Music by Hugo Weisgall Libretto by Denis Johnston after the play by Luigi Pirandello
About Six Characters In Search of an Author
An unconventional opera based on an unconventional play, Weisgall's Six Characters in Search of an Opera translates Pirandello's players into opera performers rehearsing a new work by Hugo Weisgall. Its premiere at the New York City Opera established Weisgall's reputation as a major opera composer, although the work did not receive its second production until 1990.
Cast of Characters
The Stage Manager,bar
The Tenore Buffo
The Basso Cantante
The Wardrobe Mistress,c
Eight Dealdy Sins, Chorus Mistress, Wardrobe Assistants, Carpenters, Prop Men
On the stage of an opera house, the company is preparing for the premiere of a new opera, Hugo Weisgall's The Temptation of St. Anthony. Their rehearsal is interrupted by the arrival of six strangers who say that they are characters in an opera, and ask the Director's permission to perform tehir story. After briefly auditioning the Stepdaughter, the director agrees, although the Son, another of the characters, wants to stop it. First, however, he takes the characters into his office to work with them on the story line; after, he says, they will perform the work, the prompter will take it down, and his company may produce it.
After the first intermission, the Director and the characters come out arguing; the characters, chiefly the Stepdaughter, argue that their story must be told without alterations. The Son pulls a gun, but the stage manager takes it away from him. The director begins casting; when the Father suggests that the characters play their own roles, the Director and company indignantly refuse, on the grounds that they do not have union cards. The Stepdaughter and the Father perform a scene where he meets her, not recognizing her, in a whorehouse where she has been forced to work; the director than has the Tenor and Coloratura perform the same scene, but the characters only laugh at their feeble attempts. The Stepdaughter tells the director the story requires her to remove her dress, which he forbids; they reach a compromise and go on with the piece, but as the climax odf the scene--the mother's entrance--is coming, the stage crew misinterprets the Director's instructions and lowers the curtain, with him on the other side. He goes back through, and there is another intermission.
When the curtain rises again, the chorus is warming up while the Director, the Son, and the Stepdaughter argue about how many sets there can be for the various scenes. The characters claim to be more real than the actors, since the actors' stories change from day to day, while the characters' is constant. The son again tries to stop the performance, but after skipping a crucial scene because of the lack of a set, they complete the opera; the son, after an angry scene, slaps the mother, and both are shocked to discover that the Boy has drowned the other child. The boy then produces the gun, which had been missing from the prompter's box; as the Son chases him offstage, the boy holds the gun to his own head. There is a shot--or possibly an exploding fuse--as the lights go out; when they come back up, the characters have disappeared; to all but the Director, they seem to have been figments of the imagination. As the chorus sings the Dies Irae, the Mother, Father, and Son go back the way they came; the Stepdaughter runs off in the other direction, and the Director, hearing but not seeing her, follows the rest of the company offstage.
World premiere New York City Opera, New York, New York April 26, 1959 The Coloratura: Beverly Sills The Accompanist: Craig Timberlake The Director: Ernest McChesney Sylvan Levin, conductor
Chicago premiere Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, Chicago, Illinois 1990
Manhattan School of Music, New York, New York December 6, 1995
Festival premiere Opera Festival of New Jersey, McCarter Theater, Princeton, New Jersey July 7, 2000