Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

John Gay:
The Beggar's Opera

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Feb 81

A new performing version by Richard Bonynge and Douglas Gamley.

Act I

Prologue. A film studio

Shooting is about to begin on a new musical, The Beggar's Opera. The scriptwriter, John Gay, and the actors playing Macheath, Polly and Lucy arrive.

Scene 1. Peachum's house

Peachum sends his henchman Filch to arrange the freeing of two women prisoners in Newgate and when Filch has gone he deliberates on arranging the hanging of a too independent thief in his employ.

Mrs Peachum arrives with the disturbing news that their daughter Polly is so attached to the highwayman Captain Macheath that she may even marry him. Fearing that this will be the ruin of his daughter, Peachum goes off to investigate, leaving Mrs Peachum to reflect that there is no reason why marriage should cut a woman off from other men.

Filch appears and she questions him about Polly. His evasiveness gives her reason to believe he knows something, so she invites him to her room for a drink. Peachum and Polly appear and he presses her about her relationship with Macheath, expressing the view that a little amorous dalliance in the way of business is all right, but marriage is out of the question. Polly's evasions are cut short by the arrival of her mother with the news that Polly is indeed married. Both parents berate her, becoming more irate when she pleads that she did it for love.

Peachum has an idea which may resolve the situation to his liking. He tells his daughter that the only point he can see in her marriage is that she should become a widow, an idea that pleases her mother but horrifies her. They tell her it is her duty to have her husband hanged.

She pretends to leave and eavesdrops on her parents planning to have Macheath convicted at the next session. When they go she laments her sad fate and prepares to see Macheath, who is hiding in her room, safely off the premises.

Scene change to bedroom on upper level

In answer to Polly's anxious questioning Macheath protests his undying devotion. She tells him they must part as her parents are plotting against him. He goes, with further extravagant protestations of love.

Scene 2. A tavern near Newgate

Macheath joins his gang and tells them he will have to stay out of the way for a while because of a slight difference with Peachum. They indicate that they would be quite happy to dispose of Peachum but for the fact that he is useful to them. Macheath orders them to pretend he has left the gang till the trouble blows over, and they set off for their night's work.

Macheath prepares to receive the ladies of the town for whom he has sent. He greets them all affectionately. In the course of a discussion about their respective professions (the ladies are accomplished thieves on the side), Jenny Diver and Suky Tawdry pick up Macheath's pistols so that he is unarmed when, a moment later, Peachum arrives with the constables. Macheath berates them for their betrayal and is led off to prison. The ladies quarrel about the division of the reward.

Act II

Scene 1. Newgate Prison

Macheath pays Lockit for the privilege of the lightest fetters. When Lockit goes Macheath reflects on his difficult position - not that he is likely to be hanged but that Lockit's daughter Lucy is expecting his child and he dreads her reproaches. Sure enough, in comes Lucy and begins to abuse him. He promises to marry her and assures her that Polly is nothing to him.

Scene 2. Another part of the prison

Lockit and Peachum argue about their shares in Macheath and then proceed to other causes of disagreement, arising from their respective positions in the underworld. They come to blows before they realise it is to their mutual interest to be reconciled. Peachum leaves and Lucy comes in to receive her father's abuse for her fondness for Macheath. He advises her to look forward to being a widow.

Scene 3. The same as Scene 1

Lucy tells Macheath of her father's intransigent attitude. Macheath hopes to raise some money and placate Lockit. Polly arrives, in search of her husband, and the two girls quarrel over him while he reflects on how happy he would be with either, "were t'other dear charmer away".

Feeling that Lucy is in the better position to free him, he denies his marriage to Polly. Peachum appears and drags Polly away and Macheath persuades Lucy to steal her father's keys when he is sleeping off his carousing with the prisoners.

Scene 4. Post-synching studio: pre-recorded film

Macheath is free and reunited with his band.

Scene 5. Lockit's lodgings at Newgate

Lockit accuses Lucy of helping Macheath to escape, and she tries to throw suspicion on Peachum and Polly. She is convinced that Macheath is really married to Polly and regrets helping him to rejoin her.

Scene 6. Peachum's house

Lockit goes to find out what Peachum knows about the escape. After some discussion of other matters he tells Peachum to keep an eye on Polly and Macheath will soon be in their hands again. Mrs Trapes the pawnbroker arrives to do business and mentions in passing that she knows where Macheath is. Peachum and Lockit arrange to have him retaken.

