Archive for the ‘Opera’ Category

Madame Puccini

Elvira Puccini

Music & Libretto by Dr. Michael Pratt

A full length opera (two hours of music) in three acts for six singers and an orchestra of thirteen players using three sets. Based on a true incident in the life of composer Giacomo Puccini and his wife Elvira, the “Doria Manfredi affair”.


The time is 1908 in Torre del Lago, Italy, the home of Puccini. Puccini is fifty years old and Madame Puccini is forty-eight. They have been living together for twenty-four years after Elvira left her husband to live with Puccini. They have been married for four years after the death of Elvira’s husband. Puccini is world famous after having written Le Villi, Edgar, Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. He is currently in the midst of composing his seventh opera, La Fanciulla del West (the Girl of the Golden West).


Act 1: the interior of Villa Puccini. Doria Manfredi, young housekeeper of the Puccinis is busy cleaning the composer’s study when Tello, her older brother, rushes in with the news that Puccini has returned from a trip to London where has had another affair, enraging his wife, Elvira. Tello tries to persuade Doria that she should not stay any longer in the Puccini household because sooner or later Madame Puccini will accuse her of something with her husband. Doria refuses to leave saying her position is very important to her. Elvira accuses Doria of working late at night in order to be alone with Puccini who also works late at night. When Puccini returns she confronts him with his constant affairs. After Elvira retires, Puccini is working at the piano when Doria asks for help with Madame Puccini. In telling Puccini how Elvira so bitterly accused her of tempting Puccini, she becomes distraught and is comforted by Puccini when Elvira, who has heard the piano stop, comes downstairs and sees them together. She orders Doria from the villa at gun point becoming so enraged she fires a shot into the ceiling which Tello hears waiting outside in hopes that Doria will pack and leave. Puccini persuades Tello to leave with Doria and swears there was nothing between them. Tello is insulted saying the Manfredi family cannot be treated this way.

Act 2: a street in Torre del Lago. Doria confides to Father Michelucci that Madame Puccini’s lies to everyone in the village about her and Puccini have become a nightmare for her and she cannot go on much longer. Elvira tries to convince the Father to ostracize Doria from the village. Puccini tells Doria that he has not been able to write a note in months and that the two of them must somehow weather out the storm. Tello attacks Puccini for dishonoring his sister but is restrained by his mother who tells Puccini that it does not matter whether it is true or not, if the lie is told often enough it will become the truth. Mama Manfredi tells Doria that she must remain out of sight until people forget all about it. Elvira tells Doria that she is responsible for Puccini never writing another note of music as long as he lives and threatens to drown her in the lake. Puccini tells Elvira she has gone too far and starts flee to Paris when Father Michelucci rushes in with the news that Doria has committed suicide.

Act 3, Scene 1: the interior of a courtroom. An autopsy has revealed that Doria died a virgin. In a letter to Sybil Seligman Puccini says that recently he himself has been contemplating suicide. Puccini offers Tello four thousand lire for his family to drop their lawsuit against Elvira which he refuses. As the trial progresses Elvira swears to all her charges against Doria and claims that Doria was an hysteric who had previously attempted suicide because Elvira had found fault with her. The ghostly apparition of Doria appears to testify to her and Puccini’s innocence. Elvira is found guilty of defamation of character, libel and menace to life and limb and is sentenced to a fine of seven hundred lire and five months and five days in prison.

Act 3, Scene 2: the interior of Villa Puccini. Tello comes to pick up Puccini’s baggage and scores as he leaves Villa Puccini forever. Puccini begs Tello to accept a settlement of twelve thousand lire, now that justice has prevailed, so that Elvira does not have to go to prison. Tello agrees. Elvira accuses Puccini of deserting her. He responds that he does not want all his feelings for her to evaporate which is why he must leave. Elvira becomes extremely despondent as she ponders the rest of her life completely alone. Sitting at Puccini’s work table with a pistol in front of her she wonders if she will have the courage this time or fire at the ceiling again. With the final curtain almost to the floor a shot is fired.

Cast (6 singers):

  • Giacomo Puccini, composer, tenor
  • Elvira Puccini, wife of Puccini, soprano
  • Doria Manfredi, young housekeeper of the Puccinis, soprano
  • Tello Manfredi, older brother of Doria, baritone Mama Manfredi, Doria and Tello’s mother, mezzo-soprano
  • Father Michelucci, local clergy, bass-baritone
  • Judge, local judge, bass-baritone (Father Michelucci & the Judge are performed by the same person)

Orchestra (13 players):

  • flute
  • oboe (english horn)
  • clarinet (bass clarinet)
  • french horn
  • bassoon
  • percussion
  • keyboard
  • violin 1 & 2
  • viola
  • cello 1 & 2 s
  • string bass

Sets (3):

Act 1 & Act 3, Scene 2: the interior of Villa Puccini. Upstage and two-thirds to stage left is an entry hallway and door to the outside. Stage left is a stairway leading up and offstage. Downstage from the stairway is a doorway leading to another part of the villa and offstage. Stage right is Puccini’s study. Upstage we see an upright piano where he composes. At a ninety degree angle, stage left of the piano, is a very large writing desk. Upstage is a large window looking out on a wooded lake setting. Stage right is an old beat-up couch. Stage right in the upstage corner is a full gun cabinet. The walls are lined with filled bookshelves. The study is very cluttered and unkempt.

Act 2: a street in Torre del Lago. The street runs from stage left to stage right. Upstage are three stores side by side facing downstage. Stage left is a butcher shop, stage right is a general store and in the middle is a bakery. Each has a door which exits offstage. A raised sidewalk runs from stage left to stage right between the stores and the street. On the sidewalk between the bakery and the general store is a bench.

Act 3, Scene 1: the interior of a courtroom. Upstage center is a railing behind which the accused sits throughout the trial. The railing is not solid, the floor can be seen through the railing. Upstage, stage right is the Judge’s bench facing somewhat on a bias across the stage to downstage, stage left. Downstage of the Judge’s bench is a witness box facing across the stage to stage left. Stage left is a prosecution table facing across to the Judge’s bench and witness box. Behind the prosecution table is a railing and spectator benches. Stage left is the back of the courtroom with a door (exit offstage).

Act 1: the interior of Villa Puccini. Upstage and two-thirds to stage left is an entry hallway and door to the outside. Stage left is a stairway leading up and offstage. Downstage from the stairway is a doorway leading to another part of the villa and offstage. Stage right is Puccini’s study. Upstage we see an upright piano where he composes. At a ninety degree angle, stage left of the piano, is a very large writing desk. Upstage is a large window looking out on a wooded lake setting. Stage right is an old beat-up couch. Stage right in the upstage corner is a full gun cabinet. The walls are lined with filled bookshelves. The study is very cluttered and unkempt. (Doria is busy cleaning the study. Tello enters from the upstage doorway.)

Tello: Have you heard? Have you heard? Puccini is back from London. He returns tonight. I must meet him in one hour and fetch his baggage.

Doria: Yes, I have heard. I have heard. It’s good to have the Maestro back. Villa Puccini is so empty. This room comes alive when he is working.

(Tello walks over to the piano, picks up some music, looks at it, and beings to play the piano.)

Doria: Stop that. No one is allowed to disturb the Maestro’s work.

Tello: An interesting melody.

(He continues to play the piano. Doria comes over, takes the music from his hand and pushes him away from the piano.)

Doria: The Maestro’s study is private. You should not be here. You must not disturb his work.

Tello: I will not disturb his work, but I would like to hear some of it. I could get a lot of money for a melody from his new work.

Doria: You would not dare. Don’t talk like that. I will not allow even my own brother to bring harm to the Maestro.

Tello: Calm down. Calm down. Doria, I mean no harm.

Doria: I know that Tello but I will do everything in my power to keep harm from Puccini. I am completely devoted to him.

Tello: Puccini is not devoted to Madame Puccini. While in London he had another affair. This time with the wife of a London banker by the name of Sybil Seligman.

Doria: It is well known that Madame Puccini is not an easy person to live with. The Maestro’s trips are his only escape from her jealousy and scolding nature.

Tello: She is also impossible to work for. Few people can stand her for very long and they quit. It is said that she possesses the evil eye. Do you remember when the young singer came to see Puccini about her career? Madame threatened her with an umbrella and chased her from the villa.

Doria: It is true, Madame Puccini finds it difficult to be the wife of an illustrious man. She does not like to stay home when he goes away. But the way she acts when he is here causes him to make more trips.

Tello: You came here when Puccini had his accident and broke his leg. You were just sixteen. Mother and father did not want you to take this job. They tried to warn you. I tried to warn you, but you would not listen.

Doria: Tello… (Tello raises a hand to quiet Doria)

Tello: Puccini is notorious for chasing after women and Madame is notorious for her insane jealousy. You will get caught in the middle. You must listen to me now. You cannot stay here any longer. Go and pack your things. When I return with Puccini I will take you with me. We will go home together. You think Puccini is the greatest man in the world, but if you stay here now only tragedy will result. Madame Puccini is enraged over this latest affair and she will take it out on you for certain. You are lucky that Puccini has left you alone. You are lucky Madame has not become suspicious of you. Your luck is going to run out. I was against you taking this position because I thought it would lower you. I was wrong about that but I am not wrong about this. I am only thinking of what’s best for you. I have overheard her relatives talking to her about you. They are telling her that he is susceptible to your charms and she must get rid of you. You know she believes them not you. Go and pack your things. When I return we will leave together. You cannot stay here any longer. Please believe me and trust me.

Doria: Tello, I know that you mean well, but I am not leaving. My place is here.

Tello: Doria… (Doria raises a hand to quiet Tello)

Doria: At home, or somewhere else, I am no different than anyone. But here, working for the Maestro, I am important, I am somebody. Here I meet musicians like Toscanini and Caruso. Here I open the Maestro’s door to diplomats and royalty. You tell me what a terrible temper Madame Puccini has. You tell me I must be very cautious. I tell you I do not worry about Madame Puccini. I am someone she can trust. I look after her. You tell me that Puccini chases every pretty girl in sight. You tell me he will flirt with me and try to take advantage of me. I tell you do not listen to rumors. I shall do nothing to compromise his great name. I know that you do not understand but still you must believe me. I am happy here. I have a place here. Puccini needs me, I take care of him. Nothing is more important to me.

Tello: And what of the things that Ida and Beppe are filling Madame Puccini’s head with?

Doria: Do you believe them? Do you think that I am encouraging Puccini by the way I walk around him? By the way I linger around him?

Tello: It does not matter what I think. It does matter what anyone thinks, except for Madame Puccini.

Doria: I do not care about me. She can do me no harm, but the harm she does Puccini, I must do whatever I can to protect him from.

Tello: That is not your job. That should not even be your concern. She is his wife. It must be between them. Go and pack your things. Come with me when I return.

(Tello exits the upstage doorway. Doria continues cleaning the study. Elvira enters from the stage left stairway.)

Elvira: Who was just here?

Doria: Madame Puccini, that was my brother. He said the Maestro is back. He went to fetch him and will return soon.

Elvira: I was not expecting him back tonight. It is very late, I thought he would return tomorrow. What are you up so late?

Doria: I am just doing a little cleaning, Madame. It is easier to do in the cool of the evening rather than the heat of the day. I enjoy working at night.

Elvira: I am sure you do. You are also aware that Puccini works at night. Perhaps after I have retired you two like to work together.

Doria: Madame Puccini, I would not dare to disturb the Maestro in his great work. I do not come near him or distract him in any way.

Elvira: That is not true. I have seen how you walk by him. I have seen how you linger by him. I have seen the way you look at him.

Doria: I walk by him as quietly as I can. I linger by him to see if he needs me.

Elvira: You make it sound so innocent. I know you work late so you and he can be together.

Doria: That is not true. I work at night because it is easier for me that way. I only respond to his needs.

Elvira: Of that I am sure. You must not disturb him when he is working. When I retire you must go to bed. You must leave Puccini alone.

Doria: Yes, Madame.

Elvira: I do not know if Puccini has had his supper, it is late. Go and make sure something is ready if he wishes it.

Doria: Yes, Madame.

(Doria exits the stage left doorway. Elvira wanders around the study looking at things, touching things, and finally picks up a photograph of Puccini from a bookcase.)

Elvira: I love you, Giacomo. I have loved only you since the day I left my husband to come here and live with you twenty-four years ago. I loved you and lived with you for twenty of those years before we could be married. I loved you before you became a rich and famous composer. I loved you all those years when we had nothing and before you had written anything. How do you repay my love? You turn your eye on everything that swishes by in skirts. You don’t even worry about who knows it. It is me who they say cannot keep you happy. It is me who they say drives you away and into the arms of other women. You know this is not true. It is you, Puccini, not me. It is you who cannot be content with what he has. I am always here for you but you do not share with me. You do not discuss your work with me. You do not ask my opinion. I love you, Giacomo but you shut me out. Am I not good enough for you? Am I too stupid for you? I am torn to the bottom of my soul by the way you treat me. I love you, Giacomo but I cannot go on anymore like this.

(Doria enters the stage left doorway.)

Doria: Madame Puccini, the Maestro has arrived.

Elvira: Do not forget what I have told you. Do not stay up and work at night. When I retire, you retire as well.

Doria: Yes, Madame.

(Puccini and Tello enter through the upstage doorway. Tello is carrying baggage.)

Puccini: Elvira, my dear, I am back. How good to see you.

(Puccini and Elvira embrace.)

Elvira: Giacomo, I did not expect you tonight. I thought you would arrive tomorrow. Had you had your supper?

Puccini: Yes, I ate earlier. Take the baggage upstairs.

(Doria and Tello exit the stage left stairway with the baggage.)

It is good to be home. The trip was tiring. So many people. The singers were not very good. One good result. The bass complained he did not have one good aria so I wrote one for him. I inserted it before Mimi’s death, he sings a farewell to his coat.

Elvira: Did you work yourself to the bone or did you have any time to indulge yourself?

Puccini: Indulge myself in what? You know that very little interests me outside my work.

Elvira: I heard from Ida and Beppe you made a new acquaintance in London. Someone in the financial world.

Puccini: You must mean Sybil Seligman and her husband, the banker. Fascinating people.

Elvira: They must be. I heard you spent a great time with them. No, I heard you spent a great time with her.

Puccini: There is very little left for me to tell. You already know everything.

Elvira: Not quite. Tell me all the details of your intimate afternoons with Sybil Seligman. Tell me all the details of your shameless affair.

Puccini: Elvira, this has got to stop. I spent some time with a lady in London who made me feel good. She flattered me. She called me a genius. What man would not enjoy such attentions. When was the last time you told me…

Elvira: That does not give you any right or excuse.

Puccini: It is mostly in your imagination. You have no cause to rail at me like this.

Elvira: My cause is just. My cause is moral. You assume that I will always be here when you return. Maybe next time I won’t be here.

(Doria and Tello enter down the stairway.)

Tello: The baggage is all taken care of. Is there anything else I can do for you tonight?

Puccini: No, that will be all. I appreciate all your trouble, Tello.

Tello: Maestro, you can call on me anytime, day or night.

(Puccini pays Tello. Doria and Tello move toward the upstage door, out of earshot.)

Tello: Are you coming?

Doria: No.

(Tello glares at Doria and Doria pushes him out the door.)

Tello: I will wait outside. Please, go and get your things.

Elvira: That is all for tonight, Doria. Do not forget our discussion earlier.

(Doria exits the stage left doorway.)

Puccini: What discussion was that?

Elvira: I told Doria I did not want her staying up working at night after I have retired. I told her she was disturbing your work.

Puccini: She has never disturbed by work. She is very quiet. I never hear her unless I need something.

Elvira: I am sure that is true. That is also the problem, your needs. Why can’t I take care of your needs? Why do you look elsewhere for advice and comfort? You have all you need right in front of you. I am warning you, I will not put up with you and Doria…

Puccini: (interrupting) There is no me and Doria to put with. You are making this all up in your head. Your jealousy has made you lose hold of your senses. You must stop badgering and leave me alone.

Elvira: Very well, I will leave you alone.

(Elvira exits the stage left stairway. Puccini goes over and lies down on the couch.)

Puccini: I love you, Elvira. I have loved you for twenty-four years. How do you repay my love? Your jealousy rages every time I cast my eye on another woman. I cannot pursue my career without battles at every turn. People in the town stop me in the street and ask me what is wrong with you. Our son is so confused he flees with me to Paris. I love you, Elvira, but lately it is impossible if I am around you. You only allow me to love you from afar. When we are together the flame in my heart goes out. It has not always been this way. We used to be content with each other. Now it seems that there is no contentment at all with each other. Now you imagine something with me and Doria. That is beyond belief. I would never disgrace that sweet child. This time I will not allow you to rage over nothing. This time I will stand up to you and you will see the truth.

(Puccini goes over to the piano and begins playing. Elvira enters from the stairway.)

Elvira: Surely you are not going to work tonight? After such a long trip?

Puccini: I wanted to work a few things out. Elvira: I as well. Come upstairs so we can discuss some things. Puccini: Perhaps in a bit, I am not ready yet.

Elvira: I will listen to the piano from upstairs. When it stops I will expect you.

(Elvira exits up the stairway. Interlude of Puccini working at the piano. After a while Doria enters from the stage left doorway and looks at Puccini hard at work and then turns to go.)

Puccini: Doria, I did not see you there.

Doria: Maestro, I did not want to disturb you.

Puccini: Nonsense, you are not disturbing me.

Doria: It is good to have you back, Maestro. It is very lonely when you are gone, and much too quiet. Did you have a good trip?

Puccini: Yes, I suppose so Although, I must admit that the older I get the more boring these trips become. I would rather stay here in Torre del Lago with my friends looking for a duck to shoot. These are the pleasures I really crave. Not all that fame and fawning in London or Paris.

Doria: I should leave. If Madame heard me here she would be very angry.

Puccini: Is Madame being difficult with you Doria?

