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The Visitation

opera in three acts

Music by Gunther Schuller
Libretto by the composer
after the novel Der Prozess (The Trial) by Franz Kafka
About The Visitation

This opera, which Schuller described as being inspired by "a motive" by Kafka, reimagines the legal nightmare of Joseph K. into a story about the experience of a young black American, Carter Jones, with American racism.

Cast of Characters
Carter Jones, bar Bill, bar
Frank, b Joe, t
Landlady, ms Inspector, b-bar
Miss Hampton, s Mattie, t
Presiding Officer, bar Chuck, t
Mrs. Clairborne, s Mr. Clairborne, t
Uncle Albert, b Teena, ms
Held, bar Patterson, t
Pulisi, t Deacon, b

Carter Jones, an African-American student, has a vision of the history of slavery in America. It is interrupted by three men who burst in and search his room; there they find a picture of a white woman on his dresser. They then drag him before an "inspector," who refuses to tell Carter what he is charged with, but warns him to "watch it". After they have gone, Joe's landlady drops hints, both about Carter and his neighbor, Miss Hampton, who she considers loose because she has been seen out with "colored boys". Carter meets Miss Hampton when she returns, to apologize that her room was disarranged, and is struck with her; before he leaves he kisses her passionately.

Later, at the drugstore where Carter works, two men tell him to come to an abandoned warehouse, giving him vague threats of what will happen if he doesn't. He arrives at the warehouse to find an assembly of men lead by the Presiding Officer, who accuses Carter of considering himself their equal. He tries to defend himself, but is laughed down by the crowd, and is sent away with another vague warning.

Carter tries to get help from Mr. Clairborne, the secretary of the Legal Aid Society, and meets his wife, whom he recognizes from the warehouse the previous night. She tells him he was there with Chuck, the son of the owner of the local steel mill, who is powerful enough that her husband can't stop him. She offers to help Carter, but before she can do anything, Chuck arrives and drags her off. Clairborne arrives, and tells Carter he can't help him; he used to be a lawyer, but was bought off years ago.

In the street, Carter is chased by Chuck and his gang. The chase stops when the police arrive, but they don't do anything. Carter tries to get help from his Uncle Albert, who tells him not to make trouble but finally recommends a lawyer. Carter visits the lawyer, who seems very familiar with the situation. The lawyer's black maid gets Carter alone in the next room, distracts him, and ultimately seduces him.

Evicted, fired from his job, and accused of rape, Carter seeks the help of a nightclub owner, who tells him that the most he can hope for is an indefinite postponement of the proceedings, never coming to trial, but always dealing with annoyances and harassment. Desperate, Carter goes to the black preacher, who also tells him not to be a troublemaker and to accept his fate, then leaves him alone. In the final scene, Carter is beaten and murdered by Chuck and his gang; the epilogue is a wordless lament for him.

Performance History
World premiere
Hamburg, Germany

Last update: January 1, 2009