I thought you might possibly enjoy taking a peek at two short excerpts from the libretti for The King’s Man and Danse Russe, my two most recent operatic collaborations with Paul Moravec, which are being produced as a double bill in Louisville this weekend by Kentucky Opera.
The first number, “I Was Born on a Sunday,” is an arietta from The King’s Man that is sung by Benjamin Franklin, who is attempting to explain to William, his illegitimate son, why he is at one and the same time a “Puritan prig” (in William’s contemptuous phrase) and a carefully discreet sexual libertine:
FRANKLIN I was born on a Sunday
In the shadow of an angry God,
Baptized on the day of my birth
Into a gray, Puritan life
To save me from the fires of hell.
They believed that a child born on a Sunday
Must be a child of Satan.
This was my youth,
From the Puritans of Boston
To the Quakers of Philadelphia:
From same to same,
Gray to gray,
Hard work, cold baths,
Hatred of the joys of the flesh.
Damn it all!
God damn it all!
No God of love
Would make such a place,
Cold as ice,
Sharp as a knife,
The second is the reprise of “Astonish Me,” a comic waltz that is sung by Sergei Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Pierre Monteux moments before the curtain goes up on the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring.
The title of the number is the scandal-courting Diaghilev’s oft-quoted two-word explanation of what he expected out of his artistic collaborators. He actually said it to Jean Cocteau, not the makers of The Rite of Spring, but I allowed myself the artistic liberty of extracting the phrase from its original context and using it here:
DIAGHILEV What’s the worst they can do?
They can hiss,
They can boo,
And I’ll laugh
And I’ll say,
Vas te faire enculé!
ALL Astonish me!
We’ll pull all the stops out
And make the welkin ring!
They’ll call all the cops out
To stop The Rite of Spring!
MONTEUX Let them do what they please!
STRAVINSKY Let them try! Let them dare!
NIJINSKY Let them stand on their seats!
MONTEUX Let the orchestra blare!
DIAGHILEV Let them tear up their programs
And tear out their hair–
ALL And their chattering neighbors
Will wish they’d been there!
DIAGHILEV If we must,
STRAVINSKY Even take to sea.
DIAGHILEV But I guarantee–
You’ll astonish me!
ALL Astonish me!