Doria: Not when you are away. But when you return she imagines all kinds of things. Today she said I was distracting you from your work. She said she has seen the way I walk by you and the way I linger around you. I do not know what she is imagining about me and you. You know I only want to serve you. To be near if you need anything. You know I would never harm you or disgrace you. Maestro, you are the only thing in the world important to me.

(Puccini goes over to Doria and takes her hand.)

Puccini: Doria, I do not want you to worry about this. I will talk to Madame and straighten all this out. You are completely innocent. You have done nothing wrong and have nothing to worry about.

Doria: But Maestro, if Madame imagines bad things she will tell people lies about us. You will be hurt by all of this. I will not be able to take care of you. Puccini: Doria, I tell you do not worry. I will take of it all.

(Doria becomes very distraught. Puccini puts his arms around her to comfort her. Elvira enters from the stairway)

Elvira: As I thought. I was right about you Doria. I have known it all along.

Doria: Madame, I only…, I wanted…

Elvira: Yes, I am sure. I see what I see. I see my husband’s arms around you, Doria.

Puccini: Elvira, what you see is completely innocent. It is you who have upset her so that she came to me for help.

Elvira: Help with what? I have seen with my eyes what you help with. The same help you give Sybil Seligman in London. The same help you give every soprano you meet. I see your help. It has been a long time since you helped me like that.

Doria: Madame, please, I just wanted to see if the Maestro needed anything before I retired like you told me to do. I become upset. The Maestro put his arms around me because I was crying. Please, Madame, you must listen.

Puccini: Elvira, you must calm down.

Elvira: Why should I calm down. I hear the piano stop. I come downstairs. I find you two embracing each other. I see with my own eyes this time. I catch you in the very act this time. You want me to calm down. Not while she stays in this villa. Not while she remains under my roof.

Puccini: Elvira, you are hysterical. You must calm down. Nothing happened between us. You are imagining all this. Doria: Madame, please, he is innocent. You must not blame the Maestro. Please, listen to me. It is all my fault.

Elvira: Why should I calm down. I hear the piano stop. I come downstairs. I find you embracing each other. Doria, you must leave this very instant.

Doria: Maestro, please…

(Puccini approaches Elvira. Elvira goes to the gun cabinet and takes out a pistol which she aims at the floor.)

Puccini: Elvira, you cannot be serious.

(Elvira aims the gun at the ceiling and fires. Doria begins to scream and runs toward the upstage doorway. Tello enters the upstage doorway and grabs Doria.)

Tello: Doria, are you hurt?

(No response. He stands between Elvira and Doria.) (looking at Elvira)

Maestro, what is happening here?

Elvira: I have caught your slut of a sister in the arms of my husband. If she does not leave, the next shot will not be in the ceiling.

(Puccini lunges and grabs the gun from Elvira.)

Puccini: Elvira, come to your senses. You are behaving like a lunatic.

Tello: Maestro, what is she saying about you and my sister?

Doria: Tello, nothing is true. The Maestro is completely innocent. I think the Madame wants to kill me.

Puccini: Tello, it is probably best if you take Doria and leave.

Elvira: Why do you stay? For the last time, leave now.

(Elvira reaches for the pistol, Puccini restrains her.)

Elvira: I have caught her with my husband. She must leave at once. Take her out of her with you. I swear to you I will punish her.

Puccini: Elvira, why are you doing this? There was nothing wrong here. Tello, you must believe me. Your sister is completely innocent.

Doria: Maestro, I am sorry. You are not to blame. If I had not come down here, this would not have happened.

Tello: I warned you this would happen. This woman is not right. Now you must come with me. You must not stay here any longer.

(Doria begins crying hysterically. Tello takes her by the arms.)

Tello: We will leave, Maestro. But the Manfredi family cannot be treated like this. This is not the end of it.

Elvira: Of that you can be certain.

(She lunges towards Tello and Doria. Puccini holds her back and motions them to leave.)

This will not be the end of it. I will see to that.

(Doria and Tello exit the upstage doorway. Curtain.)

 Act 2: a street in Torre del Lago. The street runs from stage left to stage right. Upstage are three stores side by side facing downstage. Stage left is a butcher shop, stage right is a general store and in the middle is a bakery. Each has a door which exits offstage. A raised sidewalk runs from stage left to stage right between the stores and the street. On the sidewalk between the bakery and the general store is a bench.

(Father Michelucci enters from the bakery and sits on the bench eating a roll.)

Father: The sky is overcast today. It looks like a storm approaching. We don’t need a storm from Mother Nature. Madame Puccini’s storm is all we can stand for now.

(Doria enters from stage right.)

Doria: Father Michelucci, it is good to see you.

(Father rises.)

Father: Doria, how are you today. Come and sit with me a bit. I wanted to talk with you, Doria. Madame Puccini has been saying some very unkind things about you.

Doria: Father, she has been telling nothing but lies. Lies about me and lies about the Maestro. She has talked to everyone in the village. I cannot go anywhere without someone looking at me. But it is worse for the Maestro. Puccini is a great man. This village has never seen a greater man. He has not worked in months. She has dried up his inspiration. For me it does not matter but for him she must be stopped.

Father: Madame Puccini makes some very serious charges. She says with her own eyes she saw you and the Maestro in an adulterous affair. She says it has been going on for some time now. She says she is not the only witness but Ida and Beppe have also witnessed these things.

Doria: Father, you have heard me say over and over that there is no truth to any of it. Madame lies so often people are starting to believe her.

Father: Doria, I am not here to judge you or Madame Puccini. I will pray for you.

Doria: Thank you Father. Perhaps that is the only solution after all.

(Doria exits into the bakery. Father starts to exit stage left. Elvira enters stage left.)

Elvira: Father, a moment please.

Father: Madame Puccini, may I help you find a way to end this campaign of yours. The village is in such a terrible uproar.

Elvira: Indeed you can, Father. Perhaps it’s you who can end it altogether.

Father: What can I do?

Elvira: You know what an evil person Doria Manfredi is. She must be driven out of the village. She is not fit to associate with decent people. You must not fail to help me with this.

Father: Madame Puccini, you must calm yourself. You must consider what you are saying. What you are accusing. Who you are accusing.

Elvira: I know what I know. I know what I saw. In my own villa. In front of my own eyes.

Father: What have you seen? Your husband says they are innocent. You have accused them of adultery but you have no proof.

Elvira: I saw them embrace each other. Father, I am not a fool. I am not blind. They dishonor the name Puccini.

Father: Madame Puccini, you have no basis for your accusations. You must control yourself and stop this hate.

Elvira: Father, I am right. I will not rest a minute until Doria Manfredi is gone permanently.

(Elvira exits into the butcher shop. Father exits stage left. Puccini enters stage right heading for the general store. He meets Doria entering from the bakery carrying a package.)

Puccini: Doria.

(Doria begins crying, sits down on the bench and places her package on the bench beside her.)

Doria: It is more than I can bear Maestro. To hear her telling everyone that you have done this evil. Your name will be revered like Verdi. To bring dishonor to you like this…

Puccini: Doria, we have nothing at all to be ashamed of. Like you this is more than I can bear. I cannot make her stop this madness. For you this has been a living hell.

(Doria rises from the bench and leaves her package behind.)

Doria: I do not care what she says about me. But your great name must not be stained. I must prove to everyone your innocence.

Puccini: There is nothing we can do except weather out the storm.

Doria: I promise you I will do more than that. Puccini: Anything you or I do will just make matters worse. You know the truth. Soon everyone will know the truth as well.

(Doria exits stage right. Puccini heads for the general store. Tello enters stage left and stops him.)

Tello: There he is, the great man. The great man who dishonored my sister. The great man who has ruined my name.

Puccini: Tello, I swear to you again there is nothing between your sister and me. My wife is insane. Her rantings and ravings are completely without foundation.

Tello: Who do you expect to believe that. The whole village knows about you. We all know you have chased everything in skirts all your life. Where there is smoke there is fire.

Puccini: There is no fire.

Tello: You have ruined my family.

(Tello lunges towards Puccini. Puccini pushes him away.)

If I had a gun in my hand I would kill you on this very spot. You do not deserve to live. I despise you. May you rot. My sister cannot hold up her head in the village. My parents dishonored as well. We have all become outcast. You must pay for all of this.

(Tello lunges again for Puccini. Mama Manfredi enters stage left and stops him.)

Mama: Tello. Stop. Leave the Maestro alone.

(Tello stops and glares at Puccini with fists clenched.)

Tello: Do what your mother says. You will not do this. Leave the Maestro alone.

(Tello backs off and goes over by Mama Manfredi.)

Tello: Mama, he must pay for what he’s done.

Mama: That is not for you to say. I want you to go and leave the Maestro alone.

Tello: Mama…

Mama: Do what I say.

(Tello glares at Puccini and then exits stage left.)

Puccini: Thank you, Mama Manfredi.

Mama: I did not do it for you. My family has had enough suffering and misery. We do not need any more. This would only make matters worse, not better.

Puccini: Mama Manfredi, my name is an old one. I am the fourth generation of a family of musicians. We have always been a well respected family. I swear to you there is no truth to any of this.

Mama: That may be, but even so it does not matter. Madame Puccini is proving that if you repeat the lie often the lie becomes the truth. The truth does not matter.

Puccini: I am ashamed of all of this. I am sorry for you and your family. I wish I could stop it.

Mama: Maestro, can you not control your wife? Puccini: No, I am afraid it is she who is controlling all of us.

(Puccini exits into the general store. Elvira enters from the butcher shop.)

Elvira: You dare to show yourself in public. Your family should not be seen in the light of day. You should crawl along the streets at night with the other vermin.

Mama: You may be ‘la donna Puccini’ and I may be a simple peasant woman, but nothing on God’s Earth gives you the right to speak to me like that.

Elvira: You dare to speak of rights. What right did your whore of a daughter have to take away my husband?

Mama: If you no longer have your husband, it is because you have driven him away.

Elvira: You should be begging my forgiveness. You should be crawling on your knees to me.

(Mama Manfredi spits on the ground in front of Elvira.)

I will see your whole family banished from this village. People dispose of their trash.

(Elvira exits into the bakery. Mama Manfredi sits down heavily on the bench as if stunned. Doris enters stage right.)

Doria: Mama, what is wrong? Mama: I just spoke with Madame Puccini. She is worse than ever. You should not be here. If she should see you…

(Doria picks up the package she left on the bench).

Doria: I returned for the package I left here. What lies is she telling now?

Mama: Doria… I believe everything you say, Doria. Your brother believes the lies. People are talking, people are looking. They say he has done it before, it must be true. I will tell you what I told the Maestro, Doria. The truth does not matter. People believe it, that is what matters. The lie becomes the truth. You must wait. She will stop. People will forget. Stay out of sight I believe everything you say, Doria. Everything will be all right. I must see to Tello. He may do something foolish..

(Mama Manfredi exits stage left. Doria starts to exit stage right. Elvira enters from the bakery.)

Elvira: How dare you show yourself on the street? Your mother is ashamed to be seen.

Doria: Madame Puccini, please, I am innocent.

Elvira: You must leave my husband alone.

Doria: The Maestro is innocent.

Elvira: You tart, you slut, you whore.

(Doria covers her face with her hands.)

Doria: I am none of those things.

Elvira: You have ruined my life. You dare stay here.

Doria: Why won’t anyone believe me.

Elvira: You dare walk the street in broad daylight.

Doria: None of it is true.

Elvira: You should flee to the farthest end of the Earth.

Doria: Please, listen to me.

Elvira: You have ruined my husbands name. He was a respected man. People looked up to him. Now his life is ruined and it is because of you. He cannot even bring himself to work. And it is all your fault. He will never write again.

(Doria begins to run away stage right.)

Elvira: Yes, yes, you had better run away. You little whore. Sooner or later, as sure as the Madonna, I will drown you in the lake with my own hands.

(Puccini enters from the general store.)

Puccini: Elvira, leave her alone.

Elvira: Don’t tell me to leave her alone. You are in no position to be telling me anything.

Doria: Maestro, please…

Elvira: You tart, you slut, you whore. You must leave and never return. You are an evil person. Why do you stay here?

Puccini: I can’t stand any more of this. I haven’t written a note in months. She won’t listen to me at all. Somebody must do something.

Doria: She is destroying you. You must defend yourself. Something must be done to save you. The truth must be known. This is going to end today. Everyone will know the truth. There is only one thing left. Maestro, I must say good-bye.

(Doria begins crying and runs off stage right. Puccini starts after her, then stops )

Elvira: Perhaps now that she is leaving we will have some peace.

(Puccini whirls around.)

Puccini: You have gone too far. Your insanity is too much. What you have done to that poor girl is beyond belief. I will not live with you any longer.

Elvira: Do not make threats to me. You are just as much to blame for this as she is. You are more responsible than I.

Puccini: I am not the one spreading poison like a black widow spider. I am not the one spewing forth day after day until the entire village is upset.

Elvira: You are the one who is not man enough to be content with his wife. You are the one who everyone in this village has been gossiping about for years.

Puccini: Elvira, I am done with you. I am leaving for Paris tonight and I shall not return.

Elvira: I have heard this before as well. I know your threats and they mean nothing.

Puccini: You will soon realize that this time is different. I will not be back. You will never see me again. Perhaps then you will realize your cruelty.

Elvira: You make a big speech but it is all to cover up. You know I am right. You know you are wrong. You cannot change that.

Puccini: Good-bye, Elvira.

(Puccini starts to exit stage left. Father Michelucci enters stage right.)

Father: My God in heaven…

Puccini: Father Michelucci, what is it? What is wrong?

(Father looks first at Puccini and then at Elvira and then back to Puccini.)

Father: She is dead. She is dead. Puccini: Who? Who is dead?

Father: Doria Manfredi is dead. She swallowed some poison and has killed herself.

Puccini: God in heaven… Father: She left a note. It said she was innocent of everything. It also said she was pure. The doctor examined her and verified that it was true. She was telling the truth. You were telling the truth.

(They both turn and look at Elvira. She does not change her appearance and glares right back.)

Have you any concept of the harm you have caused here today?

Elvira: It is not I who have caused the harm. You must turn your gaze to see the guilty party.

Puccini: Still you insist on your way. Even now, in the face of proof positive.

(Tello and Mama Manfredi come running in from stage right.)

Mama: My Doria is dead and it’s your fault. She would not be dead except for your evil accusations.

Elvira: I spoke nothing but the truth. You cannot blame me for this. Her guilt made her do it. This is not my fault.

Mama: You are an evil woman. And you will rot in hell. My daughter has killed herself. And it is your fault.

Puccini: This tragedy is beyond belief. How could it have gone this far? Doria did not have to do it. She was not to blame.

Tello: You will pay for this. This crime must be punished. You are an evil old hag. You will not get away with it.

Father: What an innocent young girl. Her life was all before her. And now it’s over. Tragedy beyond belief.

Tello: (to Elvira) I should kill you right now for what you did to my sister. I’ll make you pay for this.

(Tello lunges for Elvira. Puccini stands in between. Father restrains him.)

Father: Tello, stop. You cannot do this. Do not make a tragic day more tragic. Doria would not want you to do this.

Tello: Are you sure of that Father? Why do you think she killed herself? It was the only way to stop Madame Puccini. It was the only way to make us believe her. She is counting on us to make her pay for what she has done.

(Puccini starts to lead Elvira off stage left.)

You cannot run away. You must pay for this. This will most certainly not be the end of it. I will see to that.


Act 3, Scene 1: the interior of a courtroom. Upstage center is a railing behind which the accused sits throughout the trial. The railing is not solid, the floor can be seen through the railing. Upstage, stage right is the Judge’s bench facing somewhat on a bias across the stage to downstage, stage left. Downstage of the Judge’s bench is a witness box facing across the stage to stage left. Stage left is a prosecution table facing across to the Judge’s bench and witness box. Behind the prosecution table is a railing and spectator benches. Stage left is the back of the courtroom with a door (exit offstage).

(Puccini enters and sits in the front row of spectator benches. He takes some paper from a case he is carrying and begins to write a letter.)

Puccini: My dearest Sybil, I am leaving soon for Paris. I cannot stand it any more. I suppose you have heard, read something in the newspaper. It is a tragic affair. I shall leave Elvira for good. She has become completely deranged. Elvira started imagining all sorts of things. She made such a terrible scene. Made such awful accusations. Called her such horrible names. She even went around the village spreading her poison. She tried to turn Doria’s family against her. Doria’s brother attacked me saying he would like to kill me because I was his sister’s lover. Poor Doria was faced with a hell in her own home and dishonor outside. With Elvira’s insults ringing in her ears she swallowed some poison and died after torment and atrocious agony. You can imagine. Everyone was against me, but even more against Elvira. She left for Milan the day of the poisoning. By the order of the authorities a medical examination was made in the presence of witnesses and she was found to be pure. Poor Doria. I am only telling you the truth when I say that I have often lovingly fingered my revolver. What now? What now?

(Tello enters and goes over to Puccini. He takes off his hat and holds it by both hands in front of him.)

Tello: Maestro, please, I hope you understand. The Manfredi family honor is at stake. We cannot allow this to go unpunished. That is why we are here today, for justice for Doria.

Puccini: Tello, I understand that.

Tello: Please, do not think that this is something against you. I was wrong. I am sorry that I attacked you. I should have believed you and Doria.

Puccini: I was disturbed that you did not believe us. Your sister died to convince you of her innocence.

Tello: I know that. That will haunt me to my own grave. I cannot undo my wrong to Doria but I tell you I am sorry. I would like to be a friend again of the great Maestro.

Puccini: You are my friend.

Tello: Thank you, Maestro.

Puccini: I would like to ask your family. Drop your lawsuit.

Tello: Maestro…

Puccini: (interrupting) Please, allow me to give your family four thousand lire.

(Tello straightens up to a more determined stance.)

Tello: Maestro, I cannot do that. Justice must be done. Why should you care? You are packed and are leaving.

