Four Love Songs from
POWERS OF TWO: The Artist (1995)


for tenor and stereo soundtracks with video

1. L’homme armé *
2. Tancredi and Clorinda

3. Tristan

4. Welcome Oedipus *

* Sound Example available

Video taped dancers: Marc Berezowski, Thecla Schiphorst, Hans Seidemann, Douglas Huffman

Recorded singers: David Dong Qyu Lee, David Garfinkle, counter-tenors

Videos by Thecla Schiphorst and Barry Truax




These songs are part of my opera Powers of Two, specifically the act featuring a gay male Artist who seeks guidance from the Seer (a counter-tenor heard on tape), an androgynous figure who cannot walk or speak, but who dispenses wisdom through images and song, and eventually finds insight through blindness. The Artist misunderstands the Seer, turning each reference to its opposite, but still creating beautiful songs. For instance, “the armed man is to be feared” becomes “the armed man is to be desired”. Each song is accompanied by a video and an historic musical and poetic reference symbolizing artistic expression through the ages. In order, these are the 15th century French tune, L'homme armé (The Armed Man); Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda; the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde; and the ending of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in which the blinded king is accepted by his people. Besides the sung text, poetic excerpts from Marino, Cavalcanti and Rilke are heard.

1. L’homme armé

Seer (on tape): I give you images,

Images to live for,

The image of your secret soul,

The mirror of your heart.

I give you images.

Video: Tape One begins. Gradually, a static image appears in the form of a male dancer (representing the classical beauty of Antinous, the favourite of Hadrian), his partly bare back to the screen and one hand visible. The Artist imitates the  dancer's movements and interact with the video image. During the video, only the dancer's torso and head are visible, and the camera follows his hands which caress his skin.

Tape: stretched, resonant version of sung L'homme armé (15th c.)

Seer: L'homme, l'homme, l'homme armé, l'homme armé,

L'homme armé doibt on doubter, doibt on doubter.

On a fait partout crier

Que chascun se viengue armer

D'un haubregon de fer.

L'homme, l'homme, l'homme armé, l'homme armé,

L'homme armé doibt on doubter, doibt on doubter.

Tape: The man, the man, the arm-ed man, the arm-ed man,

The arm-ed man, is to be feared, is to be feared.

Everywhere it has been proclaimed

That everyone should arm himself,

With an iron coat of mail.

The man, the man, the arm-ed man, the arm-ed man.

The arm-ed man, is to be feared, is to be feared.

Artist: (in reference to the male dancer of the video image)

The man, the man, this arm-ed man,

This arm-ed man is to be desired.

Everywhere I shall proclaim

That I alone desire this man

With an iron coat of mail.

Artist: I sing, Love, of thy warrior fair, and tell

Of all the mortal miseries I knew,

How I was vanquished by a glance and fell

Snared by a curl, a grievous tale but true!

Two lovely eyes were weapons whence I lay

With troubled soul transpierced, and tears did flow

Instead of blood for many and many a day;

Thou, by whose daring prize and praise belong

To my victorious adversary, though

Dost kill the heart, givest life unto the song.

Tape: Io canto, Amor, da questa tua guerriera

quant'ebbi a sostener mortali offese,

come un guardo mi vinse, un crin mi prese

istoria miserabile, ma vera!

Due begli occhi fur l'arme onde trafitta

giacque, e di sangue in vece, amaro pianto

sparse lunga stagion l'anima afflitta.

Tu, per lo cui valor la palma e 'l vanto

ebbe di me la mia nimica invitta,

se desti morte al cor, da vita al canto.

Giovambattista Marino (1569-1625)

2. Tancredi and Clorinda

Tape: various female and male voices (opposite to their actual gender): I am a man / I am a woman

Video: Tape Two begins in which a female dancer appears as Clorinda, assuming the male role of a warrior. She enacts the story of the battle of Tancredi and Clorinda in which he, not recognizing his love, engages her in battle and kills her. As she dies, the camera moves up her body and 'discovers' her blond hair.

Tape: stretched, resonant sung version of the opening of Monteverdi's Combattimento:

Seer (on tape): Tancredi che Clorinda un'uomo stima

vol ne l'armi provarla al paragone.

Artist: Clorinda, who wished Tancredi to be her lover,

Seeks forthwith to engage him in mortal combat.

Tape: Tancredi, who believed Clorinda to be a warrior,

[Clorinda, who believed Tancredi to be a warrior]

Seeks forthwith to engage her[him] in mortal combat.

Vuol ne l'armi provarla: un uom la stima

degno a cui sua virtù si paragone.

Va girando colei l'alpestre cima

verso altra porta, ove d'entrar dispone.

Segue egli impetuoso, onde assai prima

che giunga, in guisa avien che d'armi suone,

ch'ella si volge e grida: - O tu, che porte,

che corri sì? - Risponde: E guerra e morte.

Tasso: Gerusalemme Liberata XII:52

e guerra e morte / war and death (drum)

amore e vita / love and life (bell)

Artist: You, who do breach mine eyes and touch my heart,

And start the mind from her brief reveries,

Might pluck my life and agony apart,

Saw you how love assaileth her with sighs,

And lays about him with so brute a might

That all my wounded senses turn to flight.

