Street Scene For the
Last Mad Soprano
(For soprano with computer generated quadraphonic tape,
text and music by William Osborne.)
Table of Contents
5. Slide Show
1. Brief Description
Imagine a singer living among the dumpsters behind the Met. Tomorrow is her big audition at the Opera House--if only she could think of what to sing. She colors her world with opera excerpts, grandiose Swan Songs and wild escapades on her trombone-- but as she makes preparations for her final big audition, we see that the brutality of the street has long since caused the borderlines between life and opera to blur. Street Scene explores the belief that cultural identity is necessary for survival, that it is a way of confronting our human condition. We examine the stereotyped ways women are portrayed in opera, especially the violence they suffer.
2. The PDF Score and Text
(The score is on European A4 paper. To print, Americans should use legal size paper. The PDF file is almost illegible on a computer screen, but prints beautifully.)
3. Five Minute Trailer and A Couple Clips
Clip No. 1: She sings and plays the trombone
Clip No. 2: A lyrical trombone solo
4. The Complete Video.
Abbie Conant, Soprano & Trombone
William Osborne, Music Text and Video
Filmed September 2014 in Taos, NM
5. Slide Show.
6. Program Notes (by William Osborne)
And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.
--from The Idea of Order at Key West
by Wallace Stevens
Oscar Wilde once said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." This theme is central to "Street Scene for the Last Mad Soprano". Through art we shape the way we view the world and ourselves. Through art we decide what we are as humans, and how we will live our lives. Children, for example, love to draw, but it is not merely playing. Through working with crayons they formulate the nature of their being. Through playing we become humans.
Women characters in opera tend to be abused and fallen, or simpletons who make their living by embroidering, or heroines sacrificing themselves for the well being of a heroic man. Their identity is often determined by a degrading relationship to men who are portrayed as superior and in command.
In opera these images take musical forms, and are imprinted upon our minds so deeply that they haunt our subconscious almost like advertising jingles. After singing a passage portraying Brunhilde, the "Mad Soprano" comes forward to comment on the way opera permeates her self-expression: "Whys it so easy to sing, whys it bubble right up, when you least expect it?" It is a fact that opera singers cant just portray their roles. They have to live them.
We see the Mad Sopranos increasing conflict with the way opera subver-sively shapes her identity. Music theater, for example, contains a great deal of ennobled violence against women. Through operatic aggrandizement, we celebrate simple things like wife beating. The Mad Soprano, however, tells a less adorned truth about the domestic abuse of her friend Betty. But as she leaves off her roles, and speaks to us directly, we see hints that her reality is even more dream-like than the theater roles she is practicing. Is what women perceive as their true world merely a construction created by a male society?
In this work we also explore how cultural identity creates community. Artistic expression creates rituals that give us a sense of coming together and sharing in the identity of our human condition. This is one of the most beautiful and meaningful aspects of art. Groups, such as women as a whole, that are not allowed to be creative artists, are deprived of their humanity. The true identity of women in society will be formulated only when they are allowed to be artists and determine for themselves who they really are. As women find their true place in our culture, we will obtain not only a greater freedom and dignity, but also a fuller and more balanced understanding of human consciousness.
The Mad Soprano has gradually become so alienated from her "own" patriarchal culture, that she no longer feels a part of it. She slowly confronts the fact that the roles she must sing are not only utterly demeaning, but that more often than not, artistic expression is reduced to being mere entertainment for a society that has little cultural sensibility left
--sexist or not. The pedestrians applaud for her as if she were doing tricks. Or they stand and stare because they think she is dead.
The time for the Mad Sopranos audition eventually arrives. Shes worried because she still feels she hasnt anything meaningful to sing. She doesnt know what to do, theres no time left. She knows this could signify the loss of her humanity, and almost screams, "Do you know what it means to be without a song? People will step on you!"
But she re-gathers her composure and prepares to leave. We sense that all this time she has really been alone, and that she is trying to sing her world into being. She sings words that would seem almost overly simple, if we had not seen all that she has gone through in her struggle against the marginalization of the humanity of women: "Tomorrow night the lights will rise, floating by themselves in Loves order. And far from this corner on the street, well sing from our hearts. You and I. Well sing from our hearts. You and I. You and I."
7. Dr. Jessica D. Butler's Dissertation About Our Work
Dr. Butler's 194 page dissertation, completed in 2013 at the University of Iowa, examines three of our music theater works, Winnie, Miriam Part II - The Chair, and Street Scene for the Last Mad Soprano. To download it as a PDF file click here. (16 megs.)