Puccini: It is true, I am leaving, but I still love her.

Tello: That I do not understand, Maestro.

Puccini: Neither do I.

(Tello sits down at the prosecution table. Mama Manfredi enters and sits beside Tello. Madame Puccini enters and goes to the accused box. The Judge enters from behind his bench. Everyone stands up. The Judge sits down and bangs his gavel. Everyone sits down.)

Judge: The court is now in session. Madame Puccini, towards the deceased Doria Manfredi you are charged with defamation of character, libel, and menace to life and limb. Enter the box and give your testimony.

(Elvira leaves the accused box and goes to the witness box and sits down.)

Elvira: Charged with defamation of character. I am innocent of that charge. How can it be defamation of character if what I said is true, completely true? Charged with libel and menace to life and limb. Innocent. Innocent. How can it be libel and menace to life and limb? If it is true is it wrong? True I threatened to drown her in the lake but I did not mean that literally. I wanted for her to leave the village but I did not want her to kill herself. Your honor, I regret my conduct, but I beg of you, I caught her there with my husband. It was jealousy that drove me to do what I did to her. I could not stand it any more. Not my fault she was an hysterical. Not my fault. Not my fault. Not my fault, I cannot be held responsible. It was her. That is all I have to say.

(Elvira leaves the witness box and returns to the accused box. The Judge bangs his gavel.)

Judge: Tello Manfredi. Enter the box and give your testimony.

(Tello goes to the witness box and sits down.)

Tello: Your honor, I ask for justice. My sister is dead. And she (pointing at Elvira) must pay for it. She was pure when she died, she had never known a man. Doria was completely devoted to the Maestro. She died to prove her innocence. Your honor, find her guilty. Only then can she rest in peace. Let me read a letter she wrote.

(Tello takes a letter from his pocket and begins to read.)

I am innocent.

(The figure of Doria suddenly appears standing behind Tello. She is completely shrouded in white. Her face cannot be seen clearly. She and Tello read the previous line in unison and then she continues alone. The effect should be of him reading the letter but we hear her voice and see her figure behind him.)

Tello and Doria: I am innocent.

Doria: My life has been devoted to taking care of the Maestro. I am caught up events. Some force holds me tight. Madame understands what she is doing. Maestro cannot break free. She is relentless, he is defenseless. Something must give way. That something is me. It is the only way. I am innocent. I am innocent. When I am dead you will believe me. Remember me fondly.

Tello and Doria: Goodbye.

Doria: I go to a better place.

(Doria disappears.)

Tello: You honor, I ask for justice. My sister speaks from the grave. She cries out for justice.

(Tello returns to the prosecution table.)

Judge: Signora Manfredi. Enter the box and give your testimony.

(Mama Manfredi goes to the witness box and sits down.)

Mama: Your honor, I am the only one who believed her. No one else believed her. They all turned against her. All she says are lies. I, too, have some letters to read. This one from the Maestro to Doria. (reading) My conscience is clear. I am desolate. It is all lies. The greatest injustice. (finishes reading) This one by the Maestro to me. (reading) There is no truth in all that has been whispered. Your honor, I thought I understood her actions but she went too far. She became unbalanced. She should be put in an asylum.

Elvira: This is absurd. I am not crazy.

(The Judge bangs his gavel.)

Judge: Madame, sit down and be quiet.

Elvira: I won’t sit here and listen her say I am crazy.

Judge: You will be quite be in contempt of court.

Elvira: My contempt is for her lies.

(The Judge bangs his gavel.)

Judge: You are in contempt. Sit down.

(Elvira glares at the Judge and slowly sits down.)

Please continue.

Mama: My son wants justice and so do I, but now I know it is not her fault. She has become unbalanced. Lock her up so she can hurt no one else.

(Mama Manfredi stands up and returns to the prosecution table. She never looks at Elvira but Elvira glares at her all the way. The Judge bangs his gavel.)

Judge: Maestro Puccini. Enter the box and give your testimony.

(Puccini goes to the Judge’s bench and stands before the Judge.)

Puccini: Your honor, I am her husband. I do not wish to testify.

Judge: That is your right. You do not have to if you do not want to.

(Puccini returns to his seat in the spectator’s benches.)

The court will recess while I deliberate my verdict.

(The Judge bangs his gavel and exits behind his bench. Puccini goes over to Elvira.)

Elvira: You could have given testimony to support me. You could have helped.

Puccini: What could I have say? I would have had to tell the truth. And the truth is that you were wrong. You did everything they said you did.

Elvira: You could have for once admit your actions. You could have told the Judge I’m not crazy.

Puccini: I am sorry, Elvira, I could not do that.

Elvira: Do you realize I could go to jail. Think about that. The wife of the great Puccini, in jail.

Puccini: I do not think it will come to that. I do not want you to go to jail. But for you, not for me.

Elvira: Giacomo, I cannot go to jail. The very thought of it frightens me. Please, help me.

(During the preceding Tello and Mama Manfredi have gone to the back of the courtroom.)

Tello: Justice is at hand, Mama.

Mama: Yes, I suppose so. But I wonder what kind.

Tello: Mama, surely you’re not serious. Do you want her name unstained? Do you want the Manfredi name unstained? Do you want her punished?

Mama: Yes, as much as you. But still I feel sorry for her. She is so crazy.

Tello: I told the Maestro earlier it does not matter. Crazy people should be punished as well.

(During the preceding Puccini has gone back to his seat in the spectator benches. Tello and Mama Manfredi return to their seats at the prosecution table. The Judge enters from behind his bench. Everyone stands up. The Judge sits down and bangs his gavel. Everyone sits down.)

Judge: Madame Elvira Puccini, please rise.

(Elvira stands up in the accused box.)

For your actions today in contempt of court. Guilty. On the charge of defamation of character. Guilty. On the charge of libel. Guilty. On the charge of menace to life and limb. Guilty.

(Elvira begins to sob. Puccini stands up)

You are fined seven hundred lire And five months and five days in prison.

(The Judge bangs his gavel. At the sound of the gavel Elvira cries out and faints to the floor. Puccini runs to her aid.)

Tello: Justice. Justice. Justice.


Act 3, Scene 2: the interior of Villa Puccini, the same as act one.

(Puccini is in his study packing things from the piano and work table. Enter Tello from the upstage doorway.)

Tello: You asked me to come, Maestro.

Puccini: I am leaving tonight for Paris. I am only taking what I need. Please send the rest.

Tello: I will take care of it, Maestro.

Puccini: That is not all. I want to ask again please drop your lawsuit. If you do that,Tello, Elvira will not have to go to prison. Your sister’s name is clear. You have your justice. Do not be vengeful. I know you have suffered and so has you family. Let me make it up to you. Twelve thousand lire. Please, do this for me.

Tello: We have our justice, Maestro, and the whole world knows. My sister can rest in peace, Maestro. I cannot understand you. You should let her rot in prison. But, for you, Maestro, I will accept your offer.

(Puccini writes a check and hands it to Tello.)

Tello: Goodbye, Maestro. I will miss you.

(Tello exits the upstage doorway.

Puccini finishes his packing, closes his case, sets it down in the middle of the room and begins to look around. Elvira enters from the stage left stairway.)

Elvira: Deserting me after all?

Puccini: I am not deserting you. I am fleeing from you.

Elvira: Fleeing from yourself, maybe. Fleeing from your guilt.

Puccini: Elvira, I love you but I cannot bear to be near you any more. It is for your own good. It is for my own sanity.

Elvira: You would leave now? I’m going to prison? What kind of a man are you?

Puccini: You do not have to go to prison. I made a settlement with Tello.

Elvira: Thank God. Puccini: Thank me. I’m leaving because around you my love grows weaker. You are leaving to be free to pursue anyone you like.

Puccini: I am leaving tonight for Paris. I must find some peace somewhere. There is none here any longer. Goodbye, Elvira.

(Puccini picks up his case and walks towards the upstage doorway.)

Elvira: This is not the end of it. I will see to that.

(Puccini stops, turns around, looks at Elvira, turns back and exits the upstage doorway. Elvira looks at the doorway for a long while as if expecting him to return. She then walks around the study looking at things. She picks up a music box and opens it. It begins playing.)

He brought me this one time from Paris.

(She listens to the music box for a while and then closes the lid and sets it down. She picks up a picture.)

How young we look in this picture.

(She sets the picture down, goes to the piano, plays a few notes, stops and begins to cry.)

Why does he have to be like he is? Why can’t he be true?

(She sits at the work table.)

I know what dishonor is like. I know what disgrace is like. I endured dishonor. I endured disgrace. And now this. How can I endure this? He has left me before. He has said the same things before. What if this time it is true? I could not stand that. He does not tell me where he is going. He tells me Tello has the address. He is punishing me. He is torturing me.

(Elvira covers her face with her hands.)

Why does he hate me so much?

(She sinks to her knees.)

Giacomo, will you return to me this time? Without you. I could not continue.

(After a while Elvira rises, goes over to the gun cabinet and gets out the pistol she fired in the first act.)

Perhaps this is the solution. Doria certainly thought so. He won’t be back.

(Elvira aims the pistol at her head.)

No, I can’t do this. I have no courage. And he will be back.

(Elvira places the pistol on the work table. She stares downstage for a long time.)

That is not true. He will not return. Never. Never. I can find the courage. I must find the courage.

(Elvira picks up the pistol and aims it at her head. During the following the curtain starts to slowly descend.)

This time I will not be a coward and fire at the ceiling. My life is useless. I cannot go on any longer…

(The curtain should have reached her knees by the last line. A shot fires and the curtain immediately descends to the floor. We cannot tell if she has really shot herself or not.)

Madame Puccini was commissioned by the Adrian Symphony Orchestra. Act One was performed in concert on March 11,1995 in Spencer Recital Hall on the campus of Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan as part of the ASO’s River Raisin Chamber Series.

The cast included Meredith Zara (head of voice faculty at Michigan State University) as Madame Puccini, Erik Johanson (professor of applied voice and opera workshop at The University of Toledo) as Giacomo Puccini, Vivian Dettbarn (professor of voice at Adrian College) as Doria Manfredi, and Lance Ashmore (faculty on the Creative Arts Department at Bowling Green State University) as Tello Manfredi. The remaining characters of Father Michelucci and Mama Manfredi do not appear in Act One. Conducting was David Katz, music director of the Adrian Symphony Orchestra with Wilnella Bush playing piano.

Madame Puccini was completed in May, 1997 and orchestrated for thirteen players (flute, oboe, clarinet, french horn, bassoon, percussion, keyboard, violin 1 & 2, viola, cello 1 & 2, and string bass) over the summer of 1997.

The fully staged premier by The Adrian Symphony Orchestra scheduled for March 21, 1998 was, unfortunately, cancelled due to budgetary problems.

On a final historical note, Doria Manfredi did, in fact, have a brother. When this opera was researched, his name could not be discovered and the character was named, in the opera, Tello (a shortening of the Italian word for brother, fratello). Subsequent research has discovered that his actual name was Rodolfo (ironically enough named after the main character in Puccini’s opera La Boheme).

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.


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Pyotr Il’yich


Opera Synopsis

by Dr. Michael Pratt

  • Pyotr Il’yich Tschaikovsky, tenor
  • Nikolay Borisovich Jacobi, bass
  • Alexandr Vladimirovich Stenbok-Fermor, tenor
  • Count Alexey Alexandrovich Stenbok-Fermor, baritone
  • Margarita Sergeyevna Stenbok-Fermor, soprano
  • Modest Tschaikovsky, baritone
  • Priest, bass
  • Adele aus der Ohe, pianist (non-singing)
  • Chorus, Act 1 – upper society, Act 2 – professional men, Act 3 – working class

In November, 1893 Pyotr Il’yich Tschaikovsky drank a glass of unboiled water during a cholera epidemic in St. Petersburg, Russia and died at the early age of fifty-three at the height of his creative power, a mere nine days after conducting the premier of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathetique. So has gone the standard biographical line for a hundred years. The cholera story, first told by the composer’s brother Modest in the biography he wrote of his brother just a few years after his death, and restated by countless biographers ever since, has been closely protected by Russian authorities who did not want the real story to emerge. In reality Tschaikovsky was ordered to commit suicide because his homosexuality was an embarrassment.

That he committed suicide cannot be doubted, but what precipitated this suicide has not been conclusively established. In 1978 the Soviet scholar, Alexandra Orlova, revealed a narrative dictated to her in 1966 by the aged Alexander Voitov of the Russian Museum in Leningrad. According to this, a member of the Russian aristocracy had written a letter accusing the composer of a liaison with his nephew, and had entrusted it to Nikolay Jacobi, a high-ranking civil servant for transmission to the Tsar. Jacobi, like Tschaikovsky, a former pupil of the School of Jurisprudence, feared the dishonor with which this disclosure would tarnish the “school uniform” and hastily instituted a court of honor (which included six of Tschaikovsky’s contemporaries from the school) to decide how the scandal might be averted. Tschaikovsky was summoned to appear before this court on October 31 which, after more than five hours of deliberations, decreed that the composer should kill himself. Two days later the composer was mortally ill, almost certainly from arsenic poisoning. The story that he died of cholera from drinking unboiled water is pure fabrication.

Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, volume 18, page 626, copyright 1980.

More details of the tragedy have emerged since, including the fact that the member of the Russian aristocracy who wrote the letter was Count Alexey Alexandrovich Stenbok-Fermor and his brother’s son was Alexandr Vladimirovich Stenbok-Fermor. While still being hotly debated, with those who stick with the cholera story mainly being Russian and those who subscribe to the suicide story mainly being Western, the fact is Pyotr Il’yich Tschaikovsky died at the uncommonly early age of fifty-three at the zenith of his creative powers. Would he have written another six symphonies, more ballets like Nutcracker or Swan Lake, more operas like Eugene Onegin or The Queen of Spades? If the facts of this increasingly likely story are true, it is one of the more unforgivable crimes against humanity.

Act 1

Monday, October 30, 1893 [Gregorian], late afternoon. St. Petersburg. The interior of a grand mansion. A dinner party is being given in honor of Adele aus der Ohe, the German virtuoso who performed Tschaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto the previous Saturday evening on the same concert that premiered Tschaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony with Tschaikovsky conducting. After the dinner party everyone is attending a performance of Tschaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin at the Mariinsky Theater.

The party goers are anxiously awaiting the arrival of all the dignitaries and discussing the artistry of Adele aus der Ohe and Pyotr Il’yich Tschaikovsky. There is keen anticipation for the evening’s opera performance. The dignitaries arrive and are warmly greeted as they are announced. The Count Alexey Alexandrovich Stenbok-Fermor, his wife Margarita Sergeyevna and nephew Alexandr Vladimirovich Stenbok-Fermor. The Count is a member of the Russian aristocracy, privy councilor and Equerry to Tsar Alexandr III. His nephew is attached to His Highness’s Life Guard Hussars. Privy councilor and assistant senior public prosecutor Nikolay Borisovich Jacobi arrives next. Tschaikovsky and Jacobi were fellow classmates and graduates of the School of Jurisprudence. The next arrival is Modest Tschaikovsky, the famous composer’s brother and librettist for The Queen of Spades and Tschaikovsky’s last opera Iolanta. Modest has been trying to convince Pyotr Il’yich to remain in St. Petersburg a bit longer than intended because in a week’s time his comedy Prejudices will be premiered in St. Petersburg and he would like his brother to attend. Finally the guest of honor Adele aus der Ohe and Tschaikovsky arrive.

Jacobi and Tschaikovsky, along with several other men who were also fellow classmates at the School of Jurisprudence, relive memories of schoolboy days. Tschaikovsky comments that hindsight tends to paint a rosier picture of those days. In particular he recalls the many courts of honor that were held by fellow students and the harsh punishments that were handed out to preserve the “honor of the uniform”.

Alexandr tries to persuade Adele to play for them. She finally consents but only if she can make a game of it. She will play excerpts from various pieces by Tschaikovsky and everyone must write down the titles as she plays them. The person who has the most correct will be her dinner partner. Everyone is delighted with the game. As the playing begins Tschaikovsky seats himself beside Alexandr and engages him in whispered conversation. It soon becomes clear that Tschaikovsky intends to ignore the musical game while Alexandr, despite Tschaikovsky’s best attentions, tries very hard to take part and jot down his titles. Count Alexey comments to Margarita that Tschaikovsky seems to have taken a keen interest in their nephew. Tschaikovsky puts his arm around Alexandr and whispers in his ear. Alexandr turns to Tschaikovsky and whispers something back which Tschaikovsky immediately responds to by removing his arm and paying rapt attention to the musical game. Everyone seems to be fascinated by this conversation. The musical game concludes and Alexandr is delighted to be the winner. He is the only person who knew every piece.

Dinner is announced and the guests go off to the adjoining dining room. Alexandr takes Adele’s arm to escort her to dinner, as he is now her dinner partner, but Margarita asks him to remain behind for a moment. All the guests have gone to dinner and Alexandr remains with his aunt and uncle. They want to know what the discussion was all about between Alexandr and Tschaikovsky. Alexandr, in a light-hearted manner, tells them that this is nothing new, that Tschaikovsky has made advances towards him before. Count Alexey and Margarita are outraged and demand to know more. Alexandr, more serious now, says he thought they knew that Tschaikovsky was homosexual. He tries to calm their fears by telling them that they have nothing to be concerned about. He has always resisted these advances and is not concerned, upset or worried about them in the least. In fact he is somewhat flattered by the attention. Count Alexey is livid with rage and tells his nephew that this ungodly behavior must stop and he plans to do something about it. Alexandr responds that he is a grown man now and it is his business to do something about it if he wishes. His uncle should simply mind his own business. Alexandr turns and goes into dinner.

