Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Grand Popera: Beginnings of A Ten Commandments Outline

Obviously subject to much change during the decade or two it will take to mount this....

Electronically Amplified


String Quintet (2 cellos)
Gypsy Band (guitar, violin, saxophone, clarinet, flute, trumpet, trombone, bass, drums)
2 dueling 3 piece combos at opposite ends of the pit (bass, drums, electric guitar)
Saxophone Quartet

The music of the Egyptians must sound like white musical styles: rock, disco,
classical, church, white jazz

The music of the Jews must sound like non-white musical styles: jazz, gospel, spirituals, blues, R&B, hip-hop, cantillation, Arabic, Indian classical, sitar raga, javanese gamelan, etc.

Prologue (4 scenes):

Beginning Chorus - unaccompanied: Psalm 1 in Hebrew "Ashrei Ha-Ish" (8-part unaccompanied chorus)

Scene I: Luxor

Pharoh and his Priests - Four basses: Ramses I, High Priest, Captain of the Guard and the Heir to the Throne (Seti) - and choir of Temple Priests sing of the Hebrews and their fear of the Jews being ready to take over Egypt. The High Priest proclaims a dark astrology for the future, in which a leader of the Jews rises up who shall reduce Egypt to world humiliation. Must be slow dark, find appropriate musical style (death metal? Wagner? Punk? Gesualdo?), and build inexorable crescendo. Ends with the line, “So let it be written, so let it be done" sung by everybody at full cry with full orchestral backing.  
Priests motif: (G G D D C# B-flat B D)

Pharoh Motif: dotted rhythm (C A-flat, F D-flat, A B-flat. F)

Chorus: Psalm 2 "Lama Rageshu Goyim" (10 part chorus with orchestral accompaniment)

Scene II: Goshen
Egyptian guards are in a Jewish household and search for baby, who is being hidden somewhere within the wall. The father is already dead and bloody on the floor. They deliberately destroy everything in the house house and assault the children in front of the mother in order to make everyone scream, which then makes the baby cry. They break down the wall, find the baby, and stab the baby repeatedly in front of the mother and the other children as the mother (coloratura soprano) and children beg for the baby's life. The Egyptian soldiers do not speak through all this, and it must have holocaust implications. Perhaps done in sprechstimme, close to Pierrot Lunaire and Wozzeck. Should be shocking enough that audience needs a minute to breathe, minute-long 'Klezmer' clarinet improvisation which leads neatly into Psalm 3.

Death Motif: C B C E D-sharp C-sharp A
Motif of Motherhood: A (up octave) B F-sharp G (all half-notes) (repeated faster and faster in the seconds before the baby is killed)

Chorus: Psalm 3 "Adonai Ma Rabu Tzarai" (low alto/high tenor solo with choral accompaniment, not sure about how many voices yet)

Scene III: Goshen

Introduce 'the Moseses.' First bright music of the opera. Scene of family and friends eating dinner. Gospel song, mostly unaccompanied for chorus and with highlighted soloists. Must have lots of clapping and onstage utility percussion instruments (think 'O My Lord' from Glory). Scene must have a way of introducing Moses's family. Everybody leaves, and the mother, Yoshebel, is left to clean up. Yoshebel (Contralto) goes over to her cupboard, and there, sitting perfectly still and calm, is Baby Moses. Sings lullaby to Moses, which doubles as prayer for God to spare Moses and to take him into his service. The name of the song will be “God will name you.” Asks young Miriam (girl soprano) to put Moses in the Nile and to follow Moses on his journey through the Nile. Moses is put into the Nile, cue overture.

Moses floating down the Nile to Pharoh’s palace. River sounds, ominous and torrential (think Ades’s Tevot crossed with The Moldau) but gradually giving way calmer seas. Should have all and each of the musical styles and motifs portrayed in the opera within it. Between 5 and 15 minutes. At some point, chorus intones Psalm 4 (5 voices, no need for more when there's so much going on in the orchestra).

Scene IV: Luxor

The Pharoh’s Ladies, bathing suggestively in the Nile. 11 women onstage. 8 young ladies in various states of undress and 2 court musicians, just as beautiful. 11th woman, older and far uglier, is Memnet (character Mezzo, think Kostelnicka), the madame of the lady’s chamber. The bathing music should sound like slow white jazz (Lawrence Welk?). Bithia 
(lyric Mezzo)
, daughter of the current Pharoh, sings trio with Memnet and Miriam after Memnet sends the girls away. Memnet should imply that Bithia does not have children because she's a lesbian who's refused to marry. Bithia sees the boy as a gift from the River Gods to whom she prayed for a son. Very lyrical number that grows more agitated. Memnet sounds notes of caution and indignance that an upstart shall be raised a son of Pharohs, Bithia sounds notes of love and vindictiveness should she be crossed. Miriam watches from the Bushes and sings as well. Bithia compels Memnet and Miriam to swear on their knees that they will keep the secret on pain of death. Memnet and Miriam leave, and Bithia now sings the same lullaby as Yoshebel did ("I have named him.").

