THOU and I (2003)

for tenor, baritone and tape
Sound Example available (In Memoriam section)

Photos from Premiere, April 5, 2007

Video from Premiere

Thou and I is based on material from my electroacoustic opera Powers of Two, but in this setting the two singers represent lovers. The opening love duet, a setting of one of 131 stanzas written by Tennyson in memory of his friend, Arthur Hallam, is followed by a tenor solo using a Whitman text from Leaves of Grass which also celebrates male bonding. In the baritone solo, the singer appears to have passed into another realm beyond our reality as expressed by R. M. Rilke, yet longs for his lover, with whom he is reunited in the final duet, based on Rumi's poem "Thou and I" and Katherine Philips ode to a female friend.
Suggested Staging for Thou & I

As the lights come up, the singers are seen in a tight embrace that they hold for a few seconds, then separate as the Tenor begins to sing. However, they continue to hold hands for the first stanza, and throughout the duet remain in eye contact facing each other. They rejoin holding hands for the cadence ("I shall not lose thee tho' I die.") but on the repetition of the line, the Baritone starts to realize that he is suffering and pulls away.

As the music pulsates and culminates in a percussive chord, the Baritone starts coughing, then stumbles and falls to the ground. The Tenor recoils in horror to a separate pool of light, ending up on the floor. During the first part of the Tenor's solo ("Dear friend"), the Baritone crawls over to the wheelchair on the opposite side of the stage in a dim pool of light and manages to get himself into it in a collapsed state.

Towards the end of the Tenor's solo ("I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead."), the Tenor rises, starts slowly backing up out of the lighted area, undoing two or three buttons on his shirt, without removing it. He ends in a darkened area at the back of the stage and unobtrusively moves to the opposite side of the stage behind the Baritone during his solo.

A bright side light comes on as the Baritone begins his solo, blinding him. He responds ("Eeeeh, eeeeh .... I do not see, I cannot breathe.") by shielding his eyes and opening a few buttons on his shirt. As he begins his aria ("It is strange to no longer live on the earth,") he seems less troubled by the light than by the realization that he may be dying, or even already dead.

At the end of his solo ("until gradually one might sense a piece of eternity."), the Baritone closes his eyes and lifts his head. On the word "gradually", the Tenor approaches him from behind and puts his hands on the Baritone's shoulder. The Baritone keeps his eyes shut, and once he's finished singing, the Tenor slides his hands down the Baritone's chest in a tight embrace. The baritone slowly open his eyes and is emotionally overcome by the realization that they are reunited. During the ensuing soundtrack, the Tenor wheels the Baritone back to the centre of the stage where they sing their next joyful duet.

During the pause in the duet, the Tenor helps the Baritone to his feet, pushes away the wheelchair and they sing their final duet. During the last "inhale" on the tape they kiss tenderly and the lights fade.

 

Text: 

Thy voice is on the rolling air;

I hear thee where the waters run;

Thou standest in the rising sun,

And in the setting thou art fair.

 

What art thou then? I cannot guess;

But tho' I seem in star and flower

To feel thee some diffusive power,

I do not therefore love thee less:

 

My love involves the love before;

My love is vaster passion now;

Tho' mixed with God and Nature thou,

I seem to love thee more and more.

 

Far off thou art, but ever nigh;

I have thee still, and I rejoice;

I prosper, circled with thy voice;

I shall not lose thee tho' I die.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: In Memoriam A.H.H. CXXX

 

Dear friend whoever you are take this kiss,

I give it especially to you, do not forget me,

An unknown sphere more real than I dream'd, more direct

darts awakening rays about me, So long!

Remember my words, I may again return,

I love you, I depart from materials,

I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.

Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass, Songs of Parting (1860)

 

Eeeeh, eeeeh ....

I do not see, I cannot breathe.

Nothing is there for my eyes to grasp

And I no longer exist

... no eye, not I ....

It is strange to no longer live on the earth,

to abandon one's habits, so recently acquired,

to no longer give to the rose

the significance of a human future;

to no longer be that which with endlessly trembling hands

one once was, and to have even one's name

drop away like a broken toy.

It is strange to no longer wish for things,

to see all that once had substance, connection,

flutter about so freely in space. And yes, it is tiring

to be dead, filled with recollection,

until gradually one might sense

a piece of eternity.

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

 

Our chang'd and mingled souls are grown

To such acquaintance now,

That if each would resume their own,

Alas! we know not how.

We have each other so engrost,

That each is in the union lost.

 

Inspired with a flame divine,

I scorn to court a stay;

For from that noble soul of thine

I ne'er can be away.

But I shall weep when thou dost grieve

Nor can I die whilst thou dost live.

 

Thus our twin-souls in one shall grow,

And teach the World new love,

Redeem the age and sex, and show

A flame Fate dares not move:

And courting Death to be our friend,

Our lives together too shall end.

Katherine Philips (1631-64): To Mrs. M. A. at Parting

 

Happy the moment when we are seated in the Palace, thou and I,

With two forms and with two figures but with one soul, thou and I.

The colours of the grove and the voice of the birds will bestow immortality

At the time when we come into the garden, thou and I

The stars of heaven will come to gaze upon us;

We shall show them the Moon itself, shall be mingled in ecstasy,

Joyful and secure from foolish babble, thou and I.

Jalal al-Din Rumi: The Divan of Shams I Tabriz

(trans. by R. A. Nicholson)


Technical note

The work was realized using the composer's PODX system which incorporates the DMX-1000 Digital Signal Processor controlled by a PDP Micro-11 computer with software for real-time granular synthesis and signal processing (such as digital resonators) developed by the composer in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. The sounds were recorded on 8-track digital tape and the AudioBox, and mixed in the Sonic Research Studio at SFU.

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