Scene 7. Macheath's ride and capture: pre-recorded film

Scene 8. Lockit's lodgings

Overcome with grief and jealously, Lucy decides to poison Polly, but Polly rejects the proferred drink.

Scene 8b. Newgate

Polly and Lucy plead in vain with their fathers to save Macheath.

Scene 9.

The condemned cell

Macheath is trying to comfort Polly and Lucy when four more wives arrive, accompanied by children. At this Macheath indicates his readiness to be hanged.

Scene 10. Enter film director

The film director requires a happy ending, so Gay reluctantly inserts a reprieve for Macheath.

Scene 11. Finale

Macheath, surrounded by rival wives, confesses that he is really married to Polly and so must stay with her.

George Gershwin:
Blue Monday

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 96

A narrator invites the audience to Mike's bar in Harlem, New York, promising a story with a tragic ending because of a woman's intuition gone wrong.

Mike berates Sam for laziness as Sam sweeps the bar and sings about his Monday blues. Tom comes in and pushes Sweet Pea, the pianist, out of his way. When Vi comes in looking for Joe, Tom makes a pass at her, wanting to know what she sees in a gambler. She repulses him scornfully, answering that even if Joe is a gambler, he is a man. When Tom tries to kiss her, she threatens him with a revolver.

No one has seen Joe, so she leaves. Joe arrives and Tom eavesdrops on his conversation with Mike. He has had a big gambling win and is planning to use the money to go back south and visit his old mother. He has sent a telegram to her. He doesn't want Vi to know because she gets jealous for no reason at all. He leaves, returning later with Vi. He tells her he is expecting a telegram and when he goes to check if it has come, Tom tells Vi that it is from another woman. When the telegram arrives, Vi quarrels with Joe and then shoots him. She reads the telegram, which is from Joe's sister, telling him there is no need for him to come as his mother has been dead for three years. Joe forgives her as he dies and looks forward to reunion with his mother.

George Gershwin:
Porgy and Bess

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Apr 97

ACT I

Scene 1. Catfish Row, a former mansion of the aristocracy, now a Negro tenement, on the waterfront in Charleston, South Carolina

It is evening. Clara sings a lullaby to her child. Serena tries to stop her husband, Robbins, from joining a crap game. Clara's husband Jake, a fisherman, sings to the baby. Porgy, a cripple who uses a goat-cart to get around, joins the group of crap players, turning aside accusations that he is "soft" on Bess, the girlfriend of Crown, a tough stevedore. Crown, already drunk, arrives with the flashily dressed Bess on his arm and joins the game, and not only keeps on drinking but buys "happy dust" from Sportin' Life, the local drug pedlar.

A fight breaks out and Crown kills Robbins. As he leaves to hide from the police, he warns that if Bess takes up with anyone else, it will only be only temporary - he will be back for her.

A shaken Bess buys happy dust from Sportin' Life, but refuses his offer to take her to New York. Everyone slams the door in her face, but Porgy takes her in.

Scene 2. Serena's room

Robbins' body lies on a bed, with a saucer on his chest into which friends are putting money to pay for the funeral. Serena at first refuses Bess' money, but accepts when she explains that it is now Porgy, not Crown, who gives her money.

The police take away one of the mourners, first accusing him of the murder; then, when he says it was Crown who did it, of being a material witness. They warn Serena that unless Robbins is buried soon, his body will be handed over to medical students. The undertaker, at first de-claring that the $15 collected is not enough, eventually agrees to bury Robbins and accept payment later. Bess leads the mourners in a spiritual.

ACT II

Scene 1. Catfish Row

Jake and other fishermen sing as they repair netting. One of the women reminds them that it is picnic day, and Jake arranges for the men to go fishing the next day, ignoring Clara's fears that the September storms are imminent. As Porgy expresses his new-found joy in life, the women comment that a girl like Bess is not likely to make him happy, being more suited to a killer like Crown.

Maria, keeper of the cook-shop, attacks Sportin' Life for peddling dope round her shop. Frazier, a crooked lawyer, charges Porgy money to di-vorce Bess from Crown, claiming that the fact that she is not actually married to him makes the divorce even more expensive. A buzzard flies over, arousing Porgy's superstitious fears. Sportin' Life tries to sell Bess dope, but she refuses angrily and Porgy warns him to keep away. Porgy and Bess affirm that she now belongs to him.

