Argento's best-known opera, this brief, absurdist one-act contains some of his finest vocal writing, including the lovely aria for the leading man, Mr. Owen, "Once when I was a young man."
Cast of Characters
A Lady with a Hand Mirror; An Operetta Singer,coloratura
A Lady with a Cake Box,s
A Lady with a Hat Box; A Foreign Singer,ms
A Man with Old Luggage; First Puppet; An Operetta Singer,lyric tenor
A Man with a Paint Box (Mr. Owen),t
A Man with a Shoe Sample Kit; Second Puppet,bar
A Man with a Cornet Case; A Puppet Maker,b
A number of people are gathered in the waiting room of a railway station. One of them sings about the many uses of the hand mirror she always carries. The other passengers ask Mr. Owen, a man with a paint box, what he does; before he can answer, they are distracted by a puppet show, in which two puppets talk about building a ship to sail away on. As the puppet show ends and a 'foreign singer' begins to sing, one of the passengers thinks he recognizes another, but he is mistaken. One of the characters explains that he never uses new luggage, "lest it be stolen on the way along." His luggage looks well used, but we are not sure whether he was the one who used it. Another passenger has a cornet case; he describes the instrument inside, but will not open the case. Another passenger makes hats for the movies; the other passengers mistakenly thinks she makes hat boxes.
The orchestra plays a medley, Souveniers de Bayreuth, of music from Tristan und Isolde, The Flying Dutchman and other Wagner operas. Another passenger reveals that he is a shoe salesman; the ladies are anxious to see his wares, but he, too, refuses to open his case. As two operetta singers begin another entertainment, the others ask Mr. Owen about his painting. One of the ladies has a cake box, in which she says she keeps her lover. Mr. Owen thinks that he saw them together, once; she thinks he is mistaken. Mr. Owen taks about a magical ship he imagined when he was younger. A puppet maker appears, talking about all of the things that go into the making of puppets: people's faces, hats, shoes, even luggage. The other passengers try to convince Mr. Owen to paint their portrait. They wonder what is in his paint box; as they are trying to push him into place to paint them, his box falls open, revealing that it is empty. The puppet show concludes, and everyone but Mr. Owen leaves to continue their journey. Mr Owen enters the puppet stage and sings about the ship of his childhood dreams.
World premiere production Cedar Village Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota October 14, 1971 Coloratura: Sarita Roche Soprano: Barbara Brandt Mezzo-soprano: Janis Hardy Lyric Tenor: Yale Marshall Tenor (Mr. Owen): Vern Sutton Baritone: Barry Busse Bass: Michael Foreman Mimes: Wendy Lehr, Bain Boehlke Philip Brunelle, conductor John Donahue, stage director John Barkla, set and costume designer Carlos Ozols, lighting designer