An Opera in Four (Very Long) Acts
and Le Fanciulle (e uno uomo o due) del West
Geraldine Decker as La Donna di Dubbio
Performed at the Edinburgh 1994 Dorothy Dunnett Gathering
NOTE: This synopsis reflects the commitment of the librettists to the concept of "opera logic"; that is, the kind of plotting which, on the one hand, trims the plot to the absolute minimum amount needed to follow the story (and then trims a whole lot more), and, on the other hand, throws in extraneous characters and scenes for the sheer glory of it all.
In our case, we begin our opera logic by deleting all of THE GAME OF KINGS (except for some brief exposition at the start of Act I) and QUEENS' PLAY (about which, see later). In addition, we have excised nearly all reference to the parentage/bastardy issue (leaving Marthe as a truly mysterious character) and eliminated one of the little boys.
The curtain rises on a happy chorus of Edimburgo thieves, nobles, ladies, trollops, and young Filipa (lyric mezzo), singing the joyous "Francesco e ritornato". Soon, the Cavalieri di Santa Maria (and more rusticani cavalieri you will not soon find) enter, intoning their theme [sung to the "Anvil Chorus"]:
the boys [CLANG],
the boys [CLANG],
the boys [CLANG] of Old [CLANG] St. Mary's!!"
They entertain the crowd with remindersof Francesco's old exploits ("Ottocento
pecori coi casci d'acciaio").
Francesco himself (a coloratura tenor, of course) enters, returning from the Levant with the Cavalieri di San Giovanni, among them Francesco's old friend Geroto (baritone) and the Croce Granda himself, Gabriele Gabriele is a tenor, as well, in order to fool everyone into thinking that he is heroic -- although the ominous bass chords which accompany his every move tend to give the show away). The motif of these knights is taken from the
Commendatore's ominous "Don Giovanni" in the opera of that name, although they, of course, sing "SAN Giovanni."
Along with Gabriele comes his beautiful but doomed sister, Giolita. (NOTE: In this opera, Giolita -- despite what you might think -- is taking the role of the typical Puccini co-dependent soprano who falls for a man who will never love her and sacrifices herself, all for ... well, actually, it's never quite clear what exactly it is that Puccini sopranos sacrifice themselves for.) Giolita (like Filipa) is madly in love with Francesco; a highlight of this opera is their passionate Dumbarton love duet; a more comic moment is Giolita and Sibila (Francesco's mother) singing the amusing "Cat Duet."
Another striking moment comes during the famous Whipping Post scene (in which Francesco sings the tender "Legatemi! Straziatemi! Tormenti e spasimi date a me!") ("Bind me! Torture me! Give me torments and pains!") Giolita appears, extremely pregnant. Shock and horror! Gabriele threatens Giolita. Francesco tries to save her, but to no avail -- the sword pierces her and she falls. No doubt dead, you would think (if you forgot opera logic).
The finale of Act I is the Battle in San Gileo. The exciting music to this
finale is heightened by the continual BONG! BONG! BONG! of the cathedral bell.
Francesco, Gabriele, and the Chorus of Cavalieri sing madly as Francesco and
Gabriele duel across the stage ("La croce di Giolita!" BONG! "Che
infamita!" BONG!). As Francesco is about to deliver the final blow to the
now-basso Gabriele, a penetrating, bell-like mezzo voice rings out: "No,
no! C'e un' bambino!" Filipa BONG! reveals that, just before BONG! expiring,
Giolita gave birth BONG! to Francesco's son, who was shortly BONG! thereafter
whisked away by the maleficent BONG! Gabriele. Francesco, therefore, allows
BONG! Gabriele to escape; the crowd parts BONG!, revealing (upstage) a huge
cross, towards which BONG! Francesco now walks, sinking slowly BONG! to his
knees as he reaches the BONG! altar and ...
THE CURTAIN FALLS
This act marks the first appearance of the mysterious Donna di Dubbio, as well
as her henchwomen, La Maestra Guzel and Marta. Early in the act, for example,
we have the amusing "Coffee Trio" between La Donna, Filipa, and Guzel.
However, most of this act is taken up with the travels and travails of Francesco,
Filipa, Geroto, Marta, and Arcimbaldo (Francesco's comic sidekick) as they sail
the Levant in search of Giolita's baby.
Four moments in this act stand out in particular: (1) the touching ballad of Donna Maria e suoi fratelli:
Donna Maria Fratelli
I scream and shout,
We scream and shout,
I wheeze and cough,
We wheeze and cough,
I try to tear my garments off!