The residents of Catfish Row come out ready for the picnic. Maria persuades Bess, who had intended staying home with Porgy, to come too.

Scene 2. Kittiwah Island

Sportin' Life entertains the picnic party with a song, It Ain't Necessarily So, casting doubts on stories in the Bible and angering Serena with his irreverence.

The boat whistles, indicating that it is time to leave and Bess, lagging behind, is intercepted by Crown, who has been hiding out on the island. She tries to insist that she is now respectable and living with Porgy, but he overcomes her resistance, partly by force and partly by physical attraction.

Scene 3. Catfish Row

Jake and his crew set off for the fishing, ignoring warnings that a storm is coming.

Bess arrives back, delirious, after having taken a week to make her way back on foot from the island. Porgy puts her to bed, nervous of taking her to a hospital. Serena prays for her and Bess is restored to her right mind. Porgy knows that she has been with Crown, but forgives her. She assures him she wants to stay with him, though still fearing Crown's power over her.

Maria tries to reassure Clara, but the hurricane bell rings and the wind rises.

Scene 4. Serena's room

Everyone has taken refuge from the storm, trying to drown its noise with singing. Crown bursts in to claim Bess and laughs when Porgy tries to defend her. He scandalises Serena by defying God and the storm. Clara sees Jake's boat upside down in the river and gives her baby to Bess to hold as she runs out. Bess cries out that a man should go with her and Crown, after challenging Porgy, goes out himself.

ACT III

Scene 1. Catfish Row

The storm is over, and Jake, Clara and Crown are assumed to be dead, though Sportin' Life throws doubt on the death of Crown. Crown comes back, but as he passes under Porgy's window, Porgy first knifes him, then leans out and strangles him, unseen by anyone.

Scene 2. Catfish Row

A detective and coroner come to investigate Crown's murder. Serena and her friends swear that she has been in bed for three days and knows nothing. They question Porgy, only wanting him to identify the body, but Porgy is afraid.

When the detective and coroner have gone, promising to send someone to fetch him, Sportin' Life convinces him that the dead man's body will bleed in the presence of his killer. A policeman drags out the terrified Porgy. Sportin' Life tries to convince Bess that Porgy will be locked up and to persuade her to take some happy dust and come with him to New York. Almost against her will, she takes one lot of dope and he leaves the other, sure she will take it.

Scene 3. Catfish Row, a week later

Porgy is brought home, having been kept in jail for contempt of court for keeping his eyes closed and refusing to look at Crown's face. He has brought presents for everyone, but the people move away in embarrassment. It is not until he sees Serena holding Clara's baby that he realises Bess is not there.

They tell him she has gone to New York, and he calls for his goat and sets off to find her.

Umberto Giordano:
Andrea Chénier

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jul 88

ACT I

The country estate of the Coigny family, the winter-garden of the chateau, 1789

A major-domo is supervising the preparations for a party. Carlo Gérard, one of the lackeys, breaks into a harangue against the aristocrats, an invective made more bitter by the sight of his old father, a gardener, struggling with a heavy weight. He hates the house and all in it - except, as he reveals when she appears with her mother, Maddalena, the daughter of the house, whose beauty charms even his embittered soul. Maddalena is still not dressed, but, as she tells Bersi, her mulatto maid, she hates the restrictive fashions and hairstyles of the day and intends to wear a simple white dress and a rose in her hair.

The guests arrive and the novelist Fléville introduces the young poet Chénier. Discussion of affairs in Paris indicates that the country is in turmoil, but the guests determine to enjoy the evening. When Chénier evades an invitation from the countess to recite some of his poetry, Maddalena makes a bet with her friends that she can make him say something poetic; but he declines her invitation also, saying that the muse of poetry is shy like love.

Maddalena laughs, because he fell into her trap and used the word "love"; and Chénier, stung, promises to make clear to her the real meaning of love, and recites a poem (the Improvviso) in which he describes the poverty of the people and the indifference of the aristocracy to their sufferings, ending with an attack on Maddalena, telling her that she too, young and beautiful as she is, does not know the real meaning of love. She is abashed, the guests are indignant, and only Gérard, listening in the distance, is moved.

A dance is about to begin, but a crowd of wretched people approaches the chateau and Gérard admits them, declaring his solidarity with them and tearing off his livery and compelling his father to leave with him. The peasants leave and there is an attempt to resume the festivities.

