POWERS OF TWO: Repetition


Copyright © 1999 by Barry Truax

 

The set consists of a video projection screen at the back of the stage, on either side of which is a tower containing a bank of video and/or computer screens. The video projection in this act is either 'live' from a camera mounted on a rolling tripod and positioned by one of the dancers, or else is pre-recorded with shots of the actual performers in the production.

The dancers represent spiritual beings ('Angels') from the 'Beyond', i.e. Act 4, as well as archetypal female and male forces. In other words, they act as the title characters of the opera &endash; the two 'powers' that assist the real-world characters to find unity and fulfillment. In addition to shadowing their real-world partners, The Artist and The Journalist, they also interact with the other characters in the opera, particularly to encourage them to make a life-changing decision that propels them in the right direction. They do this by using the male and female gendered scarves to "touch" the character at crucial moments, even though those characters are unaware of their presence.

As the act begins, the dancers are atop their respective towers (female on stage right, male on stage left) standing in a heroic posture with their scarves, dressed as in Act 4 . The Woman (soprano) enters, wearing a simple white dress and carrying a slim volume of poetry. She sings of love and her desire for "Orpheus", as if reading from the book during her song. The female dancer descends from the tower and comforts the Woman.

Tape: crowd sounds that gradually thin out as the Woman enters, agitated as if trying to escape the noise.

The Woman: ooooh, ooooh...
I cannot hear, I can scarcely breathe.

How will I know if Orpheus sings,

The one I desire to fill my ear's love?

The Woman: When love in tender bosoms reigns,

With all its soft, its pleasing pains,

Why should it be a crime to own

The fatal flame we cannot shun?

 

But oh! in vain the sigh's repressed,

That gently heaves the pensive breast,

The glowing blush, the falling tear,

The conscious wish, and silent fear.

 

Ye soft betrayers, aid my flame,

And give my new desires a name;

Some power my gentle griefs redress,

Reveal, or make my passion less.

Charlotte Lennox (1729-1804): A Song

The Journalist (mezzo-soprano) enters on the opposite side of the stage from the Woman, and is shadowed by the Female Dancer of whom she is oblivious. The Journalist spends most of her time talking on a cellphone trying to set up a "story".

The Woman, who recognizes the Journalist as a friend, crosses the stage towards her and tries to confide in her, but is constantly frustrated by the Journalist's lack of attention, much to the despair of the Female Dancer.

The Woman: Soul of my soul, my Joy, my Crown, my Friend,
(showing the book) Here is art my soul doth comprehend;

The Journalist: Hello, hello ... yes ... are you still there?

You must be getting out of range ...

The Woman: How happy are we now, whose souls are grown

By an incomparable mixture, one:

The Journalist: Right, that's better, I've pulled you in,

So how am I going to get her story?

The Woman: I have no thought but what's to thee reveal'd,

Nor a desire that is from thee conceal'd.

The Journalist: You know the Sibyl won't talk on camera

Unless I play her angle, meet her price.

The Woman: United thus, what horror can appear

Worthy of our sorrow, anger, or our fear?

The Journalist: Yeah, I know, get some dire predictions.

Make it bleed, that sort of thing ...

The Woman: Let the dull World alone to talk and fight,

And with their vast ambitions Nature fright;

The Journalist: Perhaps an earthquake, better still a plague,

As long as it's exclusive, ahead of all the rest ...

The Woman: Let them despise so innocent a flame,

While Envy, Pride, and Faction play their game;

The Journalist: The competition'll piss themselves, you bet,

If I get to her first and play her game.

The Woman: But we by Love sublim'd so high shall rise,

To pity Kings, and Conquerors despise,

The Journalist: Who cares if she's a fake, the story's all I need,

Thirty seconds live, and voice-over for the rest.

The Woman: Since we that sacred union have engrost,

Which they and all the factious World have lost.
Katherine Philips (1631-64): To Mrs. Mary Awbrey

The Man (baritone) enters during the previous exchange, wearing a business suit, talking inaudibly on a cellphone, possibly to the Journalist. He witnesses the conflict between the two women, somewhat distractedly, not realizing that it may involve the person to whom he is speaking. However, he also becomes drawn to the video image of the Woman which increasingly occupies his attention.

The Woman: Orpheus ...

The Man: I see what you mean, maybe we'll get it this time.

The Journalist: It's in the bag - don't worry I won't lose it.

The Man: Always the same story, I can't figure it out.

The Journalist: The story's ours, I've got it cold.

The Man: When can I see you? I'm free now you know.

The Journalist: You're breaking up, I'd better go.

The Man: Yeah, we broke up last week, are you free tonight?

The Journalist: (panicking) No, I'm seeing someone, she's - no, I mean,

You're breaking up, I'm outta here. (shuts off her phone)

The Man: (distracted by the video image)

I'm seeing someone, an image like never before,

A vision so clear, or is it only a dream?

The Journalist: (talking to herself) What a jerk he is, even if he did hire me.

It was my looks that did it, the horny brute!

The Man: How perfect she is, like the models we hire

For the look we need - more than real ...

The Journalist: If only he knew it's not his sex I'm after,

But her, the one in my dreams.

The Man & Journalist: ... (it's her) the one in my dreams.

The male dancer attempts to make contact with the Man, as does the female dancer with the Journalist who may be drawn to a video image of the dancer (or the Woman).

The Woman: Orpheus ...

The Man & Journalist: She is everywhere and nowhere,

Around me and in me, yet I am alone.

The Journalist: Once I thought I saw her, now she seems remote -

But how can I touch her, because touch her I must?

The Man: Her beauty's eternal, as if caught on film,

But how can I reach her, because reach her I must?

