23 May Inês
Librettist: Paul Bentley
Commissioner: Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Company (Co-artistic Directors John Hess and Daírine Ní Mheadhra)
Premiere: 25 February – 1 March 2009, Enwave Theatre, Toronto, Ontario
Performers: 5 voices (soprano, mezzo, fado singer (contralto), baritone, bass baritone), 5 players (clarinet/bass clarinet, guitar, piano, violin, bass/bass guitar)
Duration: 85 minutes (11 scenes, one optional intermission)
Pedro Carmona, a young surgeon and son of a prominent Portuguese general, has escaped military service in Angola in 1968 by fleeing to Toronto with his upper-class wife Constanza. In order to survive, he has taken two jobs while he retrains to qualify as a doctor.
The opera begins as Constanza—sick of poverty, loneliness, and winter—explodes in frustration. She humiliates Pedro by threatening to get a job herself. Pedro storms out, and ends up at a Fado club, where he meets the Fadista Inês. He becomes a regular at the club, and love grows between him and Inês. In Lisbon, Pedro’s anxious parents haven’t heard from him for months. A telegram from the dictator Salazar informs them of Pedro’s desertion, ordering him to be captured and shot.
Pedro can resist Inês no longer: he goes to her apartment, and they consummate their love. Constanza, who has taken a job as a cleaner, discovers Pedro’s photograph in Inês’s dressing room, and confronts him. Inês arrives and tells them that she is carrying Pedro’s child. Constanza is crushed and begs for Pedro to come back, but he refuses, moving in with Inês instead. Summoned by Constanza, Pedro’s parents confront him, accuse him of harming the family’s name, and order him to return to his wife; again he refuses. Alone with his son, General Carmona tries some gentler persuasion, but to no avail. His wife decides that the only honourable solution is for the General to kill Inês; when he hesitates, she takes his gun, goes to the nightclub, and shoots Inês.
Constanza is appalled by the murder. The General hears from Pedro, who discovered Inês’s body while on duty at the morgue, and asks to meet his parents and wife at the cathedral, in order to repent his sins before them and before God. He does so, but then he takes the General’s gun and forces the others to drink Inês’s blood, a vessel of which he has saved from the morgue. He unveils her dead body, and forces the others to sing her praises. He shoots himself, whereupon Inês sings a final farewell.
Rolfe’s writing for his five-player ensemble is transparent enough that I could distinguish virtually all of the sung English at Sunday’s opening performance. Rolfe also gives the listener plenty to hold onto throughout the piece, through repetitions of material that familiarize the ear with the music and give extra dimension to the drama. Rolfe cleverly uses fuguing to illustrate the desire of each of these singers that Pedro quit fooling around. The whole score was put together at that level of skill and economy.
– Robert Everett-Green, Toronto Globe and Mail, 24 February 2009
The Story of Inês de Castro
In 14th-century Portugal, the heir to the throne, Prince Pedro, is married to Constanza. He falls in love with one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting, Inês de Castro, who is from Galicia, in Spain. She becomes his mistress, and they have three children. The court is scandalized; but above all, the king fears Inês will increase Spanish influence on the Portuguese throne. He orders Inês to be killed—according to legend, in front of her children, while Pedro is away hunting. Pedro is beside himself with grief and rage, and wages war against his father. After a number of years, his father passes on, and Pedro becomes king. His first act is to arrest Inês’s killers, torture them, and bite their hearts (just as they had bitten his own heart). He then has Inês taken from her grave, dressed in royal robes, and—seating her on the queen’s throne—he orders his courtiers to kiss her bony hand. He has an elaborate tomb built for them at Alcobaça, which remains there to this day, inscribed “Death will never part us / Until the end of the world”.
The true story of Inês de Castro is a national epic in Portugal, and the anniversary of the death of the writer who immortalized it, Camões (who died June 10, 1580), is now Portugal’s national holiday.
A note on the opera Inês
The Queen of Puddings first heard Fado in 2001, at a Mariza concert in Toronto. When they approached me about writing an opera involving Fado, I began a fascinating journey into that music, of which I knew almost nothing, in spite of the large Portuguese presence in Toronto. My ears were opened: Fado is very operatic, with its dramatic, heart-grabbing singers and stories. And I was delighted to get acquainted with Inês de Castro, a beautiful and passionate story ready-made for opera, as well as the Portuguese language, which is practically music itself, rolling like the waves of the ocean. These influences flowed into my own music to make an opera which is married to both countries, just as the Portuguese in Canada have created a new world from the roots of an ancient one.
One of opera’s great pleasures is working with great people. Early on, Joe Blackmore, Ricardo Sternberg, and Manuela Marujo (all of The University of Toronto) were very helpful in illuminating Portuguese history, literature, and culture. My librettist Paul Bentley threw himself into the fray with gusto, and bore with me patiently through many drafts and changes while I grappled with the music. The director Jennifer Tarver provided crucial insights in the later stages. And the co-directors of The Queen of Puddings, John Hess and Daírine Ní Mheadhra, offered steadfast faith and encouragement from beginning to end. To all of you, my heartfelt thanks!