ACT II

Paris, June 1794

Mingling with the crowd and disguised in the extravagant costume of a merveilleuse, Bersi suspects that she is being watched by a spy dressed in the equally fantastic garb of an incroyable. She accosts him and explains defensively that she is, like him, a true child of the revolution. The spy suspects a connection between the beautiful blonde he has seen with her and Chénier, whom he has been watching.

Chénier's friend Roucher brings him a passport, but Chénier, although in danger, refuses to leave. He believes that he is on the threshold of an adventure, as he has been receiving mysterious letters from a woman who signs herself Hope. But Roucher, basing his opinion on the scented notepaper, convinces him that it can only be a woman of the street and he agrees to take the passport and escape.

Acclaimed by the crowd, Robespierre and other Representatives appear, among them Gérard, who is called aside by the spy who tells him that he has found the woman Gérard is searching for. Despite being beset by the spy, Bersi manages to tell Chénier that a woman who is in great danger, whose name is Hope, wants to speak to him and he agrees, despite Roucher's warning that it is a trap.

Watched by the spy, Maddalena, disguised as a servant, arrives. As Chénier recognises her, the spy goes off to tell Gérard. Maddalena explains that she had hesitated to approach Chénier when he was powerful and she was in danger, but had often written to him, as to a brother; but now she feels she is in danger and asks for his help.

Realising that she is to be the love of his life, Chénier agrees to help her. They declare their mutual love and their intention of staying together, but Gérard, warned by the spy, appears and tries to claim Maddalena. She escapes with Roucher, who has been keeping guard, while Chénier and Gérard fight. Gérard is wounded, but recognising his opponent he warns him to escape and protect Maddalena; and when the crowd rushes to his aid, tells them that he did not know his assailant.

ACT III

The Revolutionary Tribunal

Waiting for a trial to begin, the sansculotte Mathieu calls on the crowd to make donations to save their country from foreigners, abusing them when they do not respond; but when Gérard, recovered from his wound, appeals to them, they offer their jewellery for the cause. An old blind woman, Madelon, brings her young grandson, whose father was recently killed in battle, and offers him to the Republic.

The spy reports to Gérard that Chénier has been arrested, but Maddalena has disappeared; but he is convinced that the news of his arrest will bring her out of hiding. Gérard prepares the indictment against Chénier, torn between his belief that Chénier is no traitor (although he is on the public prosecutor's list) and his passion for Maddalena, reflecting on how this passion has adulterated the purity of his revolutionary fervor and his concern for the downtrodden.

Maddalena comes to plead for Chénier and Gérard admits to having had her followed and that, far from hating her as she thinks, he has loved her since childhood. Maddalena understands him and offers herself in exchange for Chénier's life, telling him of how her mother had died saving her from the mob, how Bersi had sold herself to provide for her and how love had come to her in her wretchedness.

The list of those to be tried is brought to Gérard, and Chénier's name is on it; but Gérard, moved by Maddalena's appeal, promises to try and save him.

The trial begins and after some hasty condemnations, it is Chénier's turn. He defends himself against the accusation, saying that as a soldier he had confronted death proudly and as a poet has used his pen against hypocrisy.

Gérard interrputs the proceedings to claim that the indictment he wrote is a lie, and that Chénier is a true son of the revolution, but he is disregarded and the death sentence is pronounced.

ACT IV

The prison of St Lazare

Roucher is taking leave of Chénier, who reads him his last poem, which he has just written and in which he compares his last moments to the end of a lovely May day.

Gérard brings Maddalena, who bribes the jailer to let her take the place of a young woman, Idia Legray, who had been condemned that day. Gérard rushes away to try and see Robespierre and save her life and Chénier's. Chénier and Maddalena are blissful in their reunion and confront the prospect of death bravely, answering their names proudly when they are called to the tumbril.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks:
The Glittering Gate

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 86

Outside the gate of Heaven

The place is strewn with beer bottles, still sealed, but all empty, as Jim discovers each time he opens one. Each discovery is accompanied by disembodied mocking laughter. He is joined by Bill, who has been wandering along the wall for 24 hours since he was shot by a householder while attempting a burglary. He knocks on the gate, but Jim tells him it is not for the likes of them.

