.

Scene 3. The Wedding

Church, the next morning: In the presence of Vito's relations, Grazia is married by proxy.

Scene 4. The Celebration

Grazia's home: Moments of uneasiness and conflict mar the wedding party, as Ennio and Vito's relations boast of their status, particularly when Grazia's traditional gift to the groom is not reciprocated. Grazia promises to write to Fiorina and to send for her if she is in trouble.

Scene 5. The Farewell

On board Grazia's ship at Messina: Ennio wants to buy Grazia's small strip of land to add to his holding so he can marry his fiancee Lucia, but she refuses, not wanting to sever her connection to her homeland.

Scene 6. Interlude

On board ship: Grazia reads a love letter she has written to her unknown husband, then throws it into the sea.

ACT II

Scene 1. The Arrival

Collingwood, February 1952: Grazia, who has been met by Vito's friend Mario, because Vito had been injured at work in a brewery, is distressed by the heat and appalled to find that she and Vito will have to share a small flat with Mario, as Vito has earned no money for some weeks.

She reproaches him with the disparity between his description and reality, and he answers that the life is better than what she had in Calabria.

Scene 2. The Child

The home of Vito's mother-in-law in Sicily: Vito's relations try to persuade his mother-in-law to let his daughter go to Australia now that he has a wife and home for her, but she refuses angrily, accusing him of destroying her daughter and refusing to let him do the same to her grand-daughter who, besides, has polio.

Scene 3. Snapshots

Melbourne: In a park on a hot summer day irritability and jealousy mar Mario's attempts to take a photograph of Grazia and Vito.

Scene 4. The Visit

Calabria: Ennio is trying to eke a living from his stony field, cursing it as he works. Vito's relations ask him to visit Vito's mother-in-law to convince her of Grazia's good family and persuade her to let the child go. He is angry that no mention has ever been made of the child and suspicious of Vito's character because of the grandmother's unwillingness to send the child to him. He feels remorse for having sent Grazia to such a man.

Scene 5. Suspicion

Mario's flat in Collingwood: Grazia is writing to Fiorina. She is depressed because Vito is so much older than she had imagined. After a long search for work, she has been employed in a factory, but is oppressed by the heat and noise, her ignorance of English and the hostility of her Australian fellow-workers. Looking for another sheet of paper, she finds a child's clothes in a drawer. Mario comes in and tries to flirt with her. She fends him off and interrogates him about her discovery. Vito comes in and claims that the clothes are for their future child. Angry that she has been prying, he accuses her of conspiring with Mario - and of perhaps doing other things with him - and tries to fight with Mario, but is too weak. Mario leaves but demands two months rent or their departure.

Vito, complaining that he has ruined himself saving up money for Grazia's passage, demands that she bring home all her pay to him.

Scene 6. The Factory

Collingwood, the next day: Grazia faints in the heat at her textile factory and Mavis threatens a walkout if fans are not provided; but the forelady replaces the Australians with Italians and the resentful Australians are forced to go back to work too.

Grazia asks a fellow-Italian for a stamp for a letter, but one of the Australians takes the letter and throws it across the room, where it falls into a machine and jams it. Grazia is blamed and dismissed, even though Mavis stands up for her.

Scene 7. The Gambling

The flat, later that night: Mario and fellow workers are playing cards, but Vito is anxiously waiting for Grazia. He desperately needs money for his sick child. He refuses to play because he has no money, but Mario accuses him of having money to pay for his daughter's passage, but not to pay the rent. Vito demands all Grazia's money, and, ignoring her protests, gambles it all (calling on the Queen of Spades as Fortune's Bride) and loses. He accuses Mario of cheating and tries to stab him. As they are separated by their friends, Mario challenges Vito to tell Grazia about his child.

Scene 8. The Land

Ennio's home in Calabria: To raise money to send to Grazia, Fiorina has agreed to sell her small plot of land to Ennio's future father-in-law, who is making a hard bargain, which involves Fiorina working for him as well.

Scene 9. The argument

The flat in Collingwood: The remorseful Vito prepares Grazia's breakfast and lunch and tries to broach the question of his daughter, but she does not hear, intent on confessing that she has been sacked. He blames her and they accuse one another of all their disappointments. Vito hits Grazia, who runs out.

ACT III

Scene 1. The Funeral

Sicily: Vito's child is buried and the grandmother curses Vito's relatives.

Scene 2. The Parting

Collingwood: Vito drinks whisky as Grazia, assisted by Mavis and other women, packs her belongings to move out. Vito gives her a letter which has arrived from Fiorina, containing the money she has raised. Grazia rejoices because she can now go home, but Vito accuses her of having money which could have saved the life of his daughter. He holds a knife to her throat.

Scene 3. The Siege

Two hours later: Police and an Italian priest plead in vain with Vito to surrender, but he continues to brood over his daughter's death and the failure of his marriage. Grazia tries unsuccessfully to convince him that they can still make a success of it, and asks why he did not tell her about his child. The police burst in and shoot Vito who dies after a reconciliation with Grazia.

Scene 4. Postscript

As Prologue: The Greek family decide to take the flat. Grazia, who is pregnant, writes to Fiorina that she is sending back the money and will stay in Australia, where, as the Greeks agree, despite the hardships, it is possible to live.


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