- Bruce Archibald
Tragic opera in two acts by Gian Carlo Menotti to his own libretto; New York, Brander Matthews Theater, Columbia University, 8 May 1946 (revised version, New York, Heckscher Theatre, 18 February 1947).
Both acts take place in Madame Flora’s parlour, where she holds séances. On the left is a stairway coming up from street level; on the right are a small puppet theatre with a white curtain and a small trunk. After a short instrumental introduction the curtain rises on Toby (dancer), a mute teenager, making up costumes from items in the trunk, and Madame Flora’s daughter, Monica (soprano), combing her hair and singing a song (‘Where, oh, where is my new golden spindle and thread?’). They are interrupted by Madame Flora, called Baba (contralto), who comes in and scolds Toby for playing with her possessions. They prepare for a séance and the participants arrive: Mr and Mrs Gobineau (baritone and soprano) and Mrs Nolan (mezzo-soprano). They sit round a table with only the light of a candle near a small statue of the Virgin Mary. Monica, in a white dress, is the voice and apparition of Mrs Nolan’s dead child. Suddenly Baba turns on the light and screams that a hand touched her. In hysterics, she sends the people away and pours herself a drink. She blames Toby, who was behind the puppet theatre, and attacks him, but Monica intervenes and tries to comfort her with a song whose refrain is ‘O black swan, where, oh, where is my lover gone?’. A ghostly offstage voice sings what Monica, as the apparition, had sung earlier. Baba sends Toby to see if someone is outside, but there is no one. Monica recapitulates her song, now to the words ‘O black wave’ and Baba recites the ‘Ave Maria’ as the curtain falls....