Tape: Voi, che per gli occhi mi passaste al core

E destaste la mente che dormia,

Guardate a l'angosciosa vita mia

Che sospirando la distrugge Amore.

E' vien tagliando di si gran valore

Ch' e' deboletti spiriti van via.

Guido Cavalcanti (1255-1300): Sonnet I

Tape: stretched, resonant version of Monteverdi's Combattimento:

Seer: ella mentre cadea, la voce afflitta movendo disse le parole estreme,

parole , parole ch'a lei novo spirto adita.

Tape: She can no more oppose him,

her voice will scarce obey her,

Yet faintly she breathes her last words,

Her last words that yet a new spirit infuses.

Ella, mentre cadea, la voce afflitta

movendo, disse le parole estreme;

parole ch'a lei novo un spirto ditta,

spirto di fé, di carità, di speme:

virtù ch'or Dio le infonde, e se rubella

in vita fu, le vuole in morte ancella.

Tasso: Gerusalemme Liberata XII:65

Artist: Love, who hath drawn me down through devious ways,

Hath from your noble eyes so swiftly come!

'Tis he who hath hurled the dart, wherefrom my pain,

First shot's resultant! And in flanked amaze

See how my affrighted soul recoileth from

That sinister side wherein the heart lies slain.

Tape: Questa vertù d'amor che m'a disfacto

Da' vostr' occhi gentil presta si mosse;

Un dardo mi gitto dentro dal fianco.

Si giunse ritto 'l colpo al primo tracto,

Che l'anima tremando si riscosse,

Veggendo morto 'l cor nel lato manco.

Guido Cavalcanti: Sonnet I (trans. by Ezra Pound)
3. Tristan

Tape: Why, Isolde [Tristan], why this to me?

When what I had not grasped before

Was finally made clear to me.

Video: Tape Three begins and shows the male dancer from the first video in female attire, wearing the white fringed scarf. This image fades in and out of a slow motion image of the male dancer pulling the scarf down over his face; at the end of the tape, his face (with eyes closed) finally appears.

Tape: stretched, resonant version of Wagner's Liebestod:

Seer: Höre ich nur diese Weise, die so wundervoll und leise.

Artist: Why, Tristan, why this to me?

When what I had desired before

Was finally denied to me.

Tape: Do I alone hear this melody

Which, so wondrous and tender in its blissful lament,

All-revealing, gently pardoning, rises above,

Blessedly echoing and ringing around me?

Höre ich nur diese Weise, die so wundervoll und leise,

Wonne klagend, alles sagend, mild versöhnend aus ihm tönend,

in mich dringet, auf sich schwinget, hold erhallend um mich klinget?

Wie sie schwellen, mich umrauschen, soll ich atmen, soll ich lauschen?

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, Act 3

The male dancer again inspires the Artist in the following song.

Artist: But the living all make the mistake of dividing too sharply;

Angels (they say) often did not know if they walked

among the living or the dead. The perpetual torrent

... drowns them out in each.

... once when they mourned for Linos

tentative primal music pierced brittle despair;

only when the room felt the shock

of the almost god-like youth's sudden departure forever

the emptiness started to vibrate with that motion

which now uplifts us and comforts us and helps us.

Tape: Aber Lebendige machen

alle den Fehler, dass sie zu stark unterscheiden.

Engel (sagt man) wüssten oft nicht, ob sie unter

Lebenden gehn oder Toten. Die ewige Strömung

reisst durch beide Bereiche alle Alter

immer mit sich und übertönt sie in beiden.

Ist die Sage umsonst, dass einst in der Klage um Linos

wagende erste Musik dürre Erstarrung durchdrang;

dass erst im erschrockenen Raum, dem ein beinah götterlicher Jüngling

plötzlich für immer enttrat, das Leere in jene

Schwingung geriet, die uns jetzt hinreisst und tröstet und hilft.

R. M. Rilke: Duino Elegies I (trans. by Norbert Ruebsaat)

4. Welcome Oedipus

Voices (on tape): I bid you farewell.

(stretched, resonant version of the choral ending of Oedipus Rex )

Vale, vale Oedipus, miser Oedipus noster,

Te amabam, Oedipus, tibi valedico, Oedipus, tibi valedico.

Video Tape Four begins, showing a male dancer rotating against an equally magnificent kimono.

Artist: (accompanies his song with stylized hand and arm gestures) Welcome, welcome, welcome!

Seer: Vale, vale Oedipus, miser Oedipus

Seer: Va - le - di - co (chant-like)

Artist: Welcome, Oedipus, I love you, I embrace you.

Blessed Oedipus, I welcome your new found sight.

Welcome Oedipus, my own dear Oedipus.

I love you, Oedipus, I embrace you in me.

Seer: Di - co (chant-like)

Artist: (turns and approaches the video screen where the video tape is finishing)

I embrace you in me. I embrace you in me.

Seer: Pa - ro - le (sung)

O - m


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