Margarita passionately pleads with her husband to do something before her nephew’s life is ruined. Count Alexey swears he will do something before his own life is ruined. That very night he will write a letter to Tsar Alexandr III demanding that action be taken against Tschaikovsky. Jacobi comes back in to see what is detaining Count Alexey and Margarita. He is informed of the situation and of the letter Count Alexey intends to write. A greatly shocked Jacobi volunteers to personally deliver the letter to the Tsar.

Act 2

Tuesday, October 31, 1893, early afternoon. Jacobi is at home in his library. Count Alexey and Margarita are expected momentarily to give him the letter he has promised to deliver to the Tsar denouncing Tschaikovsky as a homosexual. Jacobi knows this is a crime punishable by banishment to Siberia but his concern is not with Tschaikovsky or even with Count Alexey and his family. Rather his concern is about how this shocking business will reflect on him and his fellow classmates and graduates of the School of Jurisprudence. Above all else “the uniform is sacred”. That is what he has believed all of his life and it is more important than life itself. It does not matter if the life is someone as greatly beloved as Pyotr Il’yich Tschaikovsky. Above all else “the uniform is sacred”. If the letter is actually delivered to the Tsar and the scandal becomes known, the disgrace will tarnish all graduates of the School of Jurisprudence. Everyone will say that this is where it all started and they all must be the same. This must not be allowed to happen.

Count Alexey and Margarita arrive to deliver the letter to Jacobi. They are very anxious that the letter be delivered as soon as possible. Tschaikovsky poses a great threat to them. Count Alexey’s position would be ruined forever if word of this affair between his nephew, who is, after all, attached to the Tsar’s personal military regiment, and Tschaikovsky were made public. People like Tschaikovsky must be kept away from decent people at all cost. Jacobi assures them both that he feels the same as they do and that he knows exactly how to handle the situation. They can trust him, Tschaikovsky will be dealt with to their satisfaction.

After the Count and Margarita leave Jacobi rearranges the room with a long table and chairs on one side and a single chair on the other side, much like a court room. A number of distinguished gentlemen arrive. All of them, along with Jacobi, were classmates and fellow graduates of Tschaikovsky from the School of Jurisprudence. They are all aware of why they are here, for they have all been participants before in courts of honor for fellow classmates. Little do they realize what Jacobi is about to demand of them all. Jacobi lays out the situation.

Their fellow classmate Tschaikovsky, a known homosexual, has been making advances toward the nephew (unnamed) of a member of the aristocracy (unnamed) who has given him a letter to deliver to the Tsar demanding action against Tschaikovsky. This letter cannot be delivered because of the subsequent stain it would leave on every one of them as fellow graduates of the School of Jurisprudence. The only way he would not have to deliver the letter would be if the point were to become moot, if Tschaikovsky were dead. The members of the court of honor are outraged at the suggestion that they murder Tschaikovsky. Jacobi replies that this is not what he had in mind but that Tschaikovsky should kill himself.

In the stunned silence Tschaikovsky arrives. Jacobi seats him in the lone chair across from the table. Once again the details of the situation are outlined. Tschaikovsky is stunned. After a while he replies that he sees what he has to do. He will return to Paris where he lived in self-imposed exile for ten years and stay there for the rest of his life. They will never see him again. Jacobi tells Tschaikovsky that this is not good enough, it will not preserve the honor of the school. He tells Tschaikovsky the only way he could get out of having to deliver the letter is if Tschaikovsky were dead. Not only that, it must not look like suicide, the death must look like a tragic accident. Only then can everyone’s honor be maintained, including Tschaikovsky’s.

How can this be done, Tschaikovsky wants to know. Jacobi sets a bottle on the table and tells Tschaikovsky it contains arsenic poison. He will take a small quantity now, which will make him sick. He will take a larger quantity every day. Soon he will be dead and the death will exactly resemble death by cholera. With the current cholera epidemic in the city the public will be told that Tschaikovsky had drunk a glass of unboiled water and subsequently contracted cholera which eventually killed him. This is what the public will be told. This is what history will be told. No one will ever hear of the nasty business. He can destroy the letter. Everyone’s reputation will be saved.

Jacobi pours a glass of vodka, puts some of the arsenic in it and hands the glass to Tschaikovsky. After a long while, Tschaikovsky stands up, sets the glass on the table and solemnly goes down the table shaking hands with each man. Lastly, Jacobi extends his hand to Tschaikovsky who ignores it and downs the arsenic-laced vodka. Setting the glass down he glares at Jacobi, picks up the bottle of arsenic and leaves.

Act 3: Scene 1

Sunday, November 5, 1893, late evening. The living room of Modest’s apartment. In the center is the door to the apartment. [The apartment is a reversible set. In the second scene the set is revolved to be the exterior of the apartment.]

Tschaikovsky is lying on a sofa off to one side. He dreams of the days he will never see, the compositions he will never write, the loves he will never encounter. Modest comes in to see if he needs anything. Tschaikovsky makes him swear that he will never reveal the truth about the poison. “You will write my biography and the ending will be that I died of cholera”.Modest swears never to reveal the truth.

Alexandr arrives and is overcome at Tschaikovsky’s condition. He discloses that he knows the truth, he knows about the court of honor and the poison. He tells them he also knows something they do not know, he knows who wrote the letter. Tschaikovsky makes him swear, like Modest, that he will never reveal the truth. Alexandr agrees and leaves. [He turns away from the audience to leave, the set revolves as he goes through the doorway and he exits through the doorway towards the audience from the exterior of the apartment as scene two begins.]

Act 3: Scene 2

Monday, November 6, 1893 at 3 a.m. in the morning. The exterior of Modest’s apartment. A crowd slowly gathers, aware that inside Tschaikovsky lies gravely ill. Modest comes to the door and informs them that there is no hope, the end will be soon. As the crowd sings a threnody a priest enters and knocks on the door. Modest returns and tells them that he is dead. After the priest leads them in a requiem the crowd slowly disperses.

Alexandr, who was hidden in the crowd, is alone and sings of his love for Pyotr Il’yich (although not the same kind of love Pyotr Il’yich bore for him) and his rage at the events which forced him to suicide. Count Alexey and Margarita enter looking for Alexandr. As they try to persuade him to return home with them Alexandr tells them he will never see them again as long as he lives because of their part in forcing Tschaikovsky to commit suicide.

After Count Alexey and Margarita leave, Jacobi enters and begins to knock on the door. Alexandr informs him of Tschaikovsky’s death and threatens to kill Jacobi for calling the court of honor which demanded his death. Jacobi blandly informs him that he could never prove that such an event ever took place. Alexandr, enraged, leaves and Jacobi knocks on the door.

Modest answers and Jacobi harshly tells him that he had better stick to the story that Tschaikovsky died of cholera or not only will Tschaikovsky’s place in history be lost forever but he will reveal that Modest is also a homosexual and ruin his life as well. Modest, thoroughly cowed, agrees and closes the door.

As Jacobi turns to go, Alexandr runs back in and shoots Jacobi. Modest comes out and Alexandr threatens to kill him as well. As Alexandr collapses sobbing to the ground Modest takes the gun from his hand. Alexandr rails against man’s inhumanity towards man and hopes that in a hundred years a less bigoted society will prevail.

Note: While the author has taken the liberty of dramatizing the events from his own imagination, the characters, dates, places and events are factual and accurate with a single exception. The ending did not happen. Alexandr did not shoot Jacobi. But, as well as making a dramatic ending to the opera, it also serves as a psychological catharsis. If historians are right about Jacobi, then this is the ending he deserved.

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.

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Mary Dyer


Opera Synopsis

by Dr. Michael Pratt

The story of Mary Dyer is the historical account of an American woman and Quaker martyr who died for religious freedom fighting religious intolerance. The Massachusetts Bay Colony of Boston during the mid-seventeenth century was ruled by Governor John Endicott, a man who ruled as a despot and was paranoiac in his intolerance of any viewpoint at variance with his own Puritanical, Old Testament, literal viewpoint. Quakers were his particular avowed enemy. Mary Dyer and her husband William, who had come from England to New England in 1635 seeking religious freedom from the Anglican Church of England, had, with a number of other colonists, left the Massachusetts Bay Colony to found the colony of Rhode Island primarily because of the restrictive religious intolerance in Boston. After a trip back to England where she met George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, Mary Dyer became an evangelistic Quaker. The story of her martyrdom is the story of her challenging Governor John Endicott and the Puritan government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who had passed a series of increasingly severe laws against Quakers and had proceeded to enforce them in exceedingly cruel fashion. Mary Dyer’s fighting of these laws and her eventual death led to the repeal of such laws, the collapse of the Puritan government, and the charter of the colony of Rhode Island based on freedom of religion, the first such document in America and possibly Europe. While some historical personages and events have been combined for dramatic purposes, the events depicted are basically factual.

Act 1, Scene 1

October 11, 1658 on the Boston Common of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in Puritan New England. Dominating the scene is a great elm tree beside Frog Pond. In the distance is Round Marsh. To the side is a whipping post and stocks containing a man whose arms and head are imprisoned in the stocks. A crowd gathers and derides the man who is being punished for drunkenness. Soon the crowd begins deriding Quakers, in particular Christopher Holden who recently had his ear cut off and was whipped out of the colony because he was a Quaker. Something must be done, they cry, to prevent these blasphemous Quakers from spreading their heresy. They seem to be like a plague that is growing and growing and cannot be stamped out. Harsher measures must be taken or they will simply continue their ways. The banishments, whippings, even the cutting off of ears only seems to make them more resolved. Governor John Endicott enters with exciting news. The General Court of Boston has tried in previous years to prevent Quakers from entering the Massachusetts Bay Colony by fining the captain of any vessel which brings in any Quakers the sum of 100 pounds and ordering him to return the Quakers back to where they came from or go to prison. When this proved ineffective another law was passed which mandated any Quaker entering the colony shall have his left ear cut off on the first offense, his right ear cut off on the second offense and a hole bored in his tongue with a hot iron on the third offense. Since this law was proven ineffective by Christopher Holden, Governor Endicott announces to the crowd that on this day a new law has been enacted which provides for Quaker banishment “on pain of death”. If Quakers persist in entering the Massachusetts Bay Colony they will be hanged here by the great elm tree.

Act 1, Scene 2

Several months later. The interior of Mary and William Dyer’s house in the colony of Rhode Island. Mary has just returned after spending several years in England. During that time William was a single parent to their six children as well as manager of an ever growing farm and one of the administrators of the colony. Mary explains how she met George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, fourteen years her junior, and what a profound impact it had on her life. “God has a mission for every man, woman and child,” he said, “and each person must work to discover his or her own assignment”. After many long discussions George Fox suggested to Mary that she should become a Quaker minister (called an elder). Mary was very excited about this because all of her experience had been in a Puritan society where women were held in low esteem, prevented from holding any office, voting, or taking part in any meaningful way in the decision making of the colony, church or home. Indeed, in church they were not even allowed to speak, let alone voice any opinions. She had never been able to voice her opinion about the Puritan ethic of “salvation by work”. Salvation was earned by conduct, obeying the commandments, giving alms, praying, fasting, and wearing a long face. Now, as a Quaker, she knew “salvation by grace” and believed in the messages of joy, love, and service found in the New Testament. But best of all she could be an evangelist and go forth in the community, even though she was a woman, and preach the Word. Her husband, greatly alarmed, informs her of the new law recently enacted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They will hang any Quaker who enters the colony. He tells her that she must “on pain of death” remain only in Rhode Island and never set foot in Boston. Mary realizes that God has given her the mission to fight this abhorrent law even if it means her own death. As a Quaker with a mission she vows to go to Boston and challenge Governor Endicott and his evil laws against Quakers.

Act 2, Scene 1

October 20, 1659 in the interior of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Meeting House. The magistrates of the colony are all seated behind a table facing the people. In the center is Governor Endicott. The Governor and the magistrates are all dressed in black with stiff, forked Geneva neckbands. A Quaker by the name of William Robinson is standing before the General Court. Governor Endicott orders him to remove his hat to receive his sentence. He refuses in the name of his religion and is sentenced to death by hanging. Mary is brought before the General Court. “You will own yourself a Quaker, will you not?”, Governor Endicott thunders. “I am myself to be reproachfully called so.” Mary responds. “I came in obedience to the will of God.” “Are you a prophetess?” asks Endicott. “I speak the words that the Lord speaks in me.” The crowd becomes vocal and abusive towards Mary calling for the court to sentence her to hang. Mary addresses the court with the confidence of a woman with a purpose. She refers to the Old Testament, the basis for all Puritan laws, and makes reference to King Ahasuerus as a model for Governor Endicott and Esther as a model for herself. Then she proceeds to deliver the Quaker message of “salvation through grace” and recommends that the magistrates read their Proverbs. Ending her oration Mary shouts “God will not be mocked.” Again the crowd rises up calling for Mary’s death for such heresy and blasphemy. Governor Endicott is provoked almost beyond words. “We have tried several laws to keep you from amongst us. Give ear and hearken now to your sentence of death. You shall be had to the place from which you came and from thence to the gallows and there to be hanged until you are dead.” Mary closes her eyes saying “The will of the Lord be done. Yea, joyfully I go.” William Dyer shouts to the court “You cannot do this thing. This woman has done nothing to you”. The crowd shouts him down and mocks Mary as she is led from the Meeting House.


In front of the curtain William reads from a letter he is sending to Governor Endicott pleading for a reprieve for his wife from the sentence of death. In the letter he appeals to the Governor’s tender nature towards women. “Have you never had a wife of your own or ever had a tender affection to a woman?” In the letter he swears an oath that he will take Mary back to Rhode Island and she shall never return to Boston.

Act 2, Scene 2

October 27, 1659. A scaffold has been erected near the great elm tree on the Boston Common for the execution of Mary and William Robinson. Governor Endicott leads in a large and noisy procession of drummers surrounding Mary and William Robinson, who are holding hands, followed by a raucous crowd. Governor Endicott orders William Robinson to remove his hat out of respect for authority and Robinson replies “Mind you, is it not for the putting on of hats that we are being put to death?” Mary and William Robinson embrace and Robinson ascends the scaffold. “Mind the light of Christ within you, of which He testified and I am now going to seal with my blood.” An incensed Governor Endicott replies “Hold thy tongue, be silent. Thou art going to die with a lie in thy mouth.” As Robinson is being bound and the rope placed around his neck he replies “Now ye are made manifest. I suffer for Christ in whom I live and in whom I die.” Governor Endicott orders the execution. The excited crowd begins singing a bawdy ballad about William Robinson’s execution. Robinson’s body is removed and Mary ascends the scaffold. Her hands and feet are bound, the rope is placed around her neck, and her face is covered by a handkerchief. The crowd is stunned when Governor Endicott, instead of ordering the execution to proceed, announces Mary’s reprieve. She is to be released to her husband to return to Rhode Island. If she ever returns the execution will be immediately carried out. He further orders that she stand with rope around her neck for forty-eight hours to remind her to never return. The crowd exits continuing the bawdy ballad about William Robinson adding verses about Mary. Standing on the scaffold Mary berates her husband for his intervention and not allowing her to fulfill her destiny as a martyr in challenging the Puritan authority and its unjust laws. Over his protests she vows to return and complete the task the Lord has given her to do.

Act 3, Scene 1

May 27, 1660 in the interior of a dark and dank jail cell. Mary has returned to Boston and was immediately imprisoned. She is lying on a bed of straw writing a letter to the magistrates who have condemned her to death to persuade them of the error and evil of their ways. A window is boarded up to prevent her from communicating with anyone. “Search with the light of Christ in you, and it will show you of whom, as it has done me, and many more, who have been disobedient and deceived, as now you are. If you neither hear nor obey the Lord nor his Servants, yet will he send more of his Servants among you. My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the Truth.” From outside villagers mock Mary and call for her death. William enters and tells Mary of another letter he has written to Governor Endicott to persuade him to once more give her a reprieve so that he can take Mary home to Rhode Island to be the wife he so desperately loves and the mother his children need. Mary tells him that his life and his duty are there and he must return and be both father and mother to their children. Her life and duty has been changed by God and she must remain here to bear full witness for Christ and God before the evil being done to Quakers by Governor Endicott and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.


A procession to the gallows crosses in front of the curtain. Governor Endicott, drummers, and Mary followed by other marchers.

Act 3, Scene 2

June 1, 1660. A crowd has gathered at the great elm tree on the Boston Common for Mary’s execution. In the crowd are many passionate Puritans eagerly awaiting the heretic’s death. Also are a few supporters of Mary who are appalled that she is being put to death rather than simply being sent back to Rhode Island where she came from. Governor Endicott enters leading Mary in a procession of drummers and militant marchers who try to prevent conversation between Mary and her supporters. “Mary Dyer, don’t die. Go back to Rhode Island where you might live. We beg of you, go back and live.” In spite of the drummers, Mary hears these pleas and responds “Nay, I cannot go back to Rhode Island, for in obedience to the will of the Lord I came, and in His will I abide faithful to death.” William enters at the end of the procession and is appalled by the crowd’s mocking of his wife. Governor Endicott addresses the crowd. “She has been here before and has broken the law in coming now. It is therefore she who is guilty of her own blood.” Mary is defiant and when asked if she wishes to repent, responds “Nay, I am not now to repent.” William pleads to no avail for his wife’s release so that he can return with her to Rhode Island vowing never to return. After more harassment from the crowd Mary, needing no assistance, mounts the scaffold. A handkerchief is placed over her face as she is hanged. The crowd stands paralyzed in silence until a breeze gently billows out Mary’s skirt. Governor Endicott in amusement utters “She hangs like a flag.” The crowd picks up the phrase in chant and gleefully exits to the strains “She hangs like a flag for others to take example from.” The curtain slowly descends on a stage empty except for Mary’s hanging body and William kneeling, weeping at her feet. The crowd can be heard in the distance chanting “She hangs like a flag.”

