Friday, August 16, 2013
What's up at the opera, Doc? (unforgettable Warner Bros. cartoon starring Bugs Bunny) Part One
The opera takes place during Anne's two day trial in November of 1638 on overt charges of heresy and of holding weekly meetings in her home to subvert the power and reputation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's ministers by discussing the previous Sunday's sermon and then giving her own take on various points on which she disagreed. There was also a not so "sub" subtext which was that she refused to be the typical totally domestic, ideally compliant and subservient Puritan wife and mother.
Mother she was (15 pregnancies with an astonishing number of children surviving to adulthood for the era) but "subservient" was not in her vocabulary, given the education her minister father had given her which is estimated to have been virtually the equivalent of the one Queen Elizabeth I was given. She and her husband Will had also worked out an equal partnership agreement for their marriage, which exposed him to some ridicule in the colony, and her to accusations of dominating him and leading him around by the nose. At the trial, her forwardness was repeatedly thrown in her face as she repeatedly argued the Judge, Governor Winthrop, and the ministers to silence because she was smarter than the lot of them.
Now, trials can be dramatic dynamite on stage or in the movies, but they can also be too much of a one-note, fairly grim situation -- and Anne's was a very serious trial indeed. We faced a couple of potentially major decisions: a) do we base the libretto solely on the trial transcript, which has survived and is fascinating reading; b) do we use the language of the time, as fully revealed in the transcript in archaic terms and in torturous Jacobean syntax, as is; c) do we limit ourselves only to the trial, leaving the audience wondering how Anne got into the situation in which she, and we, find her as she answers Governor Winthrop's summons to the Court with a firm and defiant "Anne Hutchinson is present!"
To be continued.