Girl in Six Beats: A chamber opera in one act.
Music by Daniel Sonenberg
Libretto by Emelia Baley, Ella Briman, Makena Deveraux, Myah Garrison, Emily Greene, Zoe Siliwinski, and Kaspar Wilder.
From Daniel Sonenberg, the composer of The Summer King, a new chamber opera, with a libretto written by seven high school students. Commissioned by Opera Maine, Girl in Six Beats is a collaboration between Opera Maine, The Telling Room, and the University of Southern Maine. It was made possible with the support of the Crewe Foundation and an Opera America Innovation Grant, and supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.
World Premiere performances by USM Opera Workshop took place at the University of Southern Maine, Corthell Concert Hall on April 21 (8pm), and April 22 (2pm) 2018.
Girl in Six Beats tells the story of a teenage Girl’s internal journey of discovery through a purgatory-like dreamscape (Limbo), in the immediate aftermath of her attempt to end her own life. She encounters the twin angels of Limbo, Oblivion (Obi) and Reincarnation (Re), who argue over her fate. And she meets Slushie Guy, a lost soul condemnded to eternally sip on a blue slushie and play bongos. He convinces her that she must assert her own voice, and she commits herself to life in order first to restore her most important relationship - that with her mother.
Emelia Baley, Ella Briman, Makena Deveraux, Myah Garrison, Emily Greene, Zoe Sliwinski, and Kaspar Wilder participated in a July 2017 workshop offered by The Telling Room, a non-profit organization in Portland, Maine dedicated to helping young people tell their stories with the written word. Led by Maine-based actor, director, and theater educator Marjolaine Whittlesey, the workshop prompted the students to write an original opera libretto drawing on personal experiences and concerns. The seven writers then gave the libretto to Mr. Sonenberg, who composed the 30-minute opera in consultation with the team. Girl in Six Beats is scored for five principal singers, small chorus, light percussion (performed by the singers), and piano.
The opera is divided into 6 “Beats,” rather than “scenes.” There are generally moments for applause between the beats and after significant arias or duets.
BEAT 1 [Hospital - in transit]
MOTHER and GIRL reach out to one another across an unbridgeable chasm. MOTHER then receives a phone call that her daughter is in the hospital. She sings an aria [“I’m Late”] about her hectic life and her regrets “How could I have missed this?”
BEAT 2 [Hospital - then Limbo]
GIRL gets up from her hospital bed and wanders into Limbo, a strange, bewildering environment characterized by blue light and the presence of strange characters. There she meets OBI, RE, and SLUSHIE GUY.
BEAT 3 [Limbo]
OBI and RE sing a duet about their competing hopes for GIRL’s fate (“It’s Really So Sad”). OBI wants oblivion for her, while RE prefers reincarnation.
BEAT 4 [Limbo]
SLUSHIE GUY tells GIRL about Limbo, and his own fate. He asks what she’s doing here, and she can’t answer. SLUSHIE then sings an aria about his time in Limbo (“I Know Exactly What You Mean”.
BEAT 5 [Limbo] : The Decision
SLUSHIE GUY directly confronts GIRL, urging her to make up her own mind. GIRL initially hesitates, but then sings an aria (“I don’t want oblivion”), affirming her desire to return to the world of the living and reconnect with her mother. She exits, to the consternation of OBI and RE. SLUSHIE guy smiles and slurps.
BEAT 6 [Hospital]
GIRL wakes up in her hospital bed, to MOTHER’s tremendous relief. MOTHER apologizes, talking over GIRL, but GIRL stops her, asserting her own voice, and explaining “from now on things will be different than they were before.” They sing together about repairing and building their relationship.
Duration: 30 minutes
MOTHER (Soprano or Mezzo) - caring but harried; runs a non-profit center for troubled teens, alternately unavailable to an smothering of her daughter.
GIRL (Soprano) - aged 15-17. Has difficulty asserting herself, and has felt lost, isolated and lonely. Has attempted to take her own life.
OBLIVION (Soprano) and REINCARNATION (Tenor) - twin angels of Limbo (purgatory). Oblivion (Obi) believes the true path for all who enter their midst is oblivion, while Reincarnation (Re) thinks it is reincarnation. These are stubborn, somewhat comic figures.
SLUSHIE GUY - a self-professed "lost soul," trapped eternally in limbo drinking an endless blue slushie. He is bedecked with trinkets, odds and ends of clothing, and wears a drum around his neck. Argues for personal responsibility and decision making, so that others will be spared his fate. A comic/tragic character with a sarcastic bent.
CHORUS (optional. 3-6 singers, always including Obi and Re). - Occasional background support.
All singers play single percussion instruments as follows:
OBI: Crotales (glockenspiel may be substituted)
Slushie Guy: Bongo or single small hand drum (worn on strap around neck)
The instruments are always played in character. Most of the parts are very simple, with the occasional exception of Slushie Guy’s drum part (Slushie is an eager and avid drummer).
If necessary, the percussion parts may be scaled down. The most important parts are the Mother’s clave and Slushie’s bongos, and those should be retained in some manner if possible.
The chorus may be eliminated if forces are unavailable.
The current version contains piano accompaniment only, though a chamber version for 5-9 musicians is envisioned. For performance inquiries contact the composer.