Bill recognises Jim as his mentor, who had taught him how to pick locks. Jim's memories of earth have faded, but as Bill speaks, he begins to remember. He tells Bill they are stuck there without hope.

Bill tries to find a bottle with beer in it, to the accompaniment of derisive laughter. As his memories of earth return, Jim sentimentally recalls Jane, a girl he used to see in a pub. He expects she is now in Heaven and Bill promises he will see her again, as he is about to break into Heaven, with his tools of trade. He starts work while Jim continues looking for bottles. As he works, Bill speculates about the joys of Heaven, where he expects his old mother will be waiting for him to open the door.

When he has broken the lock Jim joins him in heaving open the heavy golden gate. Bill calls his mother and Jim calls for Jane, but there is only empty night and stars beyond the gate. The derisive laughter is heard again.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks:
The Transposed Heads

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 86

Scene 1. By the bank of the River Ganges

As they rest in the shade, two young men, the Brahmin Shridaman and his lower caste friend Nanda, inadvertently see a young girl performing her ritual bathing. Nanda, who has seen her at the village festival, recognises her as Sita. Fearing to let her know she has been seen, they continue to watch quietly, Shridaman being moved to eloquence about the sacred nature of the vision and Nanda taking it more calmly and on a more earthly plane, though he admires the eloquence of his friend, to whom he is greatly attached.

Scene 2. By the Ganges, a few days later

Shridaman tells Nanda he is suffering from a mortal illness and asks him to help build his funeral pyre. Nanda is willing and even prepared to join his friend in death; but, in view of the seriousness of the undertaking, asks the nature of the illness. He is amused when he learns that Shridaman is sick for love of Sita, assuring him that she is not betrothed and that Shridaman is such a good catch that there is sure to be no difficulty getting her family's consent for a wedding. He offers to be the go-between.

Scene 3. Sita's village

Sita and Shridaman are married.

Scene 4. A clearing in the forest

Nanda has accompanied the newly married couple on a journey. In a clearing they come upon a ruined temple to the goddess Kali and Shridaman, going inside to pray, is overcome with religious awe and the desire for the annihilation of his personality, and beheads himself with his sword. Going to look for him, Nanda is overcome with guilt at the sight of the body, feeling sure that Shridaman has killed himself because he has become aware that Nanda is in love with Sita, so he takes the sword and beheads himself.

Sita, finding both bodies, thinks they have killed one another for her sake, though she is puzzled as to how they have managed with only one sword. Reluctantly, she decides that she too must die. As the sword is too heavy, she tries to hang herself with vines; but she is stopped by the voice of the goddess Kali, who orders her to stop and ridicules the suggestion that they have killed one another over Sita.

The goddess decides to restore the two to life and orders Sita to place the heads back on the bodies, being careful not to put them on back to front in her flurry. What she does is put the heads on the wrong bodies. Although each man professes himself honoured at receiving the body of his friend, each claims Sita as his wife. To resolve the difficulty Nanda suggests they consult the guru Kamadamana.

Scene 5. The ashram of Kamadamana high in the Himalayas

The guru first decides in favor of the Nanda head/Shridaman body combination on the grounds that the right hand is tended in marriage and must prevail; but immediately reverses this decision, saying that the head is the important thing. He awards Sita to the Shridaman head/Nanda body combination. Nanda decides to become a hermit.

Scene 6. In the mountains

Sita comes to Nanda's hermitage, looking for the combination she doesn't have. She is followed by Shridaman. All agree that they cannot continue as they are and decide to die and join their essences to the universal all.

Nanda builds a funeral pyre; but as Shridaman points out that Sita cannot ascend it until she is a widow, the two men kill one another with their swords and fall in the pyre together. They are joined by Sita and all are consumed.

Philip Glass:
Einstein on the Beach

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Sep 92

Einstein on the Beach does not have a conventional plot; the overall thematic divisions of the opera are as follows:

Knee Play 1

Act I

Scene 1. Train
Scene 2. Trial
Knee Play 2

Act II

Scene 1. Dance 1 - Field with Spaceship
Scene 2. Night train
Knee Play 3

Act III

Scene 1. Trial/Prison
Scene 2. Dance 2 - Field with Spaceship
Knee Play 4

Act IV

Scene 1. Building/Train
Scene 2. Bed
Scene 3. Spaceship
Knee Play 5

C.W. Gluck:
Iphigénie en Tauride

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Aug 97

The action has its roots in the beginning of the Trojan War, when Agamemnon was forced to carry out a rash vow and consent to the sacrifice of his elder daughter, Iphigenia, to procure a favorable wind for the Greek fleet. At the last minute, the goddess Diana rescued Iphigenia under the cover of a cloud and transported her to Tauris, where she served as Diana's priestess. Meanwhile, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, driven partly by anger at the supposed death of her daughter, has killed Agamemnon, and Orestes, their son, has, at the instigation of the gods, killed his mother to avenge his father's murder. With his friend Pylades, he arrives in Tauris, following the command of Diana to rescue her images.