We try to tear her garments off!
(2) the "Bell Song" of the strange yet always cheerful Micaele;
(3) the comic duet between Filipa and Arcimbaldo: "O boo de la
(4) Filipa's "Letter Song."
"Filipa's Letter Aria"
(sung to the tune of "Dance of the Hours")
(AKA "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah")
I'm stuck in this
Place I hate.
Tell my friends (but
Please don't scare 'em):
I am permanently living in the harem.
Hate the girls here --
They all giggle.
Every day I
Learn to wiggle.
Played some music
For the high-brows.
Learned a joke about a beauty with four eyebrows.
Take me home, dear Frances Crawford!
Don't accept the help I offered!
Please don't leave me in Topkapi where
I have to wash and brush my hair.
Take me home, I promise not to
Tell Sybilla where you've got to.
And I won't give in to Mikal's spells:
I've grown to hate the sound of bells.
Soon you'll meet my
Precious Kuzum --
Won't be able
To refuse 'im.
Archie's great at
Tell Sybilla when you see her she's a granny.
Life is getting
Playing chess, we
Mr. Crawford has arranged a little weddin'.
Send me home, dear Frances Crawford,
Though I took the hand you offered.
Let me go to Hexham -- that's where I
And mom make our blackberry pie.
Send me back, I cannot bear it!
Save us: Marthe, me and Jerott!
If we stay, we'll all go mad! Oh dear!
I'd hate to languish locked in here.
Did you miss me?
I don't let my
Husband kiss me.
Though the bedroom
Could be awful,
Mr. Crawford's made our marriage strictly lawful.
Seems that we will
Soon be leaving,
So we all can
Stop our grieving.
When you see me,
You will smile.
I was once bedraggled,
Now I'm full of style!
The finale to Act II is the well-known Chess Game octet, in which Francesco
and Gabriele play chess for their lives and those of their companions, while
they, along with Geroto, Marta, Filipa, Micaele, Arcimbaldo, and the hovering
spirit of La Donna di Dubbio frantically sing competing and interlocking musical
lines, from which the audience can glean only the occasional tiniest bit of
actual information (opera logic). For example, it is only during this octet
that Geroto and Marta reveal their love for each other (not only is it nearly
impossible to actually hear them, in all that crowd, but they are also, curiously,
both looking directly at Francesco as they sing their words of passionate love).
Micaele rings his bells; Filipa stands in the corner, trying not to look at
Francesco or the baby; all is fast and furious, when suddenly the following
can be heard with crystal clarity:
Gabriele: "Arrendeteri!" [Give up!]
Arcimbaldo: "O Cristo! Il bambino!" [Oh Christ, the bairn!]
Francesco: "Marta!" [Marthe!]
The wild octet is taken up again briefly, when a clear and beautiful child's soprano pierces the frenzy with its cry of "Mo chridh!!!!" The child is held and killed by Micaele, and Francesco strides across the stage to thrust his sword deep into the chest of the evil Gabriele, as ...
THE CURTAIN FALLS
[What, you're wondering what happened to the rest of PAWN IN FRANKINCENSE? It's become exposition at the start of the next act. Opera logic.]
In this act, Francesco and the Cavallieri di Santa Maria (remember them?) head off to Russia. Now, you may be wondering why this trip to Russia is necessary (given the general paring down of the plot). Well, for one thing, it gives us lots of time to kill with endless exposition (which the audience will like, because they will then learn what's been going on for the first two acts). Besides, if we go to Russia, we can then have an exotic and gorgeous rendition of the Coronation Scene from BORIS GODUNOV, thereby showing the audience where our production costs are going.
So, Francesco, the aforementioned cavallieri, and the honorable captain, Ricardo
Cancelliere, travel to Moscow, to the court of Cesare Giovanni il Terrible.
En route, the cavallieri tell Cancelliere all about Francesco's great deeds
(reprise of "ottocento pecori") and Geroto tells all of them about
the happenings in Stamboul (reprise of "Geroto's theme" from the Chess
Game octet). Aside from the fantastical Coronation Scene, another
highlight of this act is the witty trio sung by Francesco, Cesare Giovanni, and the eagle, Slata Baba (who is performed by the voice of La Donna di Dubbio) (who thought she was getting this act off to rest her voice, but no such luck).
