- Songs from Behind the Curtain
- Orphée Redux
- Words for the Dead
Songs from Behind the Curtain
Songs from Behind the Curtain is an original story about Pascal Baur, a damaged composer in 1980’s Hartford, who, as the musical director of the Hartford Opera Company, is encoding Soviet messages into his operas. Within the operas he writes, the audience gets an understanding as to what past events (the murder of his fiancée, the accidental bombing of his Swiss relatives in WWII by American planes) led him to his treasonous choices. But Pascal’s life becomes reinvigorated when he falls in love with Claudia, a young singer at the opera company. What will he choose: his torturous past, or Claudia and the possibility of a happy future?
THE PROLOGUE (video) - 4 minutes
An ominous scene where Pascal tells (through video) about Diane’s death, his involvement with his aunt and the Soviets, the messages, and his love for Claudia. It ends suddenly and mysteriously.
ACT I (Hartford, 1985) - 43 minutes
Nancy Warren, a reporter, arrives to cover the opening of Orphée Redux, a new opera by the composer Pascal Baur. She meets Franklin Pettricione, the lead tenor, and Rebecca Olundsen, the famous soprano. Pascal Baur and Claudia Ingrassia arrive (they are carrying on a secret romance), and Rebecca demands that Claudia get her some tea. While Claudia’s gone, Pascal laments the choices he has made. Claudia returns with the tea and Rebecca takes it and dumps it on her chest. Claudia runs off, but Pascal does not follow her. Instead, he talks with Barbara Urlington, the costume mistress, who knows about the secret messages Baur is placing in his operas.
Claudia waits for Pascal. She is angry at his timidness and when he arrives they argue. Pascal apologizes, and in a tender moment he opens up about the murder of his fiancée. Pascal leaves her and sees Tony arrive at Franklin’s dressing room. Pascal sings of his life and the pain of love. From inside the dressing room Franklin and Tony join in. Pascal tries to reconcile his love for Claudia with his lingering love for Diane. Pascal continues walking through the empty theater and comes upon Nancy Warren and Claudia. They are arguing about Pascal. Pascal breaks up the altercation and tells Nancy he must speak with Claudia. After Nancy leaves, Claudia rushes into his arms crying. Pascal tries to soothe her, but once again is battling his past demons. In a sudden moment, he drops to one knee and proposes to Claudia. The abrupt and unexpected proposal is so unlike Pascal that Claudia runs off, unsure of how to respond.
The scene begins within Baur’s opera, Orphée Redux. David, the Orpheus character, has just found out that his wife, Pamela (Eurydice) has contracted AIDS. David goes to the club to save her, finding her passed out under a bed sheet. He begs her to leave with him and she agrees, but only if he’ll turn around while she dresses. He agrees, but like Orpheus, David can’t help himself. When he turns around she screams and they fight. The opera ends and Pascal accepts the audience’s applause. He begins to speak and once again proposes to Claudia. This time, though, she accepts. The cast rushes off to celebrate, leaving behind Nancy. As she laments the engagement, Morriss Greenberg, an FBI agent arrives, telling Nancy that he is there to investigate the Hartford Opera Company.
ACT II (Hartford, 1986) - 38 minutes
A year after the premiere of Orphée Redux, Morriss Greenberg returns to the Hartford Opera Company. He runs into Barbara, but she pretends to be a cleaning lady. As she leaves he hears a gorgeous voice from the other side of a partition. She is singing a jazz song. As he comes around in view he startles her. It is Claudia Ingrassia-Baur. Morriss explains that he is there to meet with Pascal Baur. Claudia directs him toward Pascal’s office. As they both leave Pascal appears from behind the curtain and sings a worried aria about the sudden appearance of the FBI.
Morriss questions Franklin in his dressing room. Franklin is in a flirty mode, but just as Morriss thinks he’s getting answers they are interrupted by a knock at the door. It is Tony, looking anxious. Franklin asks Morriss to leave and brings Tony inside. Tony reveals to Franklin that he has AIDS. Franklin is furious and attacks Tony. The lights fade and come up on Morriss meeting with Nancy. Pascal is once again listening from the other side of the curtain when Franklin sees him and rushes over. Pascal tries to keep Franklin quiet, but Franklin is in distress. He tells Pascal about Tony. Pascal instructs him to stay in his dressing room and that he’ll come soon to help him. As Franklin leaves, Pascal laments the choice in front of him, whether to point the FBI toward Franklin or just remain hidden. He already knows what Barbara will demand.