Probable Lineage of Mary Dyer When Queen Elizabeth I died childless in 1603, the throne passed to James I, descendant of Henry VII and Mary, Queen of Scots. Also descending from Henry and Mary was King James’ first cousin Arabella Stuart. King James felt his claim to the throne was in jeopardy from his cousin Arabella, even more so when she reinforced her claim to the throne by marrying William Seymour, yet another cousin and descendant of Henry VII through Mary, Duchess of Suffolk. When Arabella and William had a daughter in 1611, King James had them sent to the Tower of London where Arabella eventually died while William escaped to France. The infant girl, never found by King James, was placed in the care of Arabella’s lady-in-waiting Mary Dyer, who gave the infant her own name. When Mary Dyer, the daughter of Arabella Stuart and lineal descendant of Henry VII, reached the age of twenty-two, she married her cousin William Dyer.

In 1635 they fled to New England. When Mary Dyer was hanged on the Boston Common in 1660 at the age of forty-nine because she was a Quaker, she became the first and only woman in America to die for her Quaker beliefs. History regards the Puritans as having fled England in pursuit of religious freedom, but the Puritan idea of religious freedom in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the seventeenth century was a cruel and total repression of any idea or belief at variance with the strict Puritan government. Witness the cutting off of ears, cruel whipping while being dragged from village to village behind a cart, and the execution by hanging of dissidents like Mary Dyer and others. Over 300 years later the State of Massachusetts finally acknowledged Mary Dyer’s martyrdom and placed a statue of her in front of the State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.

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Doctor Mudd


Opera Libretto

by Dr. Michael Pratt

  • Prologue: “Sic Semper Tyrannis”
  • Act 1: Mudd’s Case
  • Act 2: The Government’s Case


  • Dr. Samuel Mudd – tenor
  • Dr. Mudd – granddaughter of Samuel Mudd – soprano
  • Government Secretary – baritone (double as Lt. Lovett & Gen. Hunter)
  • Sarah Mudd – Samuel’s wife – soprano
  • John Wilkes Booth – bass baritone
  • Davey Herold – Booth’s companion – baritone (double as Abraham Lincoln)


The set has three separate areas. A triangle with two corners at extreme downstage/stage left and downstage/stage right. The third corner is upstage center. Center stage will show various scenes from 1865. Stage left is a prison cell in Fort Jefferson (on the Gulf coast of Florida) several years later containing the convicted Dr. Samuel Mudd. Stage right is a contemporary office. A Government Secretary is seated at a desk. Across the desk is Dr. Mudd the granddaughter of Samuel Mudd. A prominent picture of the current president identifies the time period. Lighting must be such that these are three separate and distinct stage areas. The action of the opera will proceed simultaneously in these three different time periods. From time to time Dr. Samuel Mudd will move from his stage left cell to the center stage action and the effect will be to go back in time to the events that occurred.

Prologue: “Sic Semper Tyrannis”

Orchestral prelude. The curtain rises showing Abraham Lincoln (center stage) sitting in a rocking chair – profile to the audience facing stage left. His features are not visible. He has a shawl around him. He is identified by wearing a top hat. In front of him is a bunting covered railing with a black drop just on the other side so Booth can run past Lincoln (upstage) – jump over the railing and behind the drop – giving the effect of jumping out of the theater box and down onto the stage. As the music proceeds an arm appears behind Lincoln with a derringer aimed at his head. The gun fires. Lincoln slumps over. Booth runs past Lincoln, jumps over the railing and onto the stage below (behind the drop) where he yells “Sic Semper Tyrannis”.

Act 1: Mudd’s Case

Scene 1: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: My name is Mudd. Mudd is my name. Samuel Alexander Mudd. An innocent man in prison. A prisoner of Shark Island. Condemned for the rest of my life. Condemned to this fate through bad luck. Through a miscarriage of justice. A government thirst for vengeance. Bad luck alone sent Booth to me. A doctor’s oath bade me help him. Why did he come to me that night? There were other doctors nearby. Now I’m here. My family alone. Outcast and anathema am I. Bleak and dismal is my future. My name is Mudd. Mudd is my name.

Scene 2: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary seated in an office

Granddaughter: Good day, Mr. Secretary. It is kind of you to see me.

Gov. Secretary: It is my pleasure Doctor Mudd. Your letter was most persuasive. You are Samuel Mudd’s granddaughter? And like him a doctor as well?

Granddaughter: That’s true Mister Secretary. Many descendants followed him. You’ve read the letter I sent you. I want to clear the name of Mudd.

Gov. Secretary: You make a most compelling case. Many people feel as you do. I will help you all that I can. Can you tell me more about it?

Granddaughter: Doctor Mudd just did his duty. He did not know what Booth had done.

Scene 3: center stage – Dr. Samuel Mudd, Sarah Mudd, Booth and Herold in the interior or Mudd’s house. In the center is a door. Stage right of the door is a table. Stage left of the door is a couch. There is a banging on the door.

Mudd: Who knocks on my door so loudly? It is the middle of the night.

Herold: Strangers riding to Washington. My friend here has broken his leg.

Booth and Herold enter. Herold helps Booth who is in great pain and cannot walk unaided. Booth has a cloak thrown about him and his head is covered. He is wearing false whiskers. He obviously keeps his head averted away from Mudd. Booth also has a full, flowing mustache.

Mudd: Sit down there and put your leg up. Sarah, get my bag and scissors.

Herold: My name’s Henston. His is Tyson. Can you fix him up? He hurts bad.

Sarah: You will have to cut off his boot. These scissors are heavy enough.

Herold: Can you give him something to drink? I don’t think he can stand the pain.

Mudd: Sarah, pour some whiskey for him. There’s some over there, by the door.

Sarah goes to the table , pours a drink and gives it to Booth.

Herold: Tyson, drink it down. It will help. Thank you very much ma’am. Me too?

Sarah pours Herold a drink.

Sarah: Your friend does not talk much, does he? He has yet to utter a word.

Herold: You’re right ma’am, he’s not a talker. It’s me does most of the talking.

Sarah: Samuel, give that boot to me. Use these slats to make him a splint.

Sarah puts the boot at the end of the couch (downstage) half underneath.

Herold: We need to be on our way soon. Can we rest here for a few hours?

Mudd: That’s all I can do for tonight. Go upstairs and rest for a while.

Herold: Thank you for all of your trouble. Tyson needs to sleep for a spell.

Booth and Herold exit stage right

Mudd: Very curious pair, Sarah. Do they seem strange to you as well?

Sarah: I thought they were acting oddly. Like they had something to conceal.

Scene 4: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Granddaughter: He didn’t recognize Booth that night. There was no reason to suspect. He had never heard of Tyson. He had never met Henston before. He kept his face turned to the wall. He was wearing some fake whiskers. He always kept his head covered. He and Booth had only met once.

Gov. Secretary: Are you sure they only met once? Some said it was more times than that?

Granddaughter: He always said they met just once, six months prior to these events. And on the evening of Good Friday in April eighteen sixty-five he was completely unaware that his patient was John Wilkes Booth.

Scene 5: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: I never saw his face clearly. Now it’s plain he wore a disguise. Anyway, we’d only met once and that was a brief encounter. Nothing to connect Booth that night. Not once did it enter my head. It was a long time since we met and that was just a chance meeting. I went to Mass with John Thompson. After church we had a short talk. I had heard of his name before. His actor family was famous. Nothing was said about Lincoln. Not even the war was mentioned. It was a pleasant afternoon. He said nothing remarkable.

Scene 6: center stage – Mudd and Booth outside of a church

Mudd: Pleasure to meet you Mister Booth. I’ve heard a great deal about you.

Booth: The pleasure is mine Doctor Mudd. You know this area well, sir?

Mudd: I have lived here all of my life. I know this country very well.

Booth: Just the man I wanted to meet. I am looking to buy some land.

Mudd: Some land, you say. What kind of land? Are you looking for land to farm?

Booth: Not to farm. Not even to use. I want to make an investment.

Mudd: For an investment, do you say? What do you see to gain from that?

Booth: The war will be over some day. Lots of people will be in need.

Mudd: And you aim to help fill that need? At a profit to you of course.

Booth: You understand me very well. Opportunities are coming.

Mudd: Well there’s plenty of land to get. And most of it quite a good buy.

Booth: That’s real good news for me to hear. I am anxious to get started.

Mudd: I would be happy to help you. Do you have a horse you can ride?

Booth: No, but I would like to buy one. I will need it to get around.

Mudd: My neighbor has a horse for sale. We could go there this afternoon.

Booth: I am glad that we met today. I can tell that you are my man.

Scene 7: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Granddaughter: Doctor Mudd did nothing at all to warrant his going to jail. All the time Booth was in his house he knew nothing about Lincoln. Booth and Herold left the next day and on Easter he heard the news.

Gov. Secretary: There was other help he gave them. He tried to get Booth a carriage.

Granddaughter: That help is not remarkable. After all, Booth’s leg was broken.

Gov. Secretary: And what about the secret map to help him hide out in the swamp?

Granddaughter: The map he gave was not secret. It was simply the shortest route. There is no case that can be made. The events are plain and simple.

Scene 8: center stage – Mudd, Sarah, Booth and Herold in the interior or Mudd’s house. Booth still has fake whiskers but the mustache is shaved. He still has the cloak and keeps his head covered and face averted.

Mudd: I’m sorry that I could not help. There’s not a carriage to be had. It’s going to pain you a lot. You cannot take much riding.

Herold: We thank you for trying at all. It should not have been a surprise. Tomorrow is Easter, you know. Most folks are using their carriage.

Sarah: Everybody will be out. Visiting their friends and neighbors. Easter Sunday’s the time for that. Visiting and celebrating.

Booth: What’s quickest to Samuel Cox? We must see him before we go. There’s some business to attend to. It should not take us very long.

Mudd: There’s no easy way to Cox’s house. Through the swamp would be the fastest. Zekiah Swamp is over there. Let me draw you a map to help.

Mudd goes over to the desk and draws a map.

Herold: Thank you ma’am for letting us shave. The rest and the food was welcome. It’s good there are people like you. People who care about strangers.

Sarah: My husband and I are Christian. Not only that, he’s a doctor. You don’t need to thank us for that. It’s our duty to be of help.

Mudd hands the map to Booth.

Mudd: This map should get you to Cox’s place. But you’re all alone in that swamp.

Booth: That will not bother us at all. We don’t want any company.

Scene 9: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: Henston and Tyson were long gone. At least those were the names I knew. That was Saturday afternoon. Lincoln’s fate still unknown to me. Sunday was when I heard the news. I went to Mass at St. Peters. I was as shocked as anyone about the assassination. I had met the man who killed him. But still I made no connection. However, I was suspicious. The men at my house acted strange. There had been a conspiracy. A lot of people were involved. Maybe those two were part of it. I should report it to someone.

Scene 10: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Granddaughter: He asked his cousin what to do. A massive manhunt was in place. Soldiers questioning everyone. Looking for Booth and his men. His cousin was Doctor George Mudd. An older man and staunch Union. He told the tale of two strangers. Maybe they were part of the plot.

Gov. Secretary: They decided to report it? To tell the soldiers all they knew?

Granddaughter: That is exactly what they did. The elder Mudd took charge of it. Monday he went to Bryantown. He spoke with Lieutenant Dana. On Tuesday they met together. My grandfather told all he knew.

Scene 11: center stage – Mudd, Sarah, Lt. Lovett in the interior or Mudd’s house.

Mudd: Lieutenant Lovett, like I said. I really did not see his face. His head was always covered up. His face was hidden by whiskers.

Lovett: Was anything unusual? Were they carrying any guns?

Mudd: Yes, I do believe that they were. Tyson was wearing a pistol.

Lovett: Did they leave anything behind? Something to identify them?

Sarah: No, lieutenant, they left nothing. They were only here a short time.

Lovett: You are acting very nervous. Are you sure you’re telling it all?

Mudd: Yes sir, all that I know to tell. Anybody would be nervous.

Lovett: Since he kept his face turned away, could Tyson’s whiskers have been false?

Sarah: I thought they were on Saturday. It looked like they were coming loose.

Mudd: Now that you mention it, that’s true. And he also shaved his mustache.

Lovett: So he still had the beard next day. But not the mustache. Is that right?

Mudd: That’s correct. Now I remember. I thought his appearance was strange.

Lovett: Which way did they go when they left? You said you gave them directions.

Sarah: I did not see which way they went. They asked the way to Sam Cox’s place.

Mudd: That’s right, they did, and I told them. But I didn’t watch them ride off.

Scene 12: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: I knew they didn’t believe me. You could see the look on their face. They were desperate to find Booth. They were looking for a scapegoat. I was a likely candidate. I could tell what they were thinking. I figured that they would be back. It was just a matter of time. I tried not to act so nervous. I knew it made me look guilty. I was afraid they’d arrest me simply because I helped those men. I told Sarah they’d be coming back and probably arrest me too. It was on Friday they returned. One week after Lincoln was shot.

Scene 13: center stage – Mudd, Sarah, Lt. Lovett in the interior or Mudd’s house.

Lovett: Doctor Mudd, a few more questions. How did you treat his injuries?

Mudd: He was in a great deal of pain. He told me his leg was broken. Also his back hurt him a lot. I had him sit down over there. In order to look at his leg I had to cut off his left boot.

Lovett: You cut off his boot over here? And what did you do with the boot?

Mudd: I really do not remember. I have not seen it since that night.

Sarah: That’s strange, I haven’t seen it either. I wonder what became of it? You cut it off. Threw it aside. Perhaps it got kicked under here. Sarah finds the boot under the couch.

Lovett: That’s it. Let me look at that boot. Maybe he had his name in it. There it is. You can clearly see. He was here all right. John Wilkes Booth. Mudd, you harbored the criminal. I am placing you under arrest. Lovett ties Mudd’s hands and drags him off.

Sarah: Please, dear God, this cannot be true. Please, don’t take my husband away. He is only a poor doctor. He was just doing his duty. He did not know who the man was. He did not know what the man did. He had nothing to do with it. Dear God, this can’t be happening.

Scene 14: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Granddaughter: A military court tried him. Even though he was not a soldier. They had no jurisdiction. The civilian courts were open. War was done. Lee had surrendered. Marshall law had not been declared. But in a military court a conviction would be certain. President Johnson set it up. He authorized the tribunal. The Secretary of Defense was in total agreement. He was tied to seven others as part of a conspiracy. A conspirator he was not. The injustice of it is clear.

Scene 15: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: Eight of us stood trial as one. We were tried by nine officers. The trial lasted for eight weeks. The court never once questioned me. We tried to separate ourselves. But the court would not allow that. As a conspiracy we stood. The fate of all tied together. Not one witness tied me to it. Not one witness stood up and said I know Mudd helped Booth kill Lincoln. There was no evidence at all. Simply because I had helped him. I was made out part of the plot. Right from the start we were guilty. That was as clear as it could be.

Scene 16: center stage – Mudd, Sarah, Herold, General Hunter in a courtroom.

Sarah: Two months enduring this nightmare. What if they sentence him to hang? His children without a father. His wife without a husband. And he is only thirty-one. His whole life is ahead of him. But he will not live to see more. They all must pay, guilty or not.

Herold: I really do not want to die. But at least it is worth the price. Abe Lincoln was an evil man. He had to die to save the South. I only wish they all had died. Johnson and Seward and Grant too. That would have stopped the North for sure. Then we’d all be free men again.

Mudd: Gaze at your wife for the last time. For now they will hang you for sure. There will be no more tomorrows. It will soon be over. Guilty. You’ve pled your case to no avail. Everything fell upon deaf ears. Guilty the verdict all along. Someone must pay and I am here.

Hunter: You are charged with conspiracy to kill Lincoln, to kill Johnson, to kill Seward and to kill Grant. Fortunately only one died. For that death your souls are blackened. Villainous names for history. David E. Herold you will hang. Samuel Mudd life in prison.

Scene 17: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: My name is Mudd. Mudd is my name. Samuel Alexander Mudd. An innocent man in prison. A prisoner of Shark Island. Condemned for the rest of my life. Condemned to this fate through bad luck. Through a miscarriage of justice. A government thirst for vengeance. Bad luck alone sent Booth to me. A doctor’s oath bade me help him. Why did he come to me that night? There were other doctor’s nearby. Now I’m here. My family alone. Outcast and anathema am I. Bleak and dismal is my future. My name is Mudd. Mudd is my name.

Scene 18: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Granddaughter: Four years later he was pardoned. Yellow fever had broken out. He rendered heroic service. President Johnson pardoned him. He tried for the rest of his life even though he had been pardoned to reverse the guilty verdict which hovered over like a shroud.

Gov. Secretary: But the pardon that set him free also changed the guilty verdict. What you want to do is change facts. You want to rewrite history.

Granddaughter: The name Mudd demands clearing. History’s wrong and should be changed.

Gr. Dau. & Mudd: He is (I am) innocent. Clear his (my) name. He is (I am) innocent. Clear his (my) name.

Act 2: The Government’s Case

Scene 1: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Gov. Secretary: You make a most compelling case but you leave a lot of things out. There is much more to the story. This man was a southern agent. He was a courier for mail. He hid southern soldiers near by. Clandestine meetings at his house. Plans were made to kidnap Lincoln. This conspiracy he joined in. Kidnapping Lincoln for ransom. Ransom for southern prisoners. This would help turn the tide of the war.

Granddaughter: Most of these things are unproven. Unsubstantiated charges.

Gov. Secretary: Scores of witnesses say proven. A conspiracy from the start.

Scene 2: center stage – Mudd and Booth outside of a church

Booth: Mudd, I’m glad to meet you at last. I have heard a lot about you.

Mudd: Your reputation precedes you. I would like to hear of your plans.

Booth: The North would not negotiate. A prisoner exchange is out. We must have a plan to force it. And I think I have such a plan. We must have something to exchange. Something the North desperately wants. Something they will trade our men for. And that something will be Lincoln. Kidnap Lincoln to force their hand. Kidnap Lincoln and steal him South. Hold him for ransom for our men. Then we would have the upper hand.

Mudd: But will it work? Can you do it? It’s such a bold and daring plan.