Meanwhile, back in Inghilterra, Filipa sings the plaintive "Mio marito, ma soltanto per comodita" [my husband, but only for convenience] to the malicious Duchesa Margherita. Soon enough, Francesco, Geroto, et al. return -- we know they're coming when we hear, from offstage, the mournful tones of "Il lamento per Cancelliere" (though it's never quite clear exactly how Cancelliere actually died) (having blown our budget on a gorgeous
Russian Coronation, we have nothing left for a shipwreck).
The finale for this act is the riotous Hall of Revels scene. Geroto, Arcimbaldo, and the cavallieri stand by, enjoying the witty wordplay in which Francesco and Filipa are engaged. At the height (literally) of the revelry, ilipa (having climbed to the top of a very high storage cabinet), sings out "Lasciagli Lamentare neL'inferno!" With that subtle word-painting for which opera is so justly famous, on the word "L'inferno", not only does her voice plummet a full octave, but so also does she plummet, straight into the arms of Francesco. The other characters move away, the Hall of Revels itself disappears, and Francesco is left to carry the limp body of Filipa slowly across the entire length of the stage, while singing, in tortured tones, "Troppo tardi! Troppo tardi! Troppo tardi! E gia avvenuto!!!!!" Whereupon ...
THE CURTAIN FALLS
[The rest of RINGED CASTLE? Exposition at the start of the next act.]
This act begins in Paris, where a jolly chorus of trollops (who look a lot
like Scots trollops, but dress better) catch us up on the merry doings of Francesco,
Filipa, and company (for example, we now see that Geroto and Marta are blissfully
wed, which probably comes as a surprise to most of the audience). The happy
music is marred, however, by the insidious theme of the wretched Leonardo il
Mallevadore [doesn't that sound simply dreadful? really, it just means "bail
bondsman"!]. Throughout this act, the musical motifs of Francesco, Filipa,
La Donna di Dubbio, Sibila, Marta, and Leonardo are woven together into a glorious
tapestry of sound and opera logic (remember, there is no parentage plot, just
a lot of complicated musical hinting).
The climax of all this complex sub-plotting comes at the Grand Ball scene, in which Francesco, desperate to find Filipa before she falls into the clutches of the unpleasant Leonardo, confronts Sibila, who sings the haunting aria "La strada di ciliege":
I have often walked down that Rue before:
That is where I bore a bastard child or two before.
"All your life," you swear,
If I tell you where...
Yes, my son, that's the place you were born.
Are there cherry trees in the heart of town?
Did your wife run off to any other part of town?
If you hurry, I'm
Sure you'll be in time
To save her from the place you were born.
Alas, once again Francesco is too late (astute ears in the audience will recognize a brief reprise of the "troppo tardi" motif), and he sings the tender "Mia moglie, veni con mi a Sevigni" to his beloved Filipa.
The finale to the entire opera takes place on a hillside in Inghilterra, where
Filipa, Geroto, Arcimbaldo, and Sibila wait patiently for Francesco's return
from France. As he enters over the hill, the dastardly Leonardo suddenly appears
and, with one fell shot, murders him. Geroto then kills Leonardo (once again
we hear the "troppo tardi" motif), as the chorus enters and, together
with the surviving principals, sings a variation of the earlier Cancelliere
dirge, now sadly called "Il lamento per Francesco".
Geroto, having finished his revenge, mournfully walks over to the body of his friend, and, leaning over it, lets Francesco's hat fall off, revealing waist-length golden curls. Shocked beyond belief, Geroto jumps back, crying:
"Das ist kein mann!"
As the others stop singing the dirge, to find out what on earth he's screaming about, they hear the well-known coloratura tenor voice they all love, coming over the hills, singing the enchanting love theme "Fin tanto che vivo, il mio cuore non cambia mai." First Filipa joins in the glorious strains, then the other prinicpals, the entire chorus of cavallieri and trollops, and finally, from behind a scrim at the rear of the scene, the benevolent presence of La Donna di Dubbio is seen to add her lustrous contralto to the closing song, as ....
THE FINAL CURTAIN FALLS
This opera is to be followed by two more: a French comic Offenbachesque fluff,
LE JEU DES REINES (featuring the Chorus of Noble Perverts), and a Grand Tragic
Verdi Opera, IL PRIMO BARONE.
Carol Gleason -- "das ist kein mann"
Debbie Carlson -- "San Giovanni"
Gerry Decker -- general inspiration and agreeing to star
Jean Shady's brother-in-law, whose signature I
can't quite make out -- Italian translations
Donna Crisci -- whose fault it all is