The Journalist busies herself with things in her shoulder bag and takes some pills. The Man shuts off his phone.The Woman notices the Man's interest and responds by changing her appearance to resemble the video. However, the Man looks only at her reproduced image.

The Woman: Orpheus ...

The Man: Miranda ...

The Artist (tenor) enters during this confusion, wearing a leather jacket and jeans. The Male Dancer now shadows the Artist who is oblivious of the Dancer's presence and looks only at the Man, his friend, with whom he is in love.

The Artist: I heard your voice, so sweet to me,
And resonant in your strength.

It drew me here, but now I see

The feminine in your eyes.

The Woman: (showing the Artist her book)

You are an artist whose words are true,

Who sings what others only feel.

You alone can understand my love

And give my speech a song.

The Artist and the Woman:

So, friend, when first I look'd upon your face,

Our thought gave answer each to each, so true -

Opposed mirrors each reflecting each -

That tho' I knew not in what time or place,

Methought that I had often met with you,

And either lived in either's heart and speech.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Early Sonnets I

During the following quartet, the four singers move in repetitive circles or patterns, locked into their obsessions. The tape becomes very noisy with crowd and racetrack sounds, and the dancers, as if to counteract the chaos, engage in a spirited duet (creating a kind of 'yin yang' spinning image) in an attempt to generate some positive energy. At the peak moment the singers hold the note they are singing and become immobile, with the dancers indicating their 'success'.

The Man: ... only a dream
... around me and in me

... a vision so clear

... an image like never before

The Woman: ... if Orpheus sings

... the fatal flame

... by Love sublimed

... the factious World have lost

The Artist: ... your voice so sweet to me

... feminine eyes

... each reflecting each

... in either's heart and speech

The Journalist: ... touch her I must

... the one in my dreams

... she seems remote

... yet I am alone

As the tension subsides, the Artist and the Man stop abruptly and sing a love duet, except that it becomes clear that the Man is addressing the Woman in the video screen, whereas the Artist is addressing the Man directly.

The Artist and the Man:
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

At the conclusion of the song, the Artist moves towards the Man and attempts to embrace him, much to the horror of the male dancer; however, the Man rejects his advance somewhat roughly and the Artist is devastated.

The Artist: 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)

(with resolve)

To the Seer I will go,

His disembodied mind will show me

The path my art must take

To express my deepest love.

The Journalist: (mocking)

Ha! The Seer cannot help you,

No one understands what he says,

And his crazed songs are the delirium of madness.

I'm going to the Sibyl to get a real story!

The Artist: Without art there is no life or love ...

The Journalist: Without me you have no audience ...

The Artist: But they will listen if I sing my love ...

The Journalist: They'll ignore you if it doesn't sell ...

The Artist: I can express what they only dream ...

The Journalist: They know only what I tell them ...

The Artist: I love, therefore I perish! (weeps)

The Journalist: I hate, therefore I publish! (laughs sarcastically)

(The Artist & Journalist exit)

The Woman: (to the Journalist as she departs, dropping her book)

Triumphant Queen of Scorn! How ill doth sit

In all that sweetness, such injurious Wit!

Unjust and Cruel? What can be your prize,

To make one heart a double Sacrifice?

Katherine Philips: To Regina Collier, on her cruelty to Philaster

The Man retrieves her book, and he starts to read a poem contained therein, somewhat haltingly, but encouraged by the male dancer.

The Woman: Be ahead of all departure as if it were
behind you like the winter which simply departs.

For among winters one exists in such endless winter

that, having weathered it, your heart can finally persist.

 

Remain dead within Eurydice - singer, rise up,

praisebringer, climb back into pure harmony.

Be here among those that vanish inside the ebbing kingdom,

be a ringing glass which in sounding shatters.

 

Be - and also know non-being's condition -

the unending ground of your inner pulsation,

so you may bring it this one time to fullest completion.

R. M. Rilke, The Sonnets To Orpheus, Second Series, 13
(translated by Norbert Ruebsaat)

The Man: As men that are with visions grac'd,

Must have all other thoughts displac'd,

And buy those short descents of Light

With loss of sense; or spirit's flight:

 

So since thou wert my happiness,

I could not hope the rate was less;

And thus the Vision which I gain

Is short t' enjoy, and hard t' attain.

 

Ah then! What a poor trifle's all

That thing which here we Pleasure call,

Since what our very souls hath cost

Is hardly got and quickly lost!

 

Yet is there justice in the fate;

For should we dwell in blest estate,

Our joys thereby would so inflame,

We should forget from whence we came.

 

Else the just World must needs deny

Our friendship an eternity:

This love will ne'er the title hold:

For mine's too hot, and thine too cold.

 

Divided rivers lose their name;

And so our too unequal flame

Parted, will Passion be in me,

And an indifference in thee.

Katherine Philips: To Rosania, now Mrs. Montague, being with her

As the tension between the couple reaches a peak, the Man collapses, weeping, and during the following song, the Woman, assisted by the dancer, slowly stretches the scarf and brings it up over her face until it smothers her.

The Woman: A god may do it. Say, though, how shall a man
pass through the lyre's narrow opening?

His sense is division. At the crossing of two

heartways Apollo's temple does not rise.

 

Song, as you teach it, is not desire,

not the urge for a final slender achievement;

Song is existence. The god sings with ease.

When, though, will we exist? And when will he turn

 

the earth and the stars in our direction?

You do not love this, oh youth, although

your voice bursts open your lips - learn

 

to forget that you once sang out. It passes.

To sing in the truth is a different order of breath.

An order around nothing. A moan in the god. A wind.

R. M. Rilke, The Sonnets To Orpheus, First Series, 3
translated by Norbert Ruebsaat)

The tape and lights fade as the Woman stands frozen.


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