Booth: Yes, I am sure it can be done. I will need help from men like you.

Mudd: You can count on me. You know that. I will do whatever I can.

Booth: That’s just what I wanted to hear. Your help is just what I need now. The kidnapping will not be hard. He’s in his carriage every day. The trick will be to get him out. I need a certain escape route. You know this country very well. Help me map out a route through it. Tell me everyone I can trust.

Scene 3: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: This was the man I was certain. This was the man to save the South. Desperate times meant daring moves. To kidnap Lincoln was daring. To hold him for ransom was bold. Boldness was just what we needed. They’d never be looking for that. Not from a man like John Wilkes Booth. Kidnap Lincoln. Get our men back. A mortal blow to the Union. A great victory for the South. We would turn the tide of the war. This was the man to do all that. This was the man meant for the job. When he asked me I did not shrink. I would help him all that I could.

Scene 4: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Gov. Secretary: That was not their only meeting. A month later in Washington in a National Hotel room they mapped out the plan together. There were people who saw them there. Along with Surratt and Weichmann. They mapped out the conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln for ransom. The testimony was quite clear. Samuel Mudd was clearly involved. He was for the plan from the start and he was actively involved. He provided the escape route. He wanted the plan to succeed. He knew everyone that would help. He was a key to the plan’s success.

Scene 5: center stage – Mudd and Booth in a hotel room in Washington

Mudd: Show me on the map what you mean. I don’t know the route you propose.

Booth: Through here, and here, and then here. Nobody will detect us there.

Mudd: That may be true but all through here the land’s nearly impassable. It would certainly take you longer. That is not a very good route.

Booth: What we need is a direct route. Speed will be very important. And it must be isolated. They will be searching everywhere.

Mudd: To do that we will need some help and I know just the men for it. Go through here, and here, and then here. You’ll find help here and here and here.

Booth: Perfect. Places to hide on route. It will take us several days. We can only travel at night. Stay under cover in daylight. Once we have Lincoln in the South We will demand all prisoners. We will send a note to Stanton. You will see. The plan will succeed. With patriots like you helping we can still turn it all around. The South will prevail yet. You’ll see.

Mudd: Exactly what I’m praying for. Me and a lot of others too.

Booth: I’ll get word to you when it’s time. You have everything all ready.

Scene 6: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Gov. Secretary: They had it planned out carefully. But their plan became meaningless. It was done when Lee surrendered. The plan was over with the war. It had all become a moot point. Kidnapping Lincoln made no sense. The prisoners would be released and they would all just go home. Desperate measures were needed so Booth came up with a new plan. To cut off the head of the North. Not just Lincoln but everyone. Mass confusion would reign supreme and the government would collapse. There were still troops out in the field. They would be victorious yet.

Scene 7: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: I didn’t know what they had done. I had been enthusiastic about the plans that we had made but I never would have helped this. It was done. The war was finished. Six hundred thousand men were dead. The South was a burning ruin. Complete and total disaster. There was nothing to be gained now. This new plan was only revenge. And I knew nothing about it. Nor I would not have taken part. Booth had fallen, broken his leg. I was the closest help for him. Of course he knew where my house was. It made sense for him to come here.

Scene 8: center stage – Dr. Samuel Mudd, Sarah Mudd, Booth and Herold in the interior or Mudd’s house. There is a banging on the door.

Mudd: Who knocks on my door so loudly. It is the middle of the night.

Booth: Mudd, it’s Booth and I have been hurt. Let me in. Quick. I need your help.

Mudd: Over here, lie down over here. Have you had an accident Booth?

Booth: My horse fell on me. My leg’s broke. It hurts like the devil himself.

Mudd: Sarah, get a glass of whiskey. What are you doing out tonight?

Booth: We are returning to Washington. My companion’s Davey Herold.

Herold: Pleasure to meet you, Doctor Mudd. I’ve heard a great deal about you.

Mudd: Here, take this and drink it all down. I’m going to cut off your boot.

Sarah: These scissors are heavy enough. I’ll get some slats to make a splint.

Herold: It’s a good thing you were close by. He could not have gone much farther.

Booth: That’s true, I’m really exhausted. I will need to rest for a while.

Mudd: There’s a room upstairs you can use. You can rest as long as you like. What will happen to our men now? Now that the war’s over, what next? It’s tragic our plan was too late. I know it would have helped the South.

Booth: You’ll find out soon, we’re not done yet. Lee, the coward, has betrayed us. John Wilkes Booth has a destiny. There’s other plans to execute.

Scene 9: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Gov. Secretary: Sunday at church he heard the news. That is what he always maintained. Numerous witnesses say else. He heard the news on Saturday. He had gone into Bryantown. The news had already reached there. He was as shocked as anyone. But he soon saw his jeopardy. Lincoln’s killer was in his house. They would think he was part of it. His family was in danger. His neck would be caught in a noose. He had to get Booth out of there. He had to cover up his tracks. He had nothing to do with it but he was in it none the less.

Scene 10: center stage – Dr. Samuel Mudd, Sarah Mudd, Booth and Herold in the interior or Mudd’s house.

Mudd: You must leave my house this instant. How dare you bring this danger here. I am not any part of this. I never agreed to killing.

Herold: I though you were a patriot. We’re free from Lincoln’s tyrant hand.

Mudd: Kidnapping Lincoln was one thing. Killing Lincoln is another. The war is over and we have lost. This has no honor or reason.

Booth: Don’t turn us out. We need your help. Please, I’m begging you. Let us stay.

Sarah: My children are in grave danger. If anyone should see you here. If anyone knows you came here. If anyone should see you leave. The soldiers would know we helped you. They would arrest us without fail.

Herold: How can you be so cowardly? It’s a great thing we have done. Sacrifices have to be made. You were willing to help before.

Mudd: That was completely different. I never agreed to this plan.

Herold: You would have hanged just as dead then. This carries no more jeopardy.

Booth: Mudd, please. I am pleading with you. I beg you for my mother’s sake. Do not forsake us, we need your help. Let us stay. Only a few days.

Mudd: Not even for a few minutes. You must leave and you must leave now.

Scene 11: stage left – Mudd in his cell

Mudd: When they left I was still frightened. Booth’s vortex might still pull me in. He was gone but he might be caught. If he’s caught they’ll know he was helped. They will want to know who it was. Who was it set his broken leg? Who was it helped him escape? Who was it who aided this man? I cannot say it was not me. They would know that it was a lie. I can say a man came for help. I did not know who that man was. I did not recognize that man. As a doctor, I treated him. I was just doing my duty. I knew not the man or his deeds.

Scene 12: center stage – Dr. Samuel Mudd, Sarah Mudd in the interior of Mudd’s house.

Sarah: Samuel, what are we to do? That was the man who killed Lincoln. And he was right here in our house. We gave him food and shelter. Surely they will arrest us too. As if we committed the crime. Won’t they come here and question us? What will we tell them about this?

Mudd: We will say we did not know him. We will say he gave a false name.

Sarah: They will say you met Booth before. They will say you recognized him.

Mudd: We will say that he was disguised. We will say he wore false whiskers.

Sarah: They will say you still would know him. They will say you met him at church.

Mudd: We will say he covered his head. We will say he kept his head turned.

Sarah: We will say you did your duty. We will say that you’re a doctor.

Mudd: Yes, that’s it. I’m just a doctor. A man came for help in the night. I never met the man before. I did not know who the man was.

Sarah: Yes, yes. That’s what you should say. Tyson had come to you for help. He had fallen and broke his leg. You set it. He rested. He left. You were completely innocent. A doctor doing his duty.

Mudd: That will work. That’s what we will say. We had nothing to do with it.

Scene 13: stage right – Mudd’s granddaughter and a Government Secretary

Gov. Secretary: Mudd’s lawyer helped him all he could. He tried to blunt the testimony. Over five dozen witnesses. But the lies made it very hard.

Granddaughter: A military court tried him. They did not have jurisdiction. And that colored the testimony. On that alone he should be cleared.

Gov. Secretary: You argue nothing but fine points. We cannot change what happened then. History cannot be reversed. And he did help Booth to escape.

Granddaughter: He paid for that on Shark Island. Yellow fever nearly took him. He should never have been sent there. Old wrongs can still be corrected.

Scene 14: finale – Mudd is in his cell – Sarah, Booth and Herold are center stage

Mudd: My life forever changed that night. Why did Booth come to me for help?

Booth: I did not misjudge Doctor Mudd. I knew he would not turn me out.

Sarah: Sam should never have let him in. He should never have been involved.

Herold: We never once mentioned Lincoln. We knew Mudd did not have the spine.

Gov. Secretary: He helped Lincoln’s killer escape. You cannot undo history.

Granddaughter: My grandfather is innocent. Help me clear the name of Mudd.

Mudd: My name is Mudd. Mudd is my name. Marked forever for helping Booth.

Booth: I knew enough to keep silent. Mudd would not help me if he knew.

Sarah: We should have suspected something. We should have known something was wrong.

Herold: He would not help us if he knew. Booth knew about Mudd’s weak nature.

Gov. Secretary: All your arguments are for naught. The moving finger has moved on.

Granddaughter: What was written is in error. A new line needs to be set down.

Mudd: I did my duty.

Granddaughter: My grandfather is innocent.

Booth/Herold: “Sic Semper Tyrannis”

Gov. Secretary: He aided Booth’s escape.

Sarah: And so it must remain.

All: His (my) name is Mudd. History will decide.


Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.

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A Chamber Opera of Lyric Tragedy in One Act

by Dr. Michael Pratt

  • Lt. Ben Pinkerton, Jr., USN, Tenor
  • Suzuki Onoshi, his former governess, Mezzo
  • Joy Onoshi, her daughter, his fiancée, Soprano
  • Joe Kelly, USN Military Police, Baritone
  • Flute
  • Harp
  • Piano
  • String Bass

Butterfly’s Sorrow is a sequel to Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Madama Butterfly, set in Nagasaki, Japan in 1904, is the story of a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl named Butterfly who falls in love and marries an American naval lieutenant named Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. Pinkerton, a cad merely looking for comfort in port, soon sails away. Returning three years later with his American wife, Pinkerton discovers he has a son named Sorrow (Butterfly will change his name to Joy when his father returns). Feeling remorse for the way he has treated Butterfly, Pinkerton wants to take his son to America and raise him with the advantages he would have there. Butterfly agrees to give up her son to his father and kills herself.

In between the stories of Madama Butterfly and Butterfly’s Sorrow, Pinkerton returns to American with his wife Kate and his son, naming him Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, Jr. After much persuasion Suzuki comes along as governess to the boy she has taken care of since he was born. The Pinkertons and Suzuki settle in California near his naval base. Ben is left fatherless when Pinkerton is killed in action during WWI. A few years later, when Ben is fifteen, Suzuki marries a Japanese-American and has a daughter. Ben joins the navy, like his father, and after many years of duty all around the world is stationed back in his hometown in California. He falls in love with Joy, the daughter of his former governess, and they plan to wed.

The setting is a beautiful flower garden/yard at Suzuki’s residence in California. It is in the early afternoon several weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. A late afternoon wedding is to take place between Ben and Joy. While they are waiting for Joy’s arrival, Suzuki and Ben go over some last minute details.

Ben: (dressed in his white, dress uniform) And I will stand here?

Suzuki: (dressed in a beautiful kimono) No, not there…here. And your Joy will appear through here. (pointing to a flower covered arbor)

Ben: My Joy and your Joy. What a fitting name you gave your daughter.

Suzuki: Your mother, Butterfly, named you Sorrow. She wanted to change it to Joy when your father returned but that was not to be. So I borrowed the name.

Ben: What a lovely arbor. You raise such beautiful flowers.

Suzuki: My poor dead husband was a good gardener…and teacher.

Ben: My stepmother loved this garden. She would have been happy today. I am sure she will be watching over us.

Suzuki: Your father would have been happy today as well, but even prouder of you in that uniform. (turning away from Ben) He died in the last war and now it starts all over again.

Ben: (to himself) Since Pearl Harbor we went to war quicker than anyone thought possible.

Suzuki: (turning back to Ben) Such a terrible thing. I am an American now. I love my home here. But we still have relatives in Nagasaki.

Ben: (sadly) It is very hard.

Suzuki: (upset) You might have to fight your cousins.

Ben: (calmly) The navy will not allow that.

Suzuki: (still upset) Still…

Ben: (ignoring her) We will not have the crossed swords to walk under, but it was good to change to a small wedding here in this garden. My friends all hate the Japanese. Natural, I suppose, we are at war. But my mother was Japanese, how should I feel? I am half-Japanese. You are Japanese. Joy is Japanese. I do not hate you, I love you. And I am American as well. I love my country. What can I do? What will I do? (suddenly snapping out of his dark mood) I will go see what is keeping Joy. She is late. (exit)

Suzuki: (goes about arranging things) Maybe I have been wrong. It seemed so right, my Joy and my Ben. But now…? I am so afraid. He looks more like his father than his mother. He looks American. That did not matter. But now…? How can an American marry a Japanese when we are at war? Butterfly met a tragic fate. Is another tragic fate ahead?

Joy: (enters through the arbor dressed casually) Here comes the bride.

Suzuki: (embracing her) The Joy of my life. What a happy day for you and Ben.

Joy: (very excited) Do you think we have enough flowers? And chairs? Where will the Justice of the Peace stand? Where will Ben be when I come in? Where will you be?

Suzuki: (laughing) It is all arranged. Calm down. Ben went to find you. When he comes back we will walk through the ceremony.

Joy: Soon Ben and I will be together. (coyly) And then, who knows?

Suzuki: (looking at Joy intently) Who knows what?

Joy: (ignoring her) Ben’s apartment at the base is so small. I wonder if there will be enough room?

Suzuki: It has more than enough room for you two.

Joy: (looking away) Yes…but…

Suzuki: (looking at Joy even more intently) But what?

(Joy looks at her and looks away) You are keeping something from me.

Joy: (looking down) It is a good thing, but you will be upset.

Suzuki: (impatiently waiting) And…

(Joy remains silent. Suzuki walks away a bit and sits down.) And…

(Joy remains silent) And you are pregnant.

Joy: (her head snaps up and she looks at her mother) How did you guess?

Suzuki: (laughs) Silly child. You think you are the first such bride?

(embracing her daughter) I am very happy for you. But does Ben know?

Joy: (sternly) No. And he will not know until after we are married.

Suzuki: But he must know. He has a right to know. You must tell him.

Joy: (alarmed) I will not tell him. He will think I trapped him. I love him more than anything. I love him more than life itself. But that is not enough. This new life is wonderful. But he must not marry me for that. He must marry me because he loves me. For no other reason. I know what he will say. I know how he will feel. My day is today. (placing her hands on her stomach) His day is tomorrow. Our lives must begin together for the right reason. Then this new life will be a true blessing. You will see that I am right.

Suzuki: But he does love you. The whole world can see that. He will be so happy. You must tell him.

Joy: (more alarmed) I will not tell him. And you will not tell him either.

(Suzuki looks away) You will not tell him.

(Suzuki keeps looking away) Promise me.

Suzuki: (after a long pause she turns back) Very well. I will not be the one to tell him. I promise you.

Ben: (returning) There you are. I was looking all over for you.

Joy: Mother and I are waiting for you. Let’s practice.

(she stares at Suzuki, who slowly shakes her head)

Suzuki: (pushing Ben off to one side) All right. You stand there. Joy, you enter from out there. (indicating through the arbor, off-stage)

(Joy exits)

The Justice of the Peace stands there. And I will be here.

First the bridal processional. (gesturing as Joy enters through the arbor)

Not so fast.

(pointing towards Ben) Walk over there.

(going over to Ben, taking his hand and leading him to Suzuki, placing his hand in hers) And then you meet here. Now you are in place.

Joy: Everyone sits down. Then we turn and say our poem.

Ben and Joy: Today our hearts join forever. Today our hands become one. Today our separate ways meet. Today our souls come together. Today our lives begin anew. Today our fates intertwine. Today our joy knows no end. Today our love we share with you. Today you grace us here. Today we are blessed. Tomorrow we will not forget. To us you will always be dear.

Suzuki: And then the Justice of the Peace will speak.

(solemnly) “We are gathered here today…”

Ben: (interrupting) I hope it is a short speech.

Suzuki: Not too long. He talks about the institution of marriage. What it means. What you will be promising each other.

Joy: And then there is a legal formality. He says…

(solemnly) “If there is anyone here who has any objection to this wedding taking place…”

Kelly: (enters dressed in his Navy Military Police uniform) I do.

Ben: (at first startled then laughing) Joe Kelly! Nice joke, but you are early for the wedding my friend.

Kelly: (solemnly) I am truly sorry, Ben. I wish it were a joke. But this wedding will not take place today.

(all upset)

Ben: You cannot be serious.

Joy: What are you talking about?

Suzuki: This is nonsense.

Kelly: I am not here as a wedding guest. I am here on official business. The United States of America is at war with Japan. All Japanese are being taken into custody. They will be sent to internment camps. They will remain there until the war is over. This is the order of the United States government. Are you Suzuki Onoshi?

(Suzuki nods her head)

Are you Joy Onoshi?

Joy: (angry) You know who we are.

Kelly: I have been ordered to take you into custody. I must watch you pack your clothes. As soon as you have packed we will leave. I will take you to the Japanese internment camp.

(He takes Joy by the arm and Ben pushes him away)

Ben: (angry) You are not taking anyone anywhere.

Kelly: (drawing his pistol) Ben, I mean it. This is for real.

Ben: Joe, we have known each other since we were kids. You cannot mean this. You cannot do this.

Kelly: I am just doing my job, and my duty. I have no choice.

Ben: You know this is not right. You have known Joy and her mother for years. They are not Japanese spies. They are no threat to anyone. You know this.

Kelly: It does not matter what I know. It only matters what I have been ordered to do.