Pascal and Barbara are having a secret meeting. He tells her about Franklin and she instructs him to turn him over to the FBI. He resists, but she tells him to think about Claudia’s safety. Morriss arrives to meet with Pascal and Barbara hides in the wings. Morriss interviews Pascal, and just as things are getting serious, a fire alarm sounds and the meeting ends. The fire alarm morphs into the disturbing sounds of Baur’s second opera, Hellfire. Onstage, three allied soldiers are hiding in a bunker. As they try and escape they see a gruesome scene. Simultaneously, Morriss is in the lobby on the phone with his boss. The opera scene continues with the arrival of Mags, a Nazi soldier. The Hellfire scenes and Morriss’ conversation continue to interlace as the WWII drama grows more horrible and surreal, a mixture of the Dresden bombing and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The opera is over and Franklin is waiting on the empty stage for Baur. He hears voices and hides in the curtains. Pascal and Barbara walk onto the stage and Barbara is talking about the messages within the opera. As she leaves Franklin emerges from his hiding spot and confronts Pascal. Pascal tries to explain his reasons, but Franklin is irate. Just as they seem ready to exchange blows, the lights go out and the entire set topples down upon them. Simultaneously, Claudia is in Pascal’s office, and discovers that he is the Soviet spy.
THE INTERMEZZO (video) - 5 minutes
A pile of rubble is center stage with a robed choir surrounding it. Above, a silent video shows a grisly scene with Pascal and Franklin trapped in the debris and paramedics desperately trying to save them. The choir sings of the accident and its immediate aftermath.
ACT III (Hartford, 1987) - 42 minutes
Claudia has just returned from a performance overseas. Since uncovering Pascal’s secret she has been taking lots of trips to perform. But tonight is the premiere of his latest opera, Cassandra’s Aria, and Claudia has found that the Soviet message is in her aria in the third act. At the same time, Pascal is haunted by the choices he has made. He wants to get out from under the grip of his aunt (Barbara) and the Soviets, but he knows they will hurt Claudia if he tries. Both scenes unfold separately, as the two lovers are not yet ready to face one another.
Barbara sings about her life in Switzerland, and her family that was killed in the Schauffhausen bombings. An Assassin arrives and she hires him to kill Claudia if the message does not go through. The Assassin reveals that it was he, on Barbara’s command, who had previously killed Diane.
Claudia knocks on Pascal’s office door. She wants to still love him, but is unsure if she is capable after finding out about his secret. Pascal finally opens the door and is relieved to see her. They embrace and both think about ways to save the other. Independently, they decide that they will leave after the opera tonight, but both worry about how to explain it to the other.
Cassandra’s Aria,an operatic treatment of Agamemnon’s return from the Trojan war, is interlaced with reactions and thoughts from Pascal, Claudia, and Barbara. As the opera builds to its climax, Claudia decides to sing a wrong note on the final chord, ruining the Soviet message.
EPILOGUE (video) - 3 minutes
After the opera, Pascal approaches Claudia and she reveals that she knows his secret. They decide to leave right away and exit through a side door. As they leave, the assassin follows.
CHARACTER LIST/VOCAL RANGE:
Claudia Ingrassia-Baur (Lydia/Mags/Cassandra) – Pascal’s younger wife and the leading Mezzo with the Hartford Opera Company – Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano (b-bb”’)
Pascal Baur – A Composer and the Music Director of the HOC, who, after the death of his fiancée, agrees to insert Soviet messages into his operas – Full Lyric Baritone (A-f#’)
Franklin Pettricione (David/Bud) – The lead tenor at the HOC, in a relationship with Tony – Dramatic Tenor (eb-b”)
Morriss Greenberg – An FBI Agent sent to investigate the HOC, who develops a crush on Claudia – Lyric Bass (F-e’)
Barbara Urlington – The Costume Mistress as well as Pascal’s long-lost aunt. She coerces Pascal into putting the messages into the operas – Lyric Contralto (g-c”)
Nancy Warren – A reporter who was in school with Pascal – Light Dramatic Coloratura Soprano (a’-d”’)
Tony Bell (Leonard) – Franklin’s boyfriend, an ad-exec from NYC – Bass-Baritone (Ab-eb’)
Rebecca Olundsen (Clytemnestra) – A world-famous opera singer in the twilight of her career. She sees Claudia as a threat and treats her miserably – Light Lyric Coloratura Soprano (g’-e”’)
Kansas Jaffarian (John) – Another Tenor at the HOC – Heroic Tenor (db-b’)
Assassin – An associate of Barbara’s – Bass (d-g) this role could be spoken if desired
CHORUS – SSAATTBB – 8 voices (can be made up of all or part of the cast or separately)
The names in ( ) represent the roles the character’s play in Pascal’s operas. In addition, the characters of Leonard and Clytemnestra could be cast individually, or doubled with Tony and Rebecca, respectively. If they are doubled, then care should be taken to completely separate the two characters in the audience’s mind.