ACT I

The entrance to the temple of Diana As a storm rages, Iphigenia and her fellow priestesses pray for deliverance from their exile. Iphigenia recounts a dream in which the palace of Mycenae had burnt to the ground and Agamemnon was murdered. Her mother had handed her a sword and when she tried to approach her brother Orestes, she succeeded only in thrusting the sword into his breast. She begs Diana to withdraw the boon of life and let her die. Thoas, King of Tauris, unsettled by an oracle, begs Iphigenia to intercede with the gods on his behalf. He is convinced that only blood will appease them and is relieved when his followers announce the capture of two Greeks. He demands their immediate sacrifice. Orestes and Pylades are brought in and Orestes regrets that he will be the cause of Pylades' death.

ACT II

Inside the temple

Pylades tries to comfort Orestes, who is haunted by his murder of his mother and by his responsibility for the death of his friend, who, however, is glad that they will die together. Pylades is taken away and Orestes is tormented by the Furies.

When Iphigenia appears before him, he believes she is the ghost of his mother. In answer to her questions about her home, he tells her, without revealing his identity, of the terrible events in Mycenae, diverging from the truth only in telling her that Orestes has found the death he sought. Iphigenia and the priestesses lament the tragedy that has struck their homeland.

ACT III

Iphigenia's apartment

Iphigenia grieves for the death of her brother, of whom the stranger reminds her, and consents to the wish of the priestesses that she communicate with her sister Electra, to which end she resolves to defy Thoas and save the life of one of the prisoners, though it is out of her power to save both.

Because of the affinity she feels for him, she chooses Orestes, but he resolutely refuses his life, partly in the hope of saving Pylades and partly because of his guilt; but Pylades refuses to take his place. It is only when Orestes threatens to kill himself if he is not chosen as the sacrifice that Iphigenia yields. She gives the astonished Pylades a letter for Electra, but refuses to answer his questions. He is still resolved to save Orestes.

ACT IV

Inside the temple

As the trembling Iphigenia prepares to sacrifice her brother, he assures her that death is welcome, but his mention of his sister Iphigenia reveals his identity. When Thoas, already enraged at the escape of Pylades, demands his death, Iphigenia defies him. Pylades kills Thoas and Diana tells Orestes to take her images, return with Iphigenia and reign in Mycenae.

C.W. Gluck:
Orphée et Eurydice

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Dec 95

ACT I

A grove surrounding the tomb of Eurydice

Shepherds and shepherdesses perform Eurydice's funeral rites as Orphée stands aside, crying her name in deep grief. Declaring that their grief increases his, he asks them to leave and then gives way to despair, calling on the gods to restore Eurydice to him or let him die. He is not afraid to descend to Hades, if necessary, to reclaim her.

L'Amour (Cupid), the god of love, tells him that the gods have been moved by his plea: he may travel to the underworld and if he can appease the furies with his song, Eurydice will be restored to him, on condition that he does not look at her until they are back on earth, or he will lose her again. He prepares to brave the terrors of Hades.

ACT II

Outside the gates of Hades

Furies and monsters bar the way and threaten to tear Orphée to pieces. He plays his lyre and begs them to hear his plea, and they yield and permit him to pass the gates of the underworld.

Scene 2. The Elysian Fields, domain of the blessed spirits

Although enchanted by the peace and beauty of the place, Orphée does not forget his grief and begs the spirits to restore Eurydice to him. She is brought forward, covered by a veil and he takes her hand without looking at her.

ACT III

Scene 1. A subterranean passage leading out of Hades

Orphée is leading Eurydice back to earth. Rejoicing at finding herself alive again, she is distressed that he does not look at her, and fears that her beauty has faded.