Ben: But they are not Japanese. They are American. Suzuki married an American whose parents were Japanese. She became an American citizen. Joy was born in this country. She is one hundred percent American. Your father was born in Ireland. Your mother was born here. Are you American?

Kelly: We are not at war with Ireland. It is not the same. Anyway, it does not matter. They still have to go.

Ben: What about me?

Kelly: Your father was an American naval officer. You are an American naval officer.

Ben: My mother was born in Japan.

Kelly: I know what my orders are. Joy and her mother are coming with me.

Ben: If you take them, you take me.

(He takes off his coat)

Joy and Suzuki: No.

Kelly: I am not taking you. I am taking them.

Ben: I will resign my commission. I will marry my Joy. We will go together.

Kelly: (putting his pistol away) Listen to me. I have been your friend. I am still your friend. We are at war. The navy will not allow that. They will call you a traitor. They will send you to prison. You would not be with Joy. The war will be over someday. Joy will be released. But you would still be in prison. Is that what you want?

Joy: (alarmed) It is not what I want. My love, you must listen. You are an officer. You must do your duty. They will punish you. I will lose you forever.

Ben: This is our wedding day. We cannot be parted now.

Suzuki: If you love each other you will endure.

(to Joy) We will survive. We will be strong. We will be here when it is over.

(to Ben) You must survive. You must be strong. You must be here when it is over.

(to both) Then our lives can continue.

Ben: I cannot do it. I cannot let you go.

Joy: (taking Ben aside) Our love grows stronger everyday. It will not grow less until we die. What can we do? All we can do is survive. I cannot survive without you. Not even for a single day. My mother and I have no choice. They are going to lock us up. You have a choice. You can let me go and do your duty. Then, someday, we will be together again. Or you can resign and try to come with me. Then we will never see each other again.

(she begins to cry)

Ben: My love for you is stronger than this war. It cannot win. It will not win. What can we do? You are right. All we can do is survive. You must go. And I must do my duty. Someday this war will be over. Then you will come home. Then I will come home. Then we will be together.

Joy and Ben: Until that day our hope is strong. Our love is everlasting. We are one. Now and forever.

Ben: Joy Onoshi, right here before God. Will you have me for your husband? Will you become my wife?

Joy: Before God, yes.

Ben: Then we are married.

(they kiss)

Joy: (happy, then sad) From now on my name is Sorrow. When we are together again my name will be Joy.

(to Suzuki) We will go and pack. We will go with Joe.

Suzuki: (walking away) (whispering) You must tell him.

Joy: (whispering) No.

(they exit)

Kelly: Sorry, Ben.

(he follows Suzuki and Joy)

(turning back) Report for immediate duty.


(Ben sits down in a chair and covers his face with his hands. Curtain)

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.

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Barracco Obama, Il Messia, Redentore del Mondo – Tenore Miracoloso

Santa Micaela della Revoluzione, sua sposa – Soprano Amaro

Giovanni Maccheno, Senatore, Avversario dello Obama – Basso Buffo

Sara Palino, Governatrice del Alaska e Reginetta di Bellezza – Coloratura Buffa

Guglielmo Priapo, Ex-Presidente – Tenore Mentitore

Hillaria, sua Sposa, altra Avversaria dello Obama – Soprano Ambizioso

Elena Tomasso, una strega – Contralto Venenoso

Giuseppe Bideno, “Piedimbocca” – Tenore Buffo

Il Spirito di Giorgio Secondo, L‘Abominazione – Baritono Cattivo

Il Spirito di Ruscio Limbago, Bocca Grande – Basso Noioso

Jeremia Ritto, un uomo pazzo, pastore dello Obama – Basso Demagogico

Guglielmo Ayers, terroristo Americano, amico dello Obama – Tenore Anarchico

Un Sempliciotto – Tenore Profetica

Il Popolo, La Media Elite, Il Mondo, Il Congresso, Terroristi.

La Piazza del Cattedrale di Washington.

It is the day after the election. Outside the Washington Cathedral, the People and La Media Elite celebrate the victory of Barracco Obama over his adversary, Giovanni Maccheno (Coro: “Esultate! Il Messia è venuto!”). The World enters and joins The People in their celebration, singing their own chorus rejoicing in the fact that Obama’s election will hasten the demise of American power and influence (“America è in debolezza, evviva!”) The two choruses swell and merge in a powerful contrapuntal choral episode. As the chorus reaches its climax, trumpets herald the arrival of Lord Obama the Most Merciful, who enters with his wife, Santa Micaela della Revoluzione and his retinue. The crowd becomes frenzied, with some falling in a swoon (“Obama! Obama! Redentore del Mondo! Io manco!”). Obama heals two lepers and resurrects the dead daughter of a Washington policeman. He then addresses the crowd (“Nel posar sul mio capo la corona”). At the sound of his voice, the crowd falls silent, gazing up at him with adoring, vacant expressions. In an eloquent aria, Obama promises that the dark days of the Tyrant, Giorgio Secondo, are over (“Dopo si lunga notte”) and a new Golden Age will dawn for the world under his rule (“Un siglo d’oro è venuto”): the economy shall heal, America’s enemies shall beat their bomb jackets into plowshares, the lame shall walk, there will be a chicken in every pot, the whole world shall have universal health care, all the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay will be released, and planes shall arrive and take off on schedule. Each stanza of this great aria is punctuated by the chorus (“Ohmmm! Salvatore!”) At its conclusion, Obama invites The People and The World to a celebration at which he will personally change the water into wine and feed the guests with seven croissants and five grande lattes. He enters the cathedral for his coronation, followed by the crowd.

From the right, Giovanni Maccheno and Sara Palino enter the deserted piazza. Giovanni laments his loss of the election to Barracco Obama (“O mia vergogna!”). In a rambling, boring monologue sung in a monotone, he recites his brave history on the battlefield (“Si, fui soldato!”) and wonders why this was not enough to get him elected 30 years later. In a lilting refrain (“Tu sei troppo vecchio”), Sara Palino suggests that it might be because he’s a worn-out old has-been with the excitement level of a rusty AAA battery. She reminds him of her own qualifications for Vice-President (“Può vedere Russia dalla mia casa”) and what a help she has been to him. To cheer him up, the perky Sara launches into one of the best known arias in the score, the brilliant coloratura Polonaise “Io son Regina di Bellezza,” in which she sings of her experience as a beauty pageant contestant. But Giovanni is inconsolable: in a touching duet, he and Sara lament how they will now have to go wandering across the country, begging for speaking engagements (“Andrem raminghi è poveri”). Suddenly Giovanni hears someone approaching (“Ohimé, s’appressa alcun!”) and he and Sara hide behind a column.

From the left enter former President Guglielmo Priapo and his termagant wife, Hillaria. Hillaria is furious over her defeat at the hands of L’Obama in the primaries. In a passionate outburst ranging up to a shrill, wobbly high C, she rages that the Prize was within her grasp (“È mio! È tutto mio!”), but she was betrayed by La Media Elite who abandoned her for un altro amore. Must she live to see this upstart novice on the throne while she languishes in boring Senate committee meetings? Is it for this that she has suffered public humiliation and eaten shit sandwiches served by her husband for the past 35 years? No, it is too much! (È troppo! non reggo! soffoco!”) Gugliemo counsels patience: her day will come, and L’Obama will overreach himself. He tells Hillaria that he has a plan to get them both back in la Casa Bianca, where she can rule while he chases interns. Just then he spots Guglielmo and Sara off to the side, and he begins to make a move on Sara. He tells her she is a real babe, and this develops into the famous Quartet, “Bella figlia dell’Alaska:” Guglielmo tries to grope Sara; Sara tells him a joke about lipstick on pitbulls; Hillaria sings that her day of vengeance will come; and Guglielmo stutters, in repetitive phrases, how Obama will raise everyone’s taxes and endanger national security.

When the Quartet ends, the crowd surges out of the cathedral, proclaiming the new Messiah, followed by L’Obama in full regalia. A powerful concluding ensemble ensues: The People, the World and La Media Elite acclaim L’Obama; Barracco heals a lame man and exults in his new power; Giovanni Maccheno whines about the ingratitude of the American People while Sara Palino practices her baton twirling; Guglielmo plans that evening’s rendezvous with his new cutie, while Hillaria plots her comeback. Unnoticed in the background, a small group of Islamic terrorists rejoice in Obama’s election. Everyone then exits to follow Obama to the Reflecting Pool which he will walk on down the Mall to meet Il Congresso at Il Capitole.

The piazza is deserted and silent once more. Now enters the Simpleton, a crazy homeless man pushing a shopping cart filled with old newspapers. He sings a keening lament, weeping for the Motherland and the bitter years that lie ahead.

Cada il sipario lentamente.

Scena Primo: L’Offizia di Hillaria nel Capitole.

Hillaria is meeting with Guglielmo Priapo. She berates him for avoiding her and doing nothing to bring her any closer to la Casa Bianca (“Perché mi sfuggi?”) Two years have past, and she is still sitting in interminable committee meetings and having to pretend that she wants Obama to succeed! When is Guglielmo going to stop porking her pages and do something? Guglielmo replies that the two years have not exactly been wasted (“Deh, pensate!”): the hated, deposed Giorgio Secondo is dead, having been torn limb from limb by grieving war widows, mothers and children while he was giving a speech to a veteran’s organization. Things have been going badly for Lord Obama as well, and Il Popolo are getting restless. The opportunity is ripening. And as an additional bonus, Ruscio Limbago has been driven from the airwaves by the revival of the Fairness Doctrine, which Obama has used to silence all effective opposition to him on radio and television. With no outlet for his hot air, Limbago floated off somewhere like an untethered balloon into the ether, presumably to his death. But Hillaria is not to be deterred: when is Guglielmo going to do something? (“Basta di parlare! Azione io voglio!”) Guglielmo responds that he has done something: since Hillaria wants to know the future, he has arranged for the ancient Washington hag, Elena Tomasso, to visit Hillaria that very afternoon and tell her the future. Just at that moment, there is a knock on the door. Guglielmo leaves and Elena Tomasso enters, a hideous old woman with a tongue that drips poison.

Hillaria demands to know what the future holds for her (“Parlami dal futuro!”). In the impressive aria, “Re dell’abisso,” Tomasso summons the spirit of Giorgio Secondo. His horrible visage rises from the floor, with bloody hands holding his very small brain. Giorgio demands to know who has summoned him and bemoans his fate in the afterlife (“Mal per me!”): condemned to be waterboarded enternally while his entrails are unwound and used to re-fence the ranch in Crawford. Hillaria demands to know her future (“Dimmi, o spirito!”). Giorgio replies in sepulchral tones that she has to ask one more powerful than him. To her horror, he summons the spirit of Ruscio Limbago, a disembodied fat head with a mouth twice normal size. In an eerie prophecy (“O Hillaria, Hillaria, Hillaria!”) Limbago tells Hillaria that she will be L’Obama’s successor, and that his days are numbered. But her reign will be as scandal-plagued as was her husband’s, she will accomplish nothing of note, and she will die the same frustrated, bitter woman that she is. With a final cry of “Dittos!”, the head of Limbago disappears in thunder and lightening. Hillaria, elated by the first part of the prophecy (“O lieto augurio!”), fails to hear the second part. Elena gives Hillaria a magic dagger, which she is to plunge into Obama’s back when the opportunity presents itself. In an exultant cabaletta, Hillaria rejoices with the dagger (“O, acciar!”), while in pertichini Elena Tomasso mutters that this woman is nuts (“È una pazzarella!”) and that she wants to stay as far away from her as possible.

Scena Secondo: L’Offiza Ovale nella Casa Bianca.

The Secretary of Education, Guglielmo Ayers, and Jeremia Ritto, the Commissar of Culture and Obama’s spiritual advisor, are discussing the state of the administration. Ayers asks where Lord Obama is (“Obama d’ové?). Ritto replies that he is returning from his daily walk on the Potomac but that he has been delayed by having to drive some demons out of a herd of swine. Ayers notes that conditions in the country have been worsening and the people will soon be ready for The Revolution. In a buffo duet (“Un segreto d’importanza”), Ayers sings of his secret plan to radicalize kindergartners, while Ritto keeps up a steady contrapuntal patter (“God Damn America! God Damn America”)

Lord Obama enters and after kissing his ring, Ritto and Ayers leave. Obama is in a foul mood, and he curses a rubber plant which promptly withers. Obama slumps at his desk and in the powerful monologue, “I have attained supreme power,” he laments the how his dreams and hopes have turned sour. The economy has worsened, and famine stalks the land. A new terrorist attack has killed thousands, led by a jihadist Obama ordered released from Gitmo because his constitutional rights were being violated. The disillusioned, disappointed People are starting to curse his name, and lewd graffiti about Micaela has started to appear in the subways. He starts to pray for guidance (“Gran Dio, soccorrimi!”) but stops when he remembers that religious activity of any kind on Federal property is now a criminal offense. He launches into a tuneful arietta about the futility of life (“Ho bastante di niente”). Micaela enters and begins to nag Obama about his failure to turn American into a Worker’s Paradise (“La revoluzione dov’é?”) Seeing his glum mood, she tries to cheer him up (“Mio caro sposino”) and urges him to announce a new initiative at the upcoming State of the Union address. Encouraged by Micaela’s words, Obama joins her in an exultant duet (“Ora di gloria s’appressa!) as the curtain falls.

Il Capitole: la Camera della Casa dei Rappresentativi.

The Chamber is divided into two groups: I Repubblicani on one side, and I Democrati on the other. This is the famous “Coro dei Partisani” – the Repubblicani sing how, after four years in the minority, they are nothing but a bunch of impotent weasels (“Sono donnole impotente). The Democrati mock the Repubblicani for not even being able to sustain a filibuster (“Ha! Ha! Ha! Non hanno di 40!”) Up on the dais, the Parlatrice della Casa dei Rappresentativi, Nana Pelosi, and the Vice-President, Giovanni Bideno sit on their thrones. Nana Pelosi trills happily, while Giovanni Biden can only grunt (“Hmpf! Hmpf! Hmpf!”) because after two years of progressively embarrassing gaffes, his foot is by now permanently implanted in his mouth. Giovanni Maccheno enters and sits with I Repubblicani, immediately putting the Senators on either side of him to sleep. Sara Palino sits in the balcony, primping for the cameras and doing her nails.

Lord Obama enters the chamber and the politicians crowd around him sycophantically. A woman touches the hem of his robe and is healed of an issue of blood. He progresses solemnly to the dais and begins his speech (“Ascoltami, Congresso!”). But no sooner has he begun to speak than the distant angry murmur of a crowd is heard approaching. The members of Congress all start in alarm (“Quai gridi!”). One of the Capitol police enters and announces, in frightened tones, that Il Popolo are approaching in an angry mob with scythes and pitchforks. L’Obama orders them to be admitted, and the mob rushes in (“Vendetta! Strage! Sterminio!”). They’ve had enough of two years of disappointment, failure and betrayal, and they want Real Change (“Vero cangia vogliamo!”) Jeremia Ritto rushes around crazily, shouting “God Damn America!” L’Obama rebukes the crowd for its behaviour (“Quest’è dunque del Popolo la voce?”): didn’t they just acclaim him as their Salvatore two years before? Fistfights break out between the Repubblicani and the Democrati.

In an impassioned plea, Obama calls for peace (“Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo!”) Moved by his appeal, Il Popolo and Il Congresso quiet down. But just as L’Obama resumes his speech, a cry is heard (“Guarda nel balcone!”): Sara Palino has begun twirling flaming batons in the Gallery while singing an inane coloratura ditty (“Belle fiamme”). While all attention is focused on Sara, Hillaria dashes up to the dais and plunges the dagger into Obama’s back (“Quest’è il bacio di Hillaria”). When attention returns to the front, everyone sees Hillaria standing where L’Obama was, rejoicing in her new-found power (“Salgo giä nel Presidencia aurata!”) As everyone proclaims the new queen (“Regina tu sei!”), Sara Palino remarks on how her and Hillaria’s plan worked after all, and announces that her agreed-upon reward is that in the new administration, she will be Secretary of State so that she can get some foreign policy experience for her Presidential run in 2012. The crowd reacts (“Orror! Orror! Orror!”).

Cada il sipario rapidamente.

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by Dr. Michael Pratt

In 1849 Richard Wagner was at the median point of his life. He was 36 years old and had another 34 years to live. He had completed two operas virtually never performed (Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot), and one opera rarely performed (Rienzi). He had also competed three operas which are considered early masterpieces (The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, and Lohengrin). Ahead of him were his seven mature masterpieces (the four parts of The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan and Isolde, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal).


Also occurring in 1849 was the Dresden uprising against the Saxon government in which Richard Wagner played a minor role. As a result, after the revolution was put down by Saxon and Prussian troops, an arrest warrant was issued for Wagner and he was forced to flee first to Paris and then to Zurich. While residing in Zurich he wrote a set of prose essays including Art and Revolution (1849), The Art-Work of the Future (1849),  Jewry in Music (1850), and Opera and Drama (1851). These essays were to have far reaching impact not only on musical thought, but on far-ranging intellectual, philosophical, and political theories of the time, and for several generations to come, culminating in Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich.

These essays also served to help fill a musical void in which Wagner found himself during this period; a compositional drought extending from Lohengrin (1847) to Das Rhinegold (1854). In these essays Wagner attempted to define not only the direction in which he would proceed personally and artistically, but the direction in which he felt he was destined to lead German art into the future (and hence, all important world art, since German art was at the forefront, in his view). These essays, along with the writing of the poems comprising The Ring of the Nibeling constituted the bulk of Wagner’s output during this period.