Songs from Behind the Curtain has been workshopped at the John Duffy Composers Institute. No full production has yet been scheduled.
for soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, and piano
Duration - approx. 12 minutes
Orphée Redux is a bit of an esoteric chamber opera. It is a full-length work that is written by the fictional composer Pascal Baur and performed in 1985 by the Hartford Opera Company. The rehearsals and its performance comprises the first act of my full-length opera, Songs from Behind the Curtain. In Songs, Orphée Redux is a metaphor for the loss of Pascal Baur’s fiancée, Diane. So it is really an opera within an opera at least when coupled within the larger work.
But it is also meant to be a stand alone work. It is a reimagining of the Orpheus story set in the seedy underbelly of New York City in the early 1980’s. In this version there are no gods or even a literal hell, but rather a Hades created by sexually deviant behavior and the burgeoning AIDS crisis. It is a hell of addiction and self-destruction.
David Pindar (Orpheus) is a violinist with a prominent New York orchestra. He meets and falls in love with Pamela Smith (Eurydice). They are married and live a life of happiness. One day, an acquaintance invites them to a club. They arrive to find that it is one of New York’s underground group sex clubs and immediately leave. But unbeknownst to David, something about the place intrigues Pamela. She slowly develops the nerve to go back, and soon finds herself lost among the anonymous men and self-degradation. David does not know anything about this, but Pamela’s sister, Lydia, finds out and follows her to the club. It is also Lydia that discovers the letter Pamela has been hiding from David. It is from her doctor and informs Pamela that she has been diagnosed with HIV. The revelation sends Pamela into a downward spiral. This is where the opera begins. Lydia finds David at a rehearsal and tells him about the letter. David is worried and goes to the sex club to confront his wife. Once there he finds her lying on a bed in a room covered in a sheet. He begs her to come with him, and she agrees under one condition: that he not turn around as they leave, that she can’t bear for him to look upon her. He agrees and turns to go. She places her hand on his shoulder and he leads her out of the darkness. As they go down the hallway David suddenly gets the notion that he is curing her of the disease, that she is becoming healthy again. He turns to tell her this, breaking his promise. He turns to find Pamela naked, covered with lesions and filth. He steps back in shock and she understands that things will never be the same. In a fit of self-destruction, she screams at him, yelling all the hateful things she can muster. Unable to control himself, David slaps her across the face. She screams for help and a bouncer appears, grabbing David by the neck, and drags him away. David is left in an alleyway. He reaches for his violin, hoping music will bring Pamela back to him, but the violin is broken, and any chance at reconciliation is over.
In this stand alone version, Orphée Redux is a complete character portrait of a modern Orpheus. The short scene has been condensed to a single location and any metaphoric intentions toward the overarching opera can be ignored. I have allowed the scene to play out completely (In the larger opera it will be further truncated) and all mention of the fictional characters in the overarching opera have been eliminated. Hopefully that will take care of any confusion... Enjoy!
8/26/2010, West Hartford, CT.
2007 - (16 minutes)
excerpts from a musical by Ryan Cummings and Ryan Jesperson.
Words for the Dead
The Story: The opera is set during a funeral for an unnamed man. Attending the funeral is the deceased’s wife, ex-wife, son, wife’s sister, ex-wife’s husband, two friends, and a priest. The mourner’s recount the deceased life, and in the process uncover secrets from their past that way heavily on the present.
Premiered at Washington State University. Pullman, WA. January 22nd, 2004.
Ex-Wife – Katherine Jansen
Wife – Jaime Miller
Sister – Marlene Berner
Son – Tyson Schmidt
Friend 1 – Matthew Lauckhart
Friend 2 – Tony Rosetti
Ex-Wife’s Husband – Justin Smith
Priest – Brent Liabraaten
Pianist – Elena Panchenko
Rehearsal Pianist – Deborah Ungar
Directed and Conducted by Dr. Julie Wieck
Words for the Dead
Premiere Performance Jan. 2004