Tuesday, August 27, 2013
What's up at the opera, Doc? Part Two
About 40% of what Intermezzo produces is newly commissioned work, usually for a one act, approximately one hour opera. We realized early on that to convey the richness and variety of Anne's story we should keep the historical trial setting but collage the text from all available sources. We were NOT writing a documentary but a vivid drama. We began by writing a prose scenario of the action, and developed a unified plot.
We decided immediately not to write the work in what we called "Puritanese." Playwright Arthur Miller had been strongly criticized for using stilted, pseudo-archaic language in The Crucible, his play about the Salem witch trials. So we settled on modern English with a certain formality and just a few, thoroughly comprehensible 17th century turns of phrase to set the period tone.
We also knew that the theological issues brought up at the civil trial, while vitally important, would be largely incomprehensible to a modern audience (everything in Puritan Massachusetts included religion, even civil matters). We didn't want a lot of talky exposition or having to tell half the story through the program notes. We focused on just one of the major charges against her, that she downgraded the importance of the ministers by claiming that she and all people, men AND women, could hear the voice of God directly in their minds and hearts without a clergy to interpret it for them -- a MAJOR heresy. We also emphasized her forwardness and independence as a woman that drove the ministers into a fury.
Reaction to the scenario, and to the couple of scenes that we had written to give the company director, production director, and conductor a sense of our approach, was so positive that by the end of the evening, we were told that they now wanted a two act opera of around 80 minutes. (Fritz: "Oh, s__t, now we have to write finales for TWO acts!").
The resulting libretto is a trim, compact but detailed depiction of Anne's trial and banishment, after which she finds herself in a "theatrical space" where she wonders if her words and what she stood for will have any resonance into the future. Out of the ether come men and women who were involved in various rights struggles -- Mary Dyer, Abigail Adams, Walt Whitman, Frederic Douglas, Harvey Milk, Rosa Parks. They assure her that her struggle has been taken up through American history and that she has been an inspiration to them all. A major ensemble grows out of their dialog and then settles down to just Anne standing victorious on stage saying "Anne Hutchinson is present!" not in defiance of a prejudiced court any more, but in triumph.
What you are doing sounds like an interesting way to approach the material btw. Thanks for sharing it
Reacting to metaphors of this caliber? Nothing else will do, but to quote Mame Dennis: "How vivid!"