His refusal to look at her and his inability to explain cause her to reproach him bitterly and accuse him of no longer loving her. When she complains of faintness, he turns to look at her and she dies again. Overwhelmed by despair and grief, Orphée draws his sword to kill himself, but is restrained by l'Amour, who has once more taken pity on him. Eurydice will be given back to him because of his suffering and devotion. She is restored to life, l'Amour promises to lead them out of the underworld and all three praise the power of love.

Scene 2. The temple of L'Amour

Orphée, Eurydice, shepherds and shepherdesses sing the praises of love.

Charles Gounod:
Faust

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

May 91

ACT I

Faust's study

In despair because he feels he knows nothing after a lifetime of study, Faust is preparing to take poison, but the sound of voices outside praising God causes him to hold his hand. He is visited by two of his students, Wagner and Siebel, who have been drinking all night. When he reproaches them for wasting the money their parents have spent sending them to study with him, Wagner announces that he is joining the army and explains that Siebel is falling behind in his studies because he is in love. Struck by Siebel's declaration that there must be more to life than books, Faust realises that he has wasted his life in useless study. In despair he invokes the devil and Mephistopheles appears, offering him wealth, glory and power, all of which Faust rejects, explaining that the gift which includes all these, as well as the opportunity for the pleasures of love, is what he desires - the restoration of his youth.

Mephistopheles offers a pact in which he will serve Faust on earth, on condition that Faust then serves him after death. When Faust hesitates he shows him a vision of a young girl, Marguerite, and Faust is won. He drains the rejected beaker, which now brings life, not death, and sets off with Mephistopheles.

ACT II

The Fair

The townspeople are enjoying themselves. Valentine, about to go to war, is worried about his sister Marguerite. He gratefully accepts Siebel's assurance that he will look after her, commends her to the protection of heaven, then joins the carousing students. Mephistopheles appears among them and leads them in a celebration of the golden calf. He tells Siebel that his fate is that any flower he touches will wither and warns Valentine of his death, provoking him further by proposing a toast to Marguerite.

Valentine's attempt to silence him is met by magic and his sword breaks off - but he and the others turn the tables by holding out the crosses formed by the hilts of their swords, whereupon Mephistopheles cowers back.

Faust demands the girl in the vision, ignoring Mephistopheles' objection that she is virtuous and thus protected by heaven, and his offer of any other girl. He will have these as well, he says, but the pretty girl first.

Marguerite appears, Mephistopheles distracts Siebel, who tries to speak to her, and Faust accosts her in courtly terms, offering his arm. Marguerite answers that she is not a lady and has no need of his escort. He is touched by the modesty of her reply.

ACT III

Marguerite's garden

Siebel tries to pick a bouquet of flowers for Marguerite, but they wither until he breaks the spell by dipping his hand in holy water. He leaves the bouquet as Mephistopheles brings Faust to the house. Faust is so moved by Marguerite's chaste dwelling that he wants to leave, but Mephistopheles sweeps his scruples aside and leaves a casket of jewels on the step for Marguerite.

She thinks about the young man who had accosted her as she sings the ballad of the King of Thule, who treasured a golden cup in memory of his dead love. Finding the casket, she tries on the jewels and is captivated by her appearance in the mirror included in the casket. Her neighbor Martha derides her suggestion that they must have been left by mistake and encourages her to keep them. Marguerite admits that possibly the young man who accosted her might have left them. Mephistopheles tells Martha that her husband has deserted her, and pays court to her to distract her attention while Faust woos Marguerite. She confesses that she loves him, but begs him to leave, promising to meet him tomorrow, and runs inside.

Searching for Mephistopheles, who has eluded her, Martha runs into Siebel, who is concerned when he learns about the presence of the strangers, but she convinces him that by now Marguerite will be safe in bed. Mephistopheles, who has been listening to the end of the conversation between Marguerite and Faust, urges him not to hold back. Hearing Marguerite repeating her confession of love, Faust runs to embrace her while Mephistopheles laughs at the success of his scheme.

ACT IV

Scene 1.

Marguerite pines for the absent Faust, comforted only by the faithful Siebel, who offers revenge, but learns that she still loves Faust. Martha tells Siebel that Valentine is back and begs him not to implicate her in the disaster.

Scene 2. A street

Returning with the army, Valentine learns from Siebel that Marguerite is in trouble. Ignoring Siebel's entreaties that he be merciful, Valentine runs into the house while Mephistopheles and Faust appear in the street.

