Opera in One Act (30')
Music & Dramatization by Elodie Lauten
Libretto by Michael Andre
Composed: 2003-2004
Premiered at Merkin Hall, 2004
CD release, 2004, Studio 21 limited edition
CAST Orfeo/Orfreo/the artist Ray Johnson/Dante: Countertenor: Marshall Coid Crow/Persephone/Eurydice/Beatrice: Soprano: Meredith Borden
Lethe: Mezzo-soprano: Charlotte Surkin
Cat/Lion: Bass-baritone: Peter Castaldi
Harpsichordist: Spoken text: Elaine Comparone

Elodie Lauten, composer & dramaturg
Live recording by David Barnes
Produced by Harpsichord Unlimited
Rudolph Palmer, conductor
Elaine Comparone, harpsichord
Robert Zubrycki, first violin
Lori Miller, second violin
Veronica Salas, viola
Peter Seidenberg, cello
Joseph Bongiorno, contrabass
Karla Moe, flute
Marsha Heller, oboe

Orfreo is Orf-Ray-o, Orfeo reenacted by Ray: the artist Ray Johnson, an important conceptualist in the Soho art scene of the sixties and seventies, founder of the New York School of Correspondence (mail art), who disappeared in 1995. We know that he planned the date and time at which he would jump into the Peconic River, but the exact motives of his suicide remain a mystery.

Orfreo draws on three subtexts: the classic myth of Orpheus with the emotions of love and despair, Dante's Divine Comedy with the descent into hell, and the suicide of a contemporary artist. The action takes place by the Lethe, river that marks the borderline between the dead and the living. Orfreo is about to cross over to the other side, to join his beloved Euridyce/Beatrice. He interacts with characters from hell: Lethe (mezzo soprano), a Crow who is actually Persephone in disguise (coloratura), and a Lion (bass-baritone). The mood of the piece shifts between irony and despair, echoing the contrast between Orpheus' lyricism and Ray Johnson's iconoclastic and flippant approach to art, channeled by the Crow and Lion characters. Contrasting dynamics are built into the piece to express this ambiguity of mood, neither light nor dark, but bitter and sweet, moving from quiet sections with harpsichord and cello to excited tuttis. The musical style is post-classic, with fast moving chords over an implied fundamental in a neo-Baroque setting. In the exuberant finale, Orfreo (countertenor) is helped across the river by his newly found friends and returns from hell with the two women - only one thing is certain, neither of them is Eurydice.

Orfreo [text set to music]

I. Orfreo's next
Crow: Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
Lion: Down in hell, according to its queen, Orfeo's next on the dying machine.
Orfeo (moaning): Ah…
Crow: I'm not going to be a poet, that's for sure. (laugh)
Ensemble: Ray-feo, Orfeo
Speak sense or keep silence,
or sing, Orfeo.
Lethe: She is dead but does she remember her life? Sing, Orfeo.

II. Reborn or not?
Orfeo/Lethe: Does she remember her life?
Orfeo: I do remember…
Answer or silence will drown your sense.
Lethe: She still remembers but cannot hear you, Orfeo.
Orfeo: Soon the spirit of Beatrice will fade,
Orfeo/Lethe: But her soul will then be
Ensemble: Her soul will then be reborn - or not.
Lethe: She still remembers but cannot hear you, Orfreo.
Soon the spirit of Beatrice will fade,
Ensemble: But her soul will then be
Lethe: Sing! Earthly muse…
Harpsichordist: (spoken): If not, not.

III. I saw her eyes
Orfeo: (aria) I must wade across and tell her
All the things I forgot to say --
How I saw her eyes and found I sang.
Orfeo: I must wade…
Harpsichordist: (spoken) That water is kind of deep, Orfreo…[performed ad lib]
Orfeo: I must wade across and tell her
All the things I forgot to say --
How I saw her eyes and found I sang.

IV. L.Y.R.E.S.
Lethe: You have not fulfilled your purpose
And will merely drown.
I want all men to sing to my rhythm.
Ensemble: "Lawyers Lie but lyres and lions tell truth." [quoted from Gregory Corso] Harpsichordist: (spoken) Lawyers Lie but lyres and lions tell truth.

V. The right to see
Orfeo: What am I to do?
The swimmer Strokes the waves.
What rhythm?
Devoid of her, how praiseworthy
Is the world?
Her footsteps
Echo in my head
And I myself have lost the right to see.

VI. Persephone
Diddle diddle rum dot
Def dubble dit dot.
His flowing darkness coils like the snake that bit Beatrice.
The eddies bubble and pop
And are forgot
Like unloved souls
Orfeo, you forget
Sweet sad serene
And peaceful death,
You drank from Lethe before
You were born and died.
The crow remembers you.

VII. Finale
Ensemble: Let Bea be finale of seem.
Lion: Death is the only emperor.
Crow: "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream." [quoted from Wallace Stevens]
Lion: Ray Johnson committed suicide by drowning.
Some impish god pushes Beatrice into Lethe's embrace.
They kiss,
Orfeo: and she becomes Elodie, the composer. (the composer shows up unexpectedly)
Lethe: Orfeo is surprised.
Lion: He will free them both from hell anyway.
Orfeo: free them both from hell!
Ensemble: Free them both from hell anyway!
Ensemble: The lion jumps over the moon,
Lion: The crow dons the cat's cap and yowls.
Crow: Yow…
Ensemble: Orfeo will free them both from hell anyway, Free them both from hell! Free them, free them Free them both, free them both from hell!