Six Characters in Search of a Stage
....is a new chamber opera by Edward Lambert for 5 singers and 5 instrumentalists
(soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, bass -- 2 clarinets, viola, cello, piano)
Duration: about 55 minutes
Adapted from the famous play by Pirandello, six characters enter an empty theatre and find there a frustrated opera director to whom they tell - and show - their story...
AN OPERA DIRECTOR - baritone
Characters from an opera:
THE FATHER - a gentleman of wealth and learning - bass
[The two tenor roles to be played by the same singer]
Clarinet 1: Bb clarinet, Eb clarinet
six characters in search of a stage
Opera da camera by Edward Lambert
adapted by the composer from the play by Luigi Pirandello
After its initial failure in 1921, Pirandello's masterpiece Six Characters In Search Of An Author soon became a cult work. Its originality lay in its inherent 'theatricalism', (as the movement became known), in which the stage was once more exploited for its illusionary qualities rather than its resemblance to real life, a reaction to the realist style of theatre prevalent at the time. Six Characters was adopted also by the surrealists. Logic is indeed suspended since the plot is largely a narration of things that have happened: yet these things are re-enacted before our eyes, with results that are absurd.
The torments that afflict the Characters are lived through as they re-enact them. They know of no other existence, since this is their only life and they are trapped in their story. This is a play about a play, a self-referential examination of the processes of the stage. In the final act of the play the Characters describe their attempts to make their creator complete the drama and put them on the stage: they feel without it they are denied the life they deserve, that is, to live as characters in a masterpiece that will give them immortality. There is something of the commedia dell’arte in them and they are being manipulated like puppets. At the same time, their story is one of high drama - incest, murder & suicide - with a passionate, Italian hue and it would not be out of place in an opera seria, for one of which, it is supposed, the opera’s cast is searching: the Characters need, above all, to sing.
Score with audio simulation:
Six Characters from an opera appear in an empty theatre where a Director is waiting for the cast of modern work he evidently does not really understand. The Characters insist on telling the Director their story and re-enact it for his benefit as they proceed. The Father, clearly a gentleman of some wealth and learning, had a wife, the Mother, with whom he had a Son, now a taciturn young man. The Mother, however, ran off with a lover a long time ago and abandoned them both.
There is with the group an attractive young woman; this is the Daughter of the Mother and Father who was born after the Mother had moved away. There are two children also, a young Girl, not much more than a toddler, who is the Daughter’s child by an unknown partner, and a Boy of about fourteen, the son of the Mother and her lover.
The lover has died and, now in mourning and destitute, the Mother has returned to seek work from Madame Pace, the manager of a business which fronts as a fashion-house but which is also a brothel. Madame Pace is not one of the Six Characters and her appearance defies logic. But she is central to the plot - so she is there and she is the only character who enjoys her role. She is played by the singer doubling the role of the Son - (tenor, a retake on the traditional role of the castrato).
The Mother is unaware that Madame Pace has begun to arrange clients for her Daughter and it is the Daughter's earnings which are keeping them alive. One day, the Father approaches Madame for sex and is introduced to the Daughter; neither knows the other since they have lived apart. The Mother bursts in and interrupts them and the situation horrifies them all: the Daughter has been abused and exploited, the Father shamed, and the Mother is tormented with guilt.
The Characters go on to explain that the family came back to live with the Father and the strains of the various relationships came to a head when... in the garden... by this time the Characters are traumatised by re-living the events as they recall them. The distinction between the narration of their story and their attempts to stage it for the Director has broken down: their experiences are real to them in the present moment.
Everything depends on the Son: unwilling to play his part in the drama, it takes much persuasion to get him to relate his discovery of the little Girl drowning. As he does so, the Girl is indeed found dead in the fountain which the Director has provided for them. The others turn, horrified, to the Boy - who has been watching from his hiding place - shoot himself with a revolver he has found. Carrying the two dead children, the Mother and Father are left together with the Son they started out with all those years ago, while the Daughter makes her escape into the world alone.
The Director was beginning to feel involved in the drama but suddenly finds the cast has evaporated and he is left to clear up the mess.
Vocal score in preparation
Also: The Oval Portrait - after Edgar Allan Poe - a semi-staged cantata using the same forces as Six Characters, written as a companion piece, with a duration of 22 minutes