In Art and Revolution Wagner “discussed the Athenian drama, which had brought together the arts of poetry, music, drama, dance, and design in a profound civic and religious expression.” [1]  In The Art-Work of the Future Wagner went on to describe “the Greek dramatic synthesis, after whose decline and disintegration, he asserted, the individual arts went their egoistic, separate ways; having in his time reached the limits of these divided routes, they longed to reunite, languishing for absorption, dissolution, and redemption in the universal art-work…” (ibid.)  In Jewry in Music Wagner wrote some of his most famous, influential, infamous and, ultimately, destructive prose describing “the Jew as a materialist, hindering the pure instincts of the German folk [saying] the Jew, therefore must be eliminated from German life.” (ibid.)  Of course, several generations later this almost came to pass in Germany, with Hitler citing Wagner as one of his main influences. In Opera and Drama Wagner outlines more specifically the format of his art-work of the future:

Opera and Drama postulated a compound formed of verse and its parallel vocal melody. The verse, the poet’s part, presenting the conceptual elements, would beget the musician’s vocal line; the latter was to interpret the text emotionally through artfully calculated juxtapositions of rhythm, accent, pitch, and key relationships. A resulting congruity of verse and musical phrase was to be further confirmed by an orchestra providing harmonic modulations and instrumental color appropriate to the stage situations . . . The orchestra with its many tongues would take over the traditional operatic tasks of the chorus. Throughout its length, the art-work was to be unified by a system of motifs, reiterating and stressing the conditioning forces of the drama. Toward this end certain musical phrases were to be abstracted from their positions under their correlative verses and repeated by voice or orchestra in later dramatic situations whenever ideas associated with the original words had any particular pertinence. (ibid.)

Wagner further postulated that the only proper subjects for German opera in the future were to be found in German mythology; hence, he logically proceeded with his monumental tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung.

In The Art-Work of the Future Wagner makes the argument that Beethoven carried all of the various elements of art to their limits with his latter symphonies, especially the Ninth Symphony. “This was the word which Beethoven set as crown upon the forehead of this tone-creation: and this word was: – “Freude!” (“Rejoice!”) With this word he cries to men: “Breast to breast; ye mortal millions! This one kiss to all the world! – And this Word will be the language of the Art-work of the future.” [2] [All capitalizations and punctuations are that of Wagner and Ellis.]  Wagner felt that Beethoven had led us to the doorstep of his art-work of the future. He fulfilled nature with his Pastoral Symphony, he evoked the very essence of dance with his Seventh  Symphony, and he took the final step and embraced drama with his Choral Symphony.

The Last Symphony of Beethoven is the redemption of Music from our own peculiar element into the realm of universal Art. It is the human Evangel of the art of the future. Beyond it no forward step is possible for upon it the perfect Art-work of the Future alone can follow the universal Drama to which Beethoven has forged for us the key. (ibid.)

Wagner conceived the next step as being an amalgam of all of the artistic elements: poetry, dance, music, drama, painting, sculpture, and design. He felt the outmoded forms of German opera must give way to what he called music-drama; thus embarking on this new form in The Ring of the Nibelung

Wagner saw himself as the successor to Beethoven and the absolute leader in the new wave of all things artistic and, above all, German. Wagner’s conceit in this concern knew no bounds. At first he drew legions of devoted followers who worshipped at his doorstep (in some cases, like Bruckner, almost literally). He attracted such thinkers as a young Friedrich Nietzsche. In Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy he writes a “Preface to Richard Wagner” in which he says:

On the basis of this most significant way of understanding all aesthetics, which, taken seriously, marks the first beginning of aesthetics, Richard Wagner, to confirm its lasting truth, set his stamp, when he established in his Beethoven that music must be assessed on aesthetic principles entirely different from those for all fine arts and not at all according to the category of beauty, although an erroneous aesthetics, in the service of a misleading and degenerate art, has become accustomed to the idea of beauty asserting itself in the world of images and to demand from music an effect similar to the effect of plastic arts, namely, the arousal of satisfaction in beautiful forms. [3]

Nietzsche’s early devotion to Wagner (which later became a famous and public complete reversal of opinion) was intimately connected to Wagner’s thoughts in  The Art-Work of the Future which he pursued in his own writings:

 Through the character of Zarathustra [Also Sprach Zarathustra], Nietzsche insisted that his true audience had not yet been born. For both men [Wagner and Nietzsche], the value of art was not to be found in the dominant function that they believed it performed in contemporary society: that of diverting the public’s attention from the emptiness of modern life. Art’s value lay, rather, in its ability to reject the vacuous present that required such diversion, in the name of an almost prophetic invocation of a radically different future. [4]

Writing fifty years later Ernest Newman talks about the value of Wagner’s prose writings saying:

It is in pursuit of this vision that he ranges, in the tortuous pages of ‘Opera and Drama,’ through the heavens above and the earth beneath and the waters under the earth. Rid the huge book of all its superfluous matter and we arrive at last at the simple propositions that music-drama is a union of drama and music, that each must take something from and give something to the other, that the drama must be worthy and capable of moving us, and that the music must be a living organism, not an arbitrary collection of badly-jointed limbs with no flow of blood between them. It is this that the artist in him was driving him on to create, and it used the thinker in him merely for its own purposes of clarification. [5]

So where was Wagner going when he started writing his poem for The Ring of the Nibelung and subsequently began its musical composition based on the principles he had set forth in these prose writings? He maintained that he had written the last, great German opera in Lohengrin and the path to the future lay in a new direction. Gone was the chorus. Gone was the collection of separate pieces which were strung together to make an opera (the very word itself, of course, simply meaning a group of related works – thus opera being the plural for opus). In the future Wagner would call his works “music-dramas”. Actually it may have been more accurate to have called them “drama-musics” for in Wagner’s view the drama was the most important element. The music was what Wagner liked to describe as “continuous melody”. It was unceasing in pursuit of the drama of the moment. Gone were the pauses to applaud certain arias, dances, or scenes. The viewer, listener was expected to be continuously propelled along the lines of the drama until the very denouement of the music-drama. Gone was the florid, ornamental type of vocal writing which had become so very popular through opera composers such as Bellini and Donizetti. The understandability of the text was paramount. This is curious since many German-speaking people attending Wagner’s music-dramas wish that they could not understand the language being sung (the way non-German-speaking people experience Wagner’s operas) because Wagner’s poetry is written using such archaic and arcane language that it is almost not understandable by German speakers and tends to be distracting to the music.

The subject matter of the music-drama has its origins in German mythology, which Wagner felt was the only true source for his true, German art-work of the future. Another component to Wagner’s vision for the art-work of the future was the concept of the leitmotif. This, of course, was not a technique originated by Wagner, it had been heard earlier in certain works like Berlioz’s Fantastic Symphony, but Wagner elevated it to new heights of prominence, importance, and artistic usefulness.

Some of these principles were abandoned by Wagner in the future. For example, In Die Meistersinger he makes use of a chorus, which he had especially eschewed earlier. Since, however, this particular opera was written for completely altruistic reasons, Wagner set aside his “philosophical” viewpoints and wrote what he felt amounted to what would become a “popular hit” (Wagner needed money and set out to write a “little” work which could be produced by every small opera company in Germany and Europe, and thus make him a fortune in return; this “little” work turned out to be the longest work in the entire standard repertoire to date. Wagner never did anything in a small way). It is a testament to the genius of Wagner that he was able to take this short detour from composing The Ring of the Nibelung and compose first Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg and then Tristan and Isolde, returning after many years to complete The Ring tetralogy (he set Siegfried aside after the end of Act II and came back many years later and much changed as a composer). The astute listener at a performance of Siegfried can discern subtle changes in Wagner’s style between Acts II and III (including the inclusion of the so-called “Siegfried Idyll” music which he had written for his wife, Cosima, as a birthday present).

The poet Wagner met the composer Wagner. When it came near time to prepare for the first presentation of his spectacular tetralogy, The Ring of the Nibelung, Wagner expanded his vision even further and proceeded to scour Europe for singers who had the ability to change their style of singing and use a new method, devised by Wagner, which was necessary to portray vocally the huge musical scale he was writing. Next he found a location for what he envisioned to be a grand festival playhouse in which to pursue his dream. He chose Bayreuth, raised the necessary capital, and designed and constructed his Festspielhaus. In this unique performance venue he designed an orchestra pit which would be invisible to the audience (an ingenious creation). Wagner also designed the sets and the costumes, again all part of his master conception of the art-work of the future. Finally Wagner assembled the finest instrumental musicians he could find for his invisible orchestra (oddly enough containing a large number of Jewish musicians, Wagner being ever the pragmatist). When this monumental creation finally reached the stage in August of 1876, attracting an all-star audience from all over the world, Wagner had finally reached his dream of the art-work of the future in a technical display with such a tour de force that Wagner immediately became firmly established as the leading “thinker” of his day. All in all, Wagner became the poet, composer, entrepreneur, singing teacher, conductor, architect, set designer, costume designer, dramatist, director, and inventor (he invented an ingenious “steam curtain” at Bayreuth which was the envy of opera houses world-wide). Taken as a whole, The Ring of the Nibelung could be considered the greatest work of art in any medium by any artist who ever lived. George Bernard Shaw, in commenting on “The Music of the Future” (in reference to Wagner) said: “The ultimate success of Wagner was so prodigious that to his dazzled disciples it seemed that the age of what he called “absolute” music must be at an end, and the musical future destined to be an exclusively Wagnerian one inaugurated at Bayreuth. All great genius produce this illusion. Wagner did not begin a movement: he consummated it.” [6]

Such is the enigmatic nature of the gigantic story Wagner told in his tetralogy that it has been subject to widely divergent interpretations. Shaw probably brought forth the first widely divergent interpretation in his The Perfect Wagnerite where he attempted to make the case that the story of the myth is nothing but a gigantic allegory of the lower class against the middle class in an industrialized society. It is, in fact, nothing more than the socialist struggle to overcome capitalism (predating the communist revolution in Russia). Shaw writes:

There is a considerable portion of The Ring, especially the portraiture of our capitalistic industrial system from the socialist’s point of view in the slavery of the Nibelungs and the tyranny of Alberic, which is unmistakable, as it dramatizes that portion of human activity which lies well within the territory covered by our intellectual consciousness. All of this is concrete Home Office business, so to speak: its meaning was clear to Wagner as it is to us. (ibid.)

Subsequent stagings at Bayreuth in modern times have placed the tetralogy in contemporary dress and even in outer space. All this is to suggest the magnitude of Wagner’s creation and the scope of his vision that it has the ability to mean so much and exist so divergently for so many people for so long. Even more than thirty years after his death Wagner was still an imposing musical influence on the world:

At the time of Richard Wagner’s death in Venice (Feb. 13, 1883) the German stage was in a curious condition. Though his works had not prevailed everywhere, there could be no doubt as to their ultimate triumph, and the last opponents of the living master bowed willingly before the dead genius, whose gigantic spirit even after death defeated all resistance, entered the enemy’s land, and finally stormed the fortress of his antagonist Meyerbeer. Wagner’s works had swept everything that was not in conformity with them from the German stage, and many old operas, the delight of our fathers and grandfathers, disappeared, never to rise again, in the bottomless depths of the theater archives. [7]

After Wagner’s death many German composer’s tried to emulate his style and utilize his principles as set forth in The Art-Work of the Future. Some, like Karl Goldmark and Hans Pfitzner were somewhat successful during their lifetimes and are even sometimes performed today. At least one “Wagnerian-style” opera remains in the standard repertoire; Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck. Humperdinck was Wagner’s musical assistant for the first performance of Parsifal in 1882 and was, thus, fully indoctrinated into the Wagner “way-of-thinking”. In a review of the Vienna production of Hansel and Gretel:

Eduard Hanslick shows that what was pointed out (and objected to) as “Wagnerian” also included the adventurous harmony, the many-stranded orchestral texture, and some allegedly direct evocations of Wagner’s work. In general, the score was considered too ponderous for its subject and the Witch’s Ride stigmatized as a ‘weak Ride of the Valkyries on broomsticks’. Moreover the ending of the opera was mocked by Hanslick as a compulsory Wagnerian element of “redemption” quite irrelevant to the story. Yet even Hanslick had to grant the opera a favorable verdict. In his notice he quoted from the current press a judgment by Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried Wagner naming Hansel and Gretel ‘the most significant German opera since Parsifal.’ [8]

Wagner’s Art-Work of the Future influence can be seen to extend beyond Germany’s borders into other musical realms which might at first seem to be a world apart from Wagner and Germany, such as France and Claude Debussy. Debussy’s crown jewel of the operatic world, Pelléas and Melisande, however, shows a great debt to Wagner:

However it is produced or performed, the external events that form the plot of Pelléas are only part of the point of the play. Maeterlinck’s symbolism, couched in seemingly insignificant dialogue, demands a response far removed from that required for conventional 19th-century opera. A more central question is the opera’s debt to Wagner. Whatever Debussy claimed, there are strongly Wagnerian elements in Pelléas, notably in the harmony, which reflects procedures found in Tristan and Parsifal, and in the system of leitmotifs portraying characters, themes and symbols. In an article in Le théâtre in 1902, Debussy himself wrote out motifs, identifying one of them as the ‘thème initiale de Mélisande’, and in a rare technical comment about his opera, he interestingly referred to his conscious treatment of Mélisande’s motif to emphasize the view he held of her character:

Notice that the motif which accompanies Mélisande is never altered. It comes back in the fifth act unchanged in every respect because in fact Mélisande always remains the same and dies without anyone – only old Arkel, perhaps – ever having understood her. [9]

 Wagner’s influence was so pervasive and lasted for so long that it led directly to the atrocities comitted by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. In his book Hitler Speaks Herman Rauschning quotes Hitler as saying: “I recognize in Wagner my only predecessor . . . I regard him as a supreme prophetic figure.” [10] Hitler was a supreme Wagnerite. He regularly attended performances of Wagner music-dramas at Bayreauth and Nuremberg. His opinions on Aryanism, anti-Semitism, and vegetarianism were all sympathetic to Wagner’s views. Robert Jacobs, commenting on a passage in Hitler’s Mein Kampf says:

“to what Hitler considers to be the root cause of the first World War . . . Hitler describes in terms of a Wagnerian drama, thus: “It was the fantastic idea of a Nibelungen alliance with the decomposed body of the Hapsburg state the brought about Germany’s ruin.” The reference is plain: whereas Wagner’s Wotan destroyed himself by stealing and bartering the ill-gotten Nibelung hoard, Germany destroyed herself by allying herself with an empire ridden with Nibelung-Jews, Serbs, Hungarians, Czechs, Croats … (Ibid.)

Wagner’s grandson Wolfgang Wagner writes of Hitler: “Hitler’s passion for Wagner served to legitimize his own political mission, because he used Wagner’s conceptions of a national art form for the benefit of his personal ideology. German art was whatever the National Socialists proclaimed it to be.” [11] Indeed, Wagner’s influence on Hitler began occurring early in Hitler’s life. “Under a sketch he drew in 1912 of Young Siegfried, he appended the comment ‘Wagner’s work showed me for the first time what is the myth of blood.’ Blutmythos – war and racial purity already in 1912.” [12]

In modern times a great deal of time, money, and energy is being spent to erase the destructive legacy left by Adolph Hitler on Richard Wagner. While everything that Wagner wrote and said cannot be withdrawn or denied, and certainly nothing Hitler was responsible for can ever be forgiven or forgotten, still the musical creations of Richard Wagner must be viewed on their own for what they are: works of genius which are astounding in the art-form, their profundity, and their aesthetic worthfulness. In commenting on the modern performance of Wagner, Andreas Huyssen states:

Any discussion of monumentality and modernity inevitably brings to mind the work of Richard Wagner: The Ring, the aesthetics of the Gesamtkunstwerk [art-work of the future], the monumental artist, the history of the Bayreuth Festival. […] Whereas Germans have been laboring under the reproach of forgetting or repressing their historical past for decades since 1945, critics for some time now have articulated the reverse approach: inflation of memory. […] Currently there are several hundred plans in the works for Holocaust monuments or memorial sites all over Germany. […] {In the summer of 1995] the 84th Bayreuth Festival opened in July under the motto “redemption through love.” […] In today’s Germany, redemption through memory is the goal. […] German’s have eagerly appropriated the old Jewish saying “the secret of redemption is memory.”  [13]

Instead of trying to forget about the German atrocities of the 20th Century and their linkage to Richard Wagner, the modern approach is to do everything possible to not let the past be forgotten while at the same time extricating the monumental music-dramas of Richard Wagner, creations of his Art-Work of the Future, from this memory to allow them to continue (or in the case of the Israeli Philharmonic to begin) to be performed.

Copyright 2010 by Pratt Music Co.


[1] Robert W. Gutman, Richard Wagner: The Man, His Mind, and his Music (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1990), 138.

[2] Richard Wagner, The Art-Work of the Future (1849), tr. William Ashton Ellis, 1895 (www.kessinger.net: Kessinger Publishing, 2005) 44-45.

[3] Friderich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 8.

[4] Gary Zabel, “Wagner and Nietzsche: On the Threshold of the Twentieth Century,” The Musical Times 131, 1770 (Aug. 1990): 407.

[5] Ernest Newman,Wagner’s Prose Works.” The Musical Times  54, 843 (May 1, 1913): 299.

 [6] George Bernard Shaw, The Perfect Wagnerite 1923 (New York, Dover Publications, 1967), 123.

[7] Edgar Istel and Janet Wylie, “German Opera since Richard Wagner,” The Musical Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 2 (April, 1915): 260-290.

[8] Arthur Jacobs, Liner Notes from Hansel und Gretel. Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Jeffrey Tate, EMI 7 54022, 1990, (CD).

[9] Richard Langham Smith, “Pelleas and Melisande,” Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy, http://www.grovemusic.com (accessed April 28, 2007).

[10] Robert L. Jacobs, “Wagner’s Influence on Hitler,” Music & Letters Vol. 22, No, 1 (Jan., 1941): 81-83.

[11] Wolfgang Wagner, Acts: The Autobiography of Wolfgang Wagner (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994), 26.

[12] Frederic Spotts, Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 141.

[13] Andreas Huyssen, “Monumental Seduction,” New German Critique No. 69 (Autumn, 1996), 181-200. 

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