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The Pipe of Desire

grand romantic opera in one act

Music by Frederick Shepherd Converse
Libretto by George Edward Barton
About The Pipe of Desire

The Pipe of Desire was the first American opera to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, although it did not have its premiere there. (The first American opera to have that distinction was Horatio Parker's Mona).

Cast of Characters
Iolan, a peasant, t Naoia, his betrothed, s
The Old-One, keeper of the Pipe, bar First Sylph, s
First Undine, c First Salamander, t
First Gnome, bar
Chorus of Elves

In the forest, the elves are preparing for the first day of spring. They hear Iolan, a peasant, approaching from the valley below; he is to be married the next day to Naoia. Since Iolan has always been kind to the little folk, they argue about whether they should appear to him to thank him in person. They do, and their King, the Old One, arrives and upbraids them for breaking their ancient law by showing themselves to a human. Iolan wonders why this one elf is not a friend to him; he does not believe that the Old One is the elven king. The Old One, tells him of his power and of his magic pipe, at which Iolan is not impressed. The elves demand that the Old One play the Pipe, as is their right by the ancient law on the first day of spring.

The Old One plays and the elves dance; Iolan is stil impressed. The Old One uses the pipe to make Iolan dance as well, against his will, and Iolan, enraged, snatches the pipe from the Old One. The Old One warns Iolan not to play it; it it the pipe God gave to Lilith, and after the fall of Man God laid a curse upon it. Iolan, unimpressed, tries to play the pipe; in a vision he sees his fondest desire, with his farm large and successful, Naoia his wife and their children; in his vision, he calls to Naoia to come to him. The Old One takes the pipe back; he tells Iolan that the pipe has shown him his heart's desire, and his desire has helped to rule the world. As the Old One plays, Iolan sees Naoia, although ill, obeying his command and, rising from her bed, running through the forest to him. She enters, hurt, feverish, and cold, and Iolan regrets his heedlessness. Naoia tells him how the wind came to her and told her to go to him. They promise each other that they shall never leave the other, but Naoia, delirious, collapses in his arms. She, too has a vision of their home together, then of their old age together; she cries out to Iolan not to leave her, then dies.

Iolan curses God and throws his newly won gold away. The Old One tells him that it is his own folly in playing the Pipe, and not God, who is to blame for Naoia's death. Iolan is about to strike the Old One, but, knowing that Naoia would have forgiven, he forgives him instead. The elves are amazed by the change that Naoia's death has caused in Iolan; the willful child is gone, and the youth has been purified by suffering. The Old One plays the song of autumn, and Iolan, realizing the limits of human strength, lies down and dies. The elves ask the Old One what happens to those who die too young; the Old One assures them that "Nothing is wasted."

Performance History
World premiere
Jordan Hall, Boston, Massachusetts
January 31, 1906
Goodrich, conductor
Boston Opera Company premiere
Boston Opera Company, Boston, Massachusetts
January 6, 1910
Iolan: Martin
Naoia: Dereyne
Old One: Blanchart
1st Sylph: B. Fisher
1st Undine: Swartz
1st Salamander: Stroesco
1st Gnome: Fornari
Goodrich, conductor
Fox, stage director
(with Cavalleria Rusticana; also Jan. 11 with Cav., Jan. 21 with Pagliacci.)
New York premiere
Metropolitan Opera, New York, New York
March 18, 1910
(3 performances)
Hertz, conductor
Fox, stage director

Last update: January 1, 2009