ORFREO by Michael Andre
Among Michael Andre's books of poetry are Experiments in Banal Living and Studying the Ground for Holes. His art criticism has appeared in ArtNews, The Village Voice and Art in America. He recently edited Archifanfaro, a libretto by Carlo Goldoni, translated by W.H. Auden.
ORFREO [text set to music with track titles]
cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
Does she remember her life?
4. I saw her eyes
I must wade across and tell her
have not fulfilled your purpose
6. The right
am I to do?
Let Bea be finale of seem.
ORFREO [literary version]
Ice Cream The Orphic Death of Ray Johnson
Scene: Off on The Island, Orfreo Johnson's girlfriend Bea was bitten by a snake and died. Orfreo, a postman, breaks down. He goes to drown himself in the Peconic River, but its sprite, Lethe, complains. The Peconic, on the stage, is a river of Mylar. At the outset, Lethe lies in the Peconic, hidden in a robe spread to the length and width of the mylar Peconic. As the opera unfolds, Lethe rises from the river.
Crow: (soprano) (in a tree across the river) Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? Lion: (bass) (lurking lazily beneath the tree) Down in Hell. According to its queen, Orfreo's next on the dying machine. Crow: (on a cell) I'm not going to be a poet, that's for sure. Ensemble: Speak sense, or keep silence, or sing, Orfreo. Lethe: (mezzo)(dripping piccolos) She is dead but does she remember her life. Sing Orfreo.
II Orfreo (countertenor) and Lethe: (She is dead but) does she remember her life? Lethe: You can ask her but does she hear you? Crow: (still on cell) So sad man so thoroughly misunderstands. Orfreo: (Lethe-wards he turns) Answer or silence will drown your sense. Lethe: She still remembers but cannot hear you Orfreo: Soon the spirit of Beatrice Will fade, but her soul But her soul will then be Reborn. (Or not.) Sing, watery muse!
III Orfreo: aria I must wade across and tell her All the things I forgot to say-- How I saw her eyes and found I sang. Lion: That water's deep, Orfreo; we do not swim. Orfreo: I do not talk to cats.
IV 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.
V Orfreo: What am I to do? The swimmer Stokes 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: (soprano) (The crow metamorphoses into the queen of the underworld. She whispers and hums the music incomprehensibly, then sings the words as refrain, then reverts to mumble song) Def duble dit dot: His flowing darkness Coils like the snake that bit Beatrice. The eddies bubble And pop And are forgot Like unloved souls Always. Orfreo, you forget Sweet sad serene And peaceful death, You drank from Lethe before You were born and died. The crow remembers you. Tru fene ruble ide.
VII: FINALE (Dance for all, for puppets and slide show) Ensemble: Let Bea be finale of seem Death is the emperor The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. Ray Johnson committed suicide by drowning. Some impish god pushes Beatrice into Lethe's embrace They kiss and she becomes Elodie the composer What a surprise, Orfreo He will free us all from Hell anyway. The lion jumps over the moon, The crow dons the cat's cap and yowls.
NOTES 1. Let Bea be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. --Wallace Stevens 2. "Lyres tell truth" -- Gregory Corso. Corso named his son Orfeo. 3. The artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995) committed suicide by drowning. Johnson invented Correspondance (sic) art. Dante's Commedia adapts and extends the underworld of Orpheus and Eurydice.