Motif of Motherhood
Motif of Vengance: (dotted rhythm) D E-flat, C-sharp, D
Sex Motif: C E C G C B C (octave up) D E-flat E

(that's probably one opera in itself...)

Act I:

Chorus - Psalm 5 Hakshiva L'Kol Shavi (drums and unison chorus)

Scene I: Luxor

Pharoh Seti (Lyric Bass) and his son Ramses (Dramatic Bass-Baritone) sing a duet with recitative. Ramses believes he is entitled to the throne and to the promised wife, Nefertiri. Seti says that the crown and Nefertiri shall belong to the most worthy successor, and notes that Moses has thus far proven more worthy.
Seti and Ramses go into the Great Hall to await Moses’s triumph. Immediately the stage should transform from darkness to technicolor. The music must be major key bombast throughout. First, Nefertriri comes in (spinto soprano with coloratura), and we learn that she loves Moses and that she is repulsed by Ramses. A triumphal march remeniscent of Verdi + Macy’s Day. An enormous choral number. The chorus sings of Moses’s glory, with interspersions in which Nefertiri sings of her love of Moses, Ramses of his will to ascend to the throne by any and all means, Seti of the burden of a crown and a bad son. Enter Moses (dramatic high baritone, think old Domingo), fresh from a conquest of Ethiopia. But Moses brings Amanasro of Ethiopia to the Pharoh as an ally who guards the front border. Moses sings aria of his conquest, and how he befriended the Ethiopian ruler. The ruler is brought in and sings of the wisdom of Moses and brings in his tribute to Seti. (recitative) Ethiopian King: When may I see the city for such a wonderful tribute? Seti: (Embarressed) The city was never finished. Ramses: The Jews die and await their deliverer. Seti: (loses his temper, angry cabaletta) The deliverer has never come, yet my son uses his coming as an excuse to never finish the city. Ramses: If you doubt me, let Moses built the city. Seti: Moses shall build the city, and you shall find the deliverer. If he is a myth, bring him to me in a bottle. If he is a man, bring him to me in chains. Chorus sings fever pitch reprise while Nefertiri entreats Moses to be successful. Memnet sings of Moses’s false identity.

Too many leitmotifs in this scene to work out what they are...
Psalm 6: Adonai Al-b'afkhah tokhikheini (

Act I Scene 3: Goshen

Before Dawn:
Ramses meets Dathan (basso buffo) chief Hebrew overseer of the slaves. Gets a "charming" aria introducing him, full of bravado (and sleaze, Kurt Weill?). Ramses bribes Dathan to find out whom the deliverer is.
(Musical sunrise - orchestral piece)
After dawn -
Slave’s Tableau: Slaves sing work songs, should sound joyful and contrasted with the brutality with which they're treated. Joshua (lyric tenor) and Lillia (lyric soprano) meet and swear their love to one another. Lillia fears Dathan will coerce her into sexual slavery, Joshua swears to murder Dathan if he touches her. She reminds him that Dathan’s murder would bring death to thousands of Hebrews. They sing of the coming of a deliverer. The slaves move the temple, a taskmaster orders Yoshebel to put more grease under the center stone, and she becomes trapped under the bricks. Lillia sees her and tries to stop the taskmasters, who refuse. Joshua comes to save Yoshebel and stops work by beating a taskmaster. He is arrested and restrained by other taskmasters, Yoshebel tells her to run to Prince Moses and beg him for clemency. The Prince cuts Yoshebel free, not knowing that it is his biological mother. She sings a brief phrase of gratitude to the prince and holds him as she would a son (leitmotive of motherhood underneath). The prince and the master builder question Joshua before his immediate execution, the master builder says that they must be hard on the slaves or else they will not work. Joshua counters that the slaves do not work because they are not fed. Moses realized that Joshua sacrificed his life to save the old woman and shocks everyone by granting Joshua clemency. Moses then orders that the slaves be given grain from the temples of the gods so that they may work better. The slaves sing a hymn of thanks to their God and pray for their deliverance (Think Prisoner's Chorus from Fidelio crossed with spiritual, minimal orchestral accompaniment until the climax, deliverer and Moses leitmotifs together for the first time. Should fit together perfectly.)

Too much happens here again to work the music out immediately.

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