ORPHEUS ASCENDING
LIBRETTO

A video projection of the soprano may be used during the opening scene.

As the act begins, the Woman 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 while she sings. The Man also enters, wearing a business suit, talking on a cell phone, and becomes drawn to the video image of the Woman which increasingly occupies his attention. The two people do not look at each other.

0:06 The Woman: Orpheus ...

0:16 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?

How perfect she is, like the models we hire

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

it's her, the one in my dreams

The Woman: Orpheus ...

If only I knew how to find such an artist,

Like him, the one in my dreams.

The Man & Woman: She/he is everywhere and nowhere,

Around me and in me, yet I am alone.

The Woman: Once I thought I saw him, now he seems remote,

But how can I touch him, because touch him 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 Woman: Orpheus ...

The Man: Miranda ...

2:15 Up to this point, the characters have not actually looked at each other, but during the last exchange, their eyes become locked together in love.

2:42 The Woman: 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 Man 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

4:23 The Woman gives the Man her book of poetry which he looks at tentatively, as if reading poetry for the first time, somewhat haltingly. However, as they each sing their own poem, it becomes clear that they are drifting apart, and each despairs of ever having a relationship with the other.

4:55 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)

4:55 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

8:00 As the tension between the couple reaches a peak, the Man collapses, weeping, and at the end of the following song, the Woman slowly exits to the back of the stage.

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)

12:09 The Man begins to rouse himself, but is very disoriented and fears that he may be dead.

12:30 Man: 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)

15:05 The Woman, offstage or in the darkness at the back of the stage begins to sing in long lyrical tones. As she emerges, we see that she is wearing a different costume than before.

Woman: Ooooh, ooooh ...

Orpheus, Orpheus,

Can you hear me?

Are you here at last?

15:33 Man: Miranda, is it you,

Or are you only in my dreams?

I need to see if you are real

And bring you to my arms.

Woman: Approach but do not look at me,

My voice will guide you in, bring you here.

Find the music in your soul

And sing your innermost song.

The Man moves backwards towards the Woman, and each time he reaches her, she removes an article of clothing from him, first his jacket and then his shirt, to which he responds with increasing anguish which makes him move away again. During the approach, however, they sing with great longing. The last time he backs off, he collapses on the stage, while the Woman turns away sadly.

16:29 Man: Music, which tunes the soul for love

And stirs up all our soft desires,

Does but the growing flame improve

Which pow'rful Beauty first inspires.

Woman: Although we know we love, yet while our soul

Is thus imprisoned by the flesh we wear,

There's no way left that bondage to control,

But to convey transactions through the ear.

17:07 Man: Eeeeh ... (backing away)

Thus, whilst with art she plays and sings,

I to Miranda, standing by,

Impute the music of the strings

And all the melting words apply.

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720)

Woman: Yea, though we read our passions in the eye,

It will oblige and please to tell them too:

Such joys as these by motion multiply,

Were't but to find that our souls had told us true.

Katherine Philips (1631-64): To My Lucasia, in Defence of Declared Friendship

17:57 Man: Eeeeh ... (backing away and collapsing)

18:13 Voices on the tape lure the Man backwards again, towards the Woman, but each time he is fearful.

Tape voices: Listen ... Approach ...

Man: Eeeeh, eeeeh ....

I do not see, I cannot breathe.

Each and every angel is terrible,

And I am overpowered by their embrace.

Woman: Approach but do not look at me,

My voice will guide you here.

20:02 The Woman returns and uses her scarf to blindfold the man. He ceases to resist and allows himself to be guided backwards.

Woman: Find the music in your soul

And sing your innermost song.

20:40 The blindfold is removed and the Man and Woman kiss.

20:51 Man & Woman: With two forms and with two figures but with one soul, thou and I.

The Woman helps him put on a shirt similar to the one she is wearing. As the various tonal centres begin to glide upwards and downwards to the final tonal unison, they move about the stage together. They seem to defy gravity and attain a new sense of serenity and joyousness.

21:47 Man & Woman:

We are the stars which sing,

We sing with our light;

We are the birds of fire,

We fly over the sky.

Our light is a voice:

Our voice is a light.

We make a road for spirits,

For the spirits to pass over.

We look down on the mountains.

This is the Song of the Stars.

Passamaquoddy and Micmac song

The Algonquin Legends of New England

25:50 They exit slowly.


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