Faust is remorseful, but Mephistopheles is unsympathetic. He sings a derisive serenade alluding to Marguerite's dishonor and Valentine bursts angrily out of the house. Faust, with guilt and reluctance, accepts his challenge and, assisted by Mephistopheles, mortally wounds Valentine. Marguerite runs to him, but he dies cursing her.

Scene 3. The church

Marguerite, dishonored and pregnant, attempts to pray, but Mephistopheles appears in the church to taunt her with her sin and threats of damnation.

ACT V

A prison cell

Mephistopheles brings Faust to the prison where Marguerite is awaiting execution for having murdered her child. He finds her deranged, reliving the happy moments of their love and deaf to his entreaties to flee. When Mephistopheles enters to urge haste, she is repelled by him and prays for deliverance, continuing to disregard Faust's appeals and finally recoiling from him as well.

As she dies, Mephistopheles pronounces her damned, only to be refuted by an angelic choir proclaiming her salvation.

Charles Gounod:
Roméo et Juliette

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jan 93

ACT I

At the house of Capulet in Verona

At a ball given by Juliette's father Capulet, her cousin Tybalt points her out to Pâris, whose bride she is to be. Mingling uninvited among the guests are Roméo, of the family of Montague, currently feuding with the Capulets, and some of his friends. Roméo has forebodings of disaster, but his friend Mercutio suggests mockingly that he has been visited by Mab, Queen of the Fairies, who presides over dreams.

Teased about her forthcoming marriage by her nurse Gertrude, Juliette expresses her desire to enjoy her youth in freedom. Struck by her beauty Roméo addresses her. By the time Tybalt interrupts their conversation and they learn one another's identities, they have already fallen in love. Capulet, concerned for the success of his party, restrains Tybalt, who wishes to attack Roméo.

ACT II.

The garden outside Juliette's window

Hiding in the garden, Roméo overhears Juliette confess her love for him and her wish that he was not a Montague. He offers to disown his name if it will please her. His profession of his love is interrupted by Capulet servants led by Grégorio scouring the grounds for a suspected interloper - Roméo's page.

They tease Gertrude with the suggestion that she has attracted a Montague follower. Roméo and Juliette agree to marry; he will make the arrangements and send her word. Gertrude calls Juliette to come inside.

ACT III

Scene 1. Frère Laurent's cell

Roméo tells Frère Laurent of his love for Juliette. She arrives and Frère Laurent marries them.

Scene 2. The street outside the Capulet house

Roméo's page Stéphano sings a derisive serenade, warning the Capulets that their white dove is about to fly the nest. Capulet servants appear and a brawl develops, which is about to result in a duel between Grégorio and Stéphano. The row brings others to the scene, and Mercutio's remark that it is typical of the Capulets to pick on a child is overheard by Tybalt, who challenges him.

When Roméo arrives, Tybalt wants to fight him, but Roméo, wishing to avoid a confrontation with Juliette's cousin, answers his insults calmly. Mercutio fights with Tybalt and is killed and Roméo casts prudence to the winds and challenges Tybalt, wounding him mortally. Tybalt dies in Capulet's arms as the rival families gather. A developing fight is prevented by the arrival of the Duke, who banishes Roméo.

ACT 1V

Juliette's bedroom

Roméo and Juliette have spent the night together. She has forgiven him for the death of Tybalt, as otherwise Tybalt would have killed him. She tries to delay his departure, only yielding when she realises the danger he is in.

Accompanied by Frère Laurent, Capulet tells Juliette that she is to marry Pâris that very day, in accordance with Tybalt's last wish. At a signal from the friar she remains silent and, left alone with him, she reveals that she would rather die than marry Pâris. He gives her a sleeping draught that will give her the appearance of death for a whole day, explaining that when she is taken to the family crypt, Roméo and he will be on hand to rescue her. She takes the potion.

ACT V

Scene 1. A street

Frère Jean tells Frère Laurent that he was unable to deliver to Roméo the letter explaining what has happened.

Scene 2. The vault of the Capulets

Believing Juliette to be dead, Roméo comes to the vault and takes poison. She wakes and they rejoice at their reunion, but Roméo begins to feel the effects of the poison. He tells Juliette what he has done and collapses at her feet. Finding no poison left, she stabs herself. As they